SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah is set to execute a condemned killer by firing squad shortly after midnight Thursday, reviving an old West style of justice that hasn't been used for at least 14 years and that many criticize as archaic.
Barring the success of any final appeals, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be strapped into a chair, have a target pinned over his heart and die in a hail of bullets from five anonymous marksmen armed with .30-caliber rifles and firing from behind a ported wall.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied Gardner's petition for a stay Thursday, saying allegations of a conflict of interest by the Utah attorney general's office were without merit. An appeal is still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Gardner also has asked Gov. Gary Herbert for a temporary stay.
Gardner will be the third man killed by firing squad in the U.S. since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Although Utah altered its capital punishment law in 2004 to make lethal injection the default method, nine inmates convicted before that date, including Gardner, can still choose the firing squad instead.
Gardner, 49, was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt. Gardner was at the court because he faced a 1984 murder charge in the shooting death of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom.
Tami Stewart's father, George "Nick" Kirk, was a bailiff who was shot and wounded in Gardner's botched escape. Kirk suffered chronic health problems until his death in 1995 and became frustrated by the lack of justice Gardner's years of appeals afforded him, Stewart said.
She said she's not happy about the idea of Gardner's death but believes it will bring her family some closure.
"I think at that moment, he will feel that fear that his victims felt," Stewart said.
That works for me. See ya, dirtbag.