Ronnie Lee Gardner execution: Brother, daughter allowed 1 last hug through prison bars
"I wrote him a letter and told him how I felt," she said. The two later discussed it and have been very close ever since. His belongings were given to Brandie Wednesday night, at her father's request.
His body will be donated to science.
"He didn't want us to see his dead body," said Randy. He also didn't want his family to watch the execution, although he was allowed to have his own witnesses present.
"He don't want that to be our last image," Randy said. "He don't want us to have nightmares and bad dreams."
Asked what kind of father he was, Brandie fights back tears.
"Me and my dad butt heads," she said, "but he has a good heart."
And he offered the typical fatherly advice.
"He tells me to stay out of trouble," she said. "He tells me to stay away from drugs and alcohol, that they're bad. He told me to stay in school. And 'listen to your mom'. "
Brandie said having to grow up in the shadow of her father's crimes hasn't been easy, but her father's love and personality made it easier.
"I wasn't ashamed of who he was," she said. "He told me he was very proud of who I've become, and that he wants me to continue on with my life."
Gardner's former sister-in-law and friend, Debbie, asked that the Deseret News not use her last name, but wanted people to understand that while the crimes were horrible, the man was not.
"We hated what Ronnie had done," she said. "But we loved Ronnie. … When someone you love kills someone else, it crushes your heart. We carried that burden with us."
Still, she said standing by Ronnie Lee was the only option for those who knew him best.
"It's easy to reach out to people that are nice normal people," she said. "I've never known the bad side of Ronnie. I've only known the positive side of Ronnie. He encourages me, counsels me, helps me — and he's never once forgotten my birthday."
She believes the culture in prison made him more callous.
"When Ronnie first went to prison, it was either you're going to be a survivor or you're going to be a victim," she said. "And he was a survivor."
When she struggled with how much people hated Gardner, he advised her to find a way to love them.
"He told me, 'Hate just breeds hatred,' " she said. ' "If the people I love, love me, then I'm OK.' "
His parting words to her as she cried about his impending execution were, "Don't mourn my death — celebrate my freedom."
And freedom, Randy said with a smile, is something his brother had always wanted.
Contributing: Aaron Falk
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