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“Even Gary Gilmore’s father said it was a dignified execution,” she said.

Historians say the method stems from 19th Century doctrine of the state’s predominant religion. Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believed in the concept of “blood atonement” — that only through spilling one’s own blood could a condemned person adequately atone for their crimes and be redeemed in the next life. The church no longer preaches such teachings and offers no opinion on the use of the firing squad.

Death penalty advocate Kent Scheidegger agrees that capital punishment should not amount to torture, but says the average person “is not really all that concerned with a murderer experiencing painless death.”

Public debate is focused more on the larger issue of the death penalty and whether or not the punishment deters crime.

“Arguing over the method of execution is kind of a distraction,” said Mr. Scheidegger, legal director of the Sacramento, Calif., Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Religious and secular groups plan prayer vigils and rallies outside the state capitol and the prison in the hours leading up to Gardner’s execution.

“If you think about it, how do you kill somebody in a permissible manner?” said Ralph Dellapiana, a co-founder of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “We don’t care much about the method, we’re of the ‘it’s all not OK’ belief.”

The barrage of publicity that follows the firing squad is largely what prompted Utah lawmakers to alter it’s capital punishment law in 2004 to disallow the choice for inmates and make lethal injection the default method. Inmates sentenced before then — like Gardner — retain the choice.

In repealing the option, Utah lawmakers said they disliked the negative media attention that firing squads focused on the state, said Republican Rep. Sheryl Allen, who twice carried legislation to change the law.

In 1996, more than 150 media outlets descended on Utah to cover Taylor’s execution, painting the firing squad as an Old West-style of justice that allows killers to go out in a blaze of glory that embarrasses the state.

Gardner is one of at least four of 10 men on Utah’s death row who have said they want to die by firing squad.