INMATE THREATENS TO SUE IF STATE WON'T LET HIM DIE BY FIRING SQUAD.

Published: Friday, Feb. 9 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Death-row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner now says he wants to die by firing squad and if Utah doesn't let him do it, he'll sue.

"I'm going to fight it," he told the Deseret News. "I don't know how, yet, but I will."Gardner was sentenced to die for shooting attorney Michael Burdell to death during an escape attempt while being arraigned on another murder charge in 1985.

He originally opted for the firing squad, but at a hearing five years ago he told a judge he'd rather die by lethal injection. That decision he said, was motivated by his children.

"My kids were young then and they didn't understand," he said from the prison's maximum security unit.

They pleaded with their father not to choose death by firing squad.

"I couldn't do that to them," he said. At the time, he said he didn't feel the need to explain his change of heart to anyone.

But Gardner says he's always preferred the firing squad.

"I guess it's my Mormon heritage," he said. "I like the firing squad. It's so much easier . . . and there's no mistakes."

And now that his children are older - one is almost 16 and another 18 - he said he'd rather die the way he wants.

Both Gardner and the Department of Corrections were pleased with how smoothly the recent firing squad execution of John Albert Taylor went - the first firing squad execution in the United States in 19 years. In fact, things went so well that Corrections officials said they're going to ask the sponsor of the bill eliminating firing squads to amend it.

"We'd like (the state) to leave it up to the Department of Corrections to decide how an execution will be carried out," said spokesman Jack Ford.

Intense international publicity was really the only negative aspect of Taylor's execution for Corrections officials, Ford said.

One of the reasons the department wants to keep the firing squad, Ford said, is because lethal injection is often extremely difficult when an inmate has abused intravenous drugs.

While Gardner favors keeping death by firing squad as an option, he doesn't want the department to decide how he'll die.

"We have basically no other decisions on our own," he said. "That's one I'd like to keep."

He was happy to learn that a majority of Utahns disagree with a bill that would eliminate the firing squad.

"That's what I like to hear," Gardner said.

He believes lawmakers are proposing the change because of the 2002 Olympics.

"I think it's basically an image deal . . . They didn't want people to say, `These (expletive) Utahns, they're barbaric. This ain't the 1800s in the 1990s,' " he said. "I just hope they keep it."

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS