LDS bishop recounts Ronnie Lee Gardner's final days before execution

Published: Sunday, July 17 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Ronnie discussed his impending execution. He hopes he will be able to control his emotions; otherwise, he said he might need a sedative. He said he might need the warden or me to read his final statement for him. I told him my goal is to have him so prepared for his last day that he will look at it as a great adventure, not merely the end of a long incarceration and a tough life. We read the last chapter of 3rd Nephi in the Book of Mormon, where it talks about repentance and forgiveness. "Man, that is powerful stuff," Ronnie said. "Read it to me again." I read it again and then we talked about how the atonement of Christ can be applied to all men. I told him that if we try to limit the power of the Savior and the Atonement, we are taking a very serious position that will be difficult to defend at some point.

MAY 12

I finally got in to see Ronnie at 6:30 p.m. I asked Ronnie about the Otterstrom killing. "Oh, that was awful," he said. "Otterstrom was a big guy, and I could tell by the way he carried himself that he was the real deal. Otterstrom came over and told me to leave. I told him I was there to collect some money. I didn't like the way he was talking down to me. I was young, cocky and wiry back then, and I was well armed, with two pistols. Mel started toward me, and I pulled my gun. I expected him to stop, but he didn't. He rushed me and grabbed my gun hand and raised it in the air. I was able to bring my left fist up, like an upper cut, and caught him under the chin. He went down and I pointed the gun at him and told him not to try anything like that again. I demanded his wallet and he gave it to me. While I was looking in the wallet, he kicked me between the legs so hard that it raised me off the ground. I was able to keep control of the gun and told him again not to be so stupid. I told him, "Now I'm going to rob the bar, too." I told him to get over to the till and open it. He walked on his knees to the till, but he wasn't about to give up. He was a tough, brave man. He made another move at me, and I pushed the muzzle of the weapon into his face and as I slammed it into him, it went off. I really didn't plan to pull the trigger. The other times we scuffled I could have shot him, but I didn't. He lay on his back, and I looked down at him and said, "Are you OK, pal?" He didn't answer. I nudged him with my foot and saw the blood."

All of this led to a discussion of pre-mortal life, repentance, the resurrection and the Atonement. We spent an hour or so reading about these things in the Book of Mormon and Bible. We had talked about these things many times the previous 13 years. He has given a great deal of thought to these principles and feels that he has done everything he can to repent. He understands that he cannot make restitution for his crimes, and that is one reason he is so focused on the youth facility.

Ronnie said he has spent many hours trying to recall all of the sins that he has committed and repenting to God silently and vocally. He said he feels good that he has had a bishop to "open up to." He gave me permission to use my notes and our conversations in any way I think might be of value to someone.

Ronnie told me one of his dreams. He was walking into a dark room and opened a door on the far wall and saw Mel Otterstrom lying on a bed. The room was very bright, and Mel was dressed in white and the bedding was white. Mel didn't move or speak, and Ronnie was not sure if Mel was dead or asleep but the room was full of peace and comfort. Ronnie said he hoped the dream meant Mel had forgiven him.

Ronnie also described a dream in which he was driving a Cadillac convertible with several friends and Burdell. They were all laughing. Ronnie hoped the peaceful feeling in this dream was another indication of some sort of forgiveness.

As I stood up to leave for the night, Ronnie said, "I'll see you next week right? I love you, man." I said, "I love you, too, Ronnie."

MAY 19

When I arrived tonight, Ronnie was upset and agitated. Corrections officials continually ask if there is anything he needs but always ignore his requests, which included new shoes, colored pencils for drawing, an additional hour out of his cell, additional phone time to take care of his personal and legal matters, and a CD player with audio versions of the scriptures. He has had no write-ups for 10 years and feels he is being treated more harshly than necessary.

Ronnie has decided to have his last meal on Tuesday evening so he can fast on Wednesday and Thursday, the day of his execution. He explained that he wants to have a cleansed body, and so he will have only liquids. Besides, he said, "Isn't fasting something that (the church) teaches?" I told him it was, and that I would be fasting on Thursday as well.

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