The weight of guilt: Executed killer Ronnie Lee Gardner's remorse
Before he was executed, a killer expressed remorse
We talked about how similar our lives were when we were younger. When I was a young boy, I was caught stealing; I was moving in that direction. Ronnie and I decided the difference was that I had developed some good friends when we moved from Idaho to Salt Lake who never gave up on me and had a real positive influence – they're the guys who are in our band now. Even when I was out doing things I shouldn't do, they would come by and get me to come to church with them the next morning. And my grandparents were very good to me. Ronnie told me, "I never had any of that except for an officer or two when I was younger who tried to give me direction and a family at a little corner market."
Sometimes it almost scares me how similar some of our paths were; it was the people in my life who made a difference. Ronnie and I discussed it often. If Ronnie had had any of the people in his life that I had in mine, things might have been different for him.
I asked Ronnie what he will say when he is asked if he has any final words before the execution. He said he would like to apologize to his victims, their families, those who are made to participate in the execution and anyone who has been adversely affected by his actions. He said that over the last 10 years he has realized what a different life he could have had and how dramatically his behavior has hurt so many. He reminded me of a conversation we had years earlier when he told me he had come to understand that his actions would affect generations to come. It haunted him that the victims' families and his own will be altered for generations because of what he has done.
Ronnie said he had been physically abused by his father and had never felt wanted, but he didn't want to say much about it. He said his stepfather Bill was a great guy but a crook. He also mentioned a guy named Jack who had tried to take care of him but had also sexually abused him and turned him to prostitution. I don't excuse Ronnie's behavior, but I wonder how different things might have been for everyone if he had made just one good decision or had one great mentor.
As I was getting up to leave, Ronnie asked if I would get him scriptures on tape so he could listen to them. The arthritis in his hands is so bad that it is difficult for him to hold a book.
He asked me to consider spending the last 30 hours of his life with him, which is about how long he expects to be in the holding cell before the execution. I told him two hours is about all I could handle. "Maybe we could get John Wayne movies and pizza," he said. I said I could handle 30 hours of that. I told him that if he ever had a chance to make the apologies he said he wants to offer, I would be proud of him as a man.
The news just reported that the judge will sign the death warrant. The execution is set for June 18. Ronnie has chosen to die by firing squad.
Coming tomorrow: Dan Bradshaw's personal account of Ronnie Lee Gardner's final days and the regret and remorse that haunted Gardner up to his execution.
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