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

Published: Monday, July 18 2011 12:12 a.m. MDT

Ronnie presented white handkerchiefs to the officials. On each handkerchief he had drawn in red a traditional, Valentine-like heart with four bullet holes in it. There were drops of blood coming from the bullet holes and written in black letters under the heart was the statement: "Live by the Gun Die by the Gun." He had signed and dated them. He requested that they remind the youth that living a life the way Ronnie lived his can affect their lives the way it affected his.

The officials thanked Ronnie for the gift and one of them told him he was going to put it in his office. Then he said, "Ronnie, I want you to know that I personally selected each member of the firing squad. They are sober men who are taking this assignment very seriously and with the correct spirit." Ronnie thanked him and told him he hoped the men would not suffer any emotional problems because of the assignment.

After the officials left, Ronnie said how much it meant to him that these two men had treated him so respectfully.

"I am not happy about dying, but I am ready," he said. "I don't plan to be a problem for anyone that night."

He has asked them to let him walk barefoot across the lawn when he is moved to the holding cell. "It has been 25 years since I have felt the cool grass beneath my feet," he said. "People may think that I haven't missed much being in here, but little things like this are an example of the small things I have missed."

He said he has asked the inmates in his section to be quiet and respectful when he is moved to the holding cell and up to the execution. There have been times when the inmates have acted out during an execution.

Ronnie has a visit scheduled tomorrow with his brother, daughter, son and maybe his granddaughter. It will be the last time they see him.

JUNE 15

I had only a short visit with Ronnie because his family was coming, but he asked me to stay until they arrived. We discussed the possibility of my giving him a priesthood blessing in which I lay my hands on his head and offer up a prayer. We had discussed it several times over the years. I told him that we would need to do it tonight because once he gets in the holding cell there will be a solid door. As I reached through the bars and placed my hands on his head, Ronnie looked up at me with a smile and said, "I don't suppose you can bless me out of here, can you?" Among other things, I blessed him with peace and comfort in the coming hours. As I removed my hands, he turned to me and grabbed both of my hands. "Thank you, Dan," he said. "Thank you for the patience and love you have shown me over all these years."

Ronnie's family arrived, so I left for the evening. I met Ronnie's family in the check-in area. They were sad and emotional. I gave them each a hug and told them they had to be strong in this situation. This is Ronnie's last visit with them; they needed to make it a pleasant one for all of them.

As I was leaving, several officers expressed appreciation for my visits with Ronnie. Some of them have known Ronnie for 25 years; this is a difficult time for them, as well.

When I got to my car, I had voicemails from two TV stations, a newspaper and a radio station. I had previously agreed to talk to the Deseret News and (KSL's) Doug Wright when this was over. That is all I will do. I don't need or want publicity.

JUNE 17

When I tried to tell my wife later about the experience of giving Ronnie a blessing, I got so emotional I could hardly finish describing it. All of my daughters have called today to express their concern and support. I am a blessed man.

I headed to prison for my last visit with Ronnie. I have been fasting today and hope I will be inspired to know the things that need to be said and done. As I approached the prison, there was heavy security. There was a large crowd already gathered across the freeway from the prison and a number of media vehicles. At the check-in I was led to holding cell No. 3. It was about 7 p.m. There were about seven officers gathered there monitoring Ronnie. He was lying on his bunk. When he saw me he stood and smiled. He had been watching a DVD.

"Did you get to walk barefoot through the grass?" I asked.

"Oh, man, that was great!" he said. "I walked all the way down here barefoot. Even with the arthritis it was unreal."

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