Pia Ringheim Jensen at The Daily Beast:
On June 17, at 5 p.m., the parking lot outside the Draper, Utah, prison building where Ronnie Lee Gardner is scheduled to be executed by firing squad was already full of media trucks. The only people who could get close to the building were approved members of the media, including a reporter from The Daily Beast. No protesters were in evidence.
Inside a large media room, TV cameras were set up and journalists took their seats, positioning laptops on the desks in front of them and watching TV news for updates on the execution that’s still planned for shortly after midnight. It will be the first execution performed by firing squad in this new permanent chamber, 20 feet by 24 feet and fitted with curtains to cover the bulletproof windows between the chamber and the adjacent witness rooms.
Gardner has the right to invite up to five witnesses, but it wasn’t known if he had asked for any.
We were told that the prisoner seemed calm and relaxed. He had been sleeping, reading Divine Justice and watching a movie, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He had been fasting since his last meal yesterday. He has the right to visit with clergy, but had not requested any.
Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:
As ABC News reports, witnesses gave accounts of their reaction to it that were not always quite the same. Here are a few press reports.
With two loud bangs in quick succession, Ronnie Lee Gardner’s quarter century on Utah’s death row ended.
At 17 minutes past midnight Friday, Utah Department of Corrections officials confirmed the death of a man whose life was defined by sex abuse, drug addiction, poverty, criminality and murder.
But in the final hours of his life, friends and family members said, Gardner was at peace.
And in his final minutes, witnesses said, the calm, condemned man exchanged private words with Utah’s prison chief before being strapped to the execution chair and asked if he had any final words.
“I do not. No,” he said.
Ahood was pulled over his head. An executioner counted back from five. The shots rang out.
If the man known as one of Utah’s most notorious criminals was a monster, family members said, it was only as a result of his abusive upbringing. And Gardner’s appellate attorneys long had argued that if his jurors had known more about his childhood, they would have sentenced him to life in prison, instead of death.
Ronnie Lee Gardner’s head, covered by a black hood, remained upright.
His body sat straight in the chair to which it was strapped.
As my eyes traveled down Gardner’s left arm, past his dark blue jumpsuit, I saw his pale white skin appear below his elbow. Half a faded blue tattoo, some kind of diamond shape, stuck out from the restraint around his wrist.
At the bottom of his restraint, I focused on his fist. Gardner died much the way he lived — with a clenched fist.
Yes, this was my first time witnessing an execution. I have been amazed at how many people asked me that.
Firing four bullets into a man’s chest is, by definition, violent. If it can also be clinical and sterile, then that also happened in this execution.
AND further down, after the hood is placed over Gardner’s head:
I watched Gardner. As the seconds passed, I grew anxious. I pivoted my eyes away from Gardner toward the slits.
… I heard “boom boom.” The sounds were as close together as you could spew them from your mouth.
My eyes darted back to Gardner and to his chest. The target, perfect just a second earlier, had three holes. The largest hole was in the top half of the circle and toward Gardner’s left side. It may have been where two bullets entered Gardner.
Below that hole, still inside the circle, was a smaller hole. Outside the circle, in the bottom right of the target, was a third hole. Each hole had a black outline. Utah Department of Corrections Director Tom Patterson would say later the target was fastened to the jump suit by Velcro and that may account for the black outline.
….I saw Gardner move his left arm. He pushed it forward about 2 inches against the restraints. In that same motion, he closed his hand and made a fist.
Then it happened in reverse. Gardner’s hand loosened, his arm bent at the elbow, straightened again and the fist returned. At the time, I interpreted this as Gardner suffering — clenching his fist in an effort to fight the pain.
….The next movement I saw from Gardner came from beneath his hood. I could see the bottom of his throat and it rippled as though Gardner moved his jaw.
..I squinted my eyes, looking for blood. I saw none through the holes in Gardner’s chest. None spilled on the floor. The jump suit slightly darkened around his waist and it appeared that’s where blood was pooling. But I never saw a drop
When an official checked to see if Garnder was alive, Carlisle could get a glimpse of the prisoner’s face:”His mouth was agape. His face was even whiter than it was before the hood covered him.”
Brad Hirschfield at The Huffington Post:
Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed at approximately 12:05 AM at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Draper, Utah. And even more than other death penalty cases, this one stirred strong emotion because it was carried out by firing squad. At Mr. Gardner’s request, he was strapped to a chair and shot by a team of five executioners, four of whose rifles contained live ammunition.
While I’m opposed to the death penalty, once the citizens of a state have agreed to permit it, I am entirely supportive of implementing it by firing squad. In fact, as long as it is limited to cases in which the convicted felon elects that method, I think it’s actually a good way to go.
How can someone opposed to the death penalty make such a claim? While done with a heavy heart, it’s a matter of honesty and clarity about the brutality of taking another human being’s life, even if that person “deserves” it.
If citizens really long for the death of another human being, then let it be as messy and horrible as taking a life really is. And if doing so bothers us, perhaps we shouldn’t be executing the person at all!
Robin Wauters at Tech Crunch:
A sign of the times, although many may find it distasteful, or much worse: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used a mobile Twitter client to send out a tweet announcing the impending execution by firing squad of convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner.
As the BBC notes, quite a modern way to announce a very old-fashioned death.
In total, the AG sent out 3 tweets about the event from his iPhone only a couple of hours ago, the most recent one an all-too-familiar (on Twitter) self-promoting one.
1) A solemn day. Barring a stay by Sup Ct, & with my final nod, Utah will use most extreme power & execute a killer. Mourn his victims. Justice
2) I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.
3) We will be streaming live my press conference as soon as I’m told Gardner is dead. Watch it at http://www.attorneygeneral.Utah.gov/live.html
Rather in poor taste, no?
Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review:
Any time you are tempted to think, “Surely nobody would have the bad taste and lack of sense to do that?” remember that the answer is always no.
Radley Balko at Reason:
Old school justice meets social networking.
What, no Twitpics of the body?
Elizabeth Allen at Mashable:
Were these tweets really necessary? For the most part, the 140-character messages about death, devoid of any emotion, did not sit well with many Twitter users.
A Twitter user named diptychal tweeted: “@MarkShurtleff’s tweet will probably go down in history as the dumbest most disgusting use of Twitter ever.” Another user, named drhonk, simply tweeted: “What a way to announce someone’s execution … twitter .. geez.”
The incident raises an interesting question. Is Twitter really appropriate in every occasion, even one as serious as an execution? What do you think, should Mark Shurtleff have tweeted about it? Voice your opinion in the comments.
Shani O. Hilton at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ place:
I admit that part of my issue with this is that I think that capital punishment is generally indefensible. But more than that, tweeting about someone’s death—even the death of a convicted murderer—strikes me as callous and not fitting for the gravity of the situation. It would be different if, say, he had tweeted a link to a press release. But to send out a message about the end of someone’s life so cavalierly. It boggles.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan