SALT LAKE CITY — The widow of a bailiff who was injured during a courthouse shooting three decades ago that led to the assailant being executed by gunfire says she supports Utah's efforts to bring back the firing squad.
VelDean Kirk witnessed the 2010 firing squad execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner. He was convicted of killing a bartender and later shooting a lawyer to death and wounding Kirk's husband during a courthouse escape attempt in 1985 in Salt Lake City.
"I didn't think it was inhumane at all. They went in there, put him in the chair, dropped the hood over his head, and bang, that was it," Kirk said Friday. "I thought, 'Geez, that's an easy way to go.'"
The Taylorsville woman shares the opinion of Republican state Rep. Paul Ray, who sponsored a bill that would reinstate firing squads if Utah cannot track down lethal injection drugs. The Legislature this week passed his measure, which illustrated the frustration in some states over bungled executions and shortages of lethal-injection drugs.
Ray argues a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane than the drawn-out deaths involved when lethal injections go awry — or even if they go as planned.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has declined to say if he will sign the firing-squad bill, a decision that's not expected for a week or so. He said Thursday that while the firing squad is "a little bit gruesome," it could offer the state a fallback execution method.
Opponents of the measure — including Ronnie Lee Gardner's brother — say firing squads are barbaric. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said the bill makes the state "look backward and backwoods."
But Kirk believes Gardner got what he deserved. She said that in the final 10 years of his life, her husband, Nick Kirk, suffered greatly from injuries he suffered in the shooting.
The bullet exploded in his stomach, she said.
He was never able to walk the same, couldn't go fishing anymore or lift his boat onto a trailer. For a while, Nick Kirk went back to the work that he loved, but he had to retire because it became too difficult physically with his ailments, VelDean Kirk said.
He died at age 69 in 1995.