Utah firing squad executes convicted killer

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Gardner’s attorneys argued the jury that sentenced him to death in 1985 heard no mitigating evidence that might have led them to instead impose a life sentence. Gardner’s life was marked by early drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage, court records show.

They also argued he could not get a “fair and impartial hearing” before Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole because lawyers that represent the board work for the Utah attorney general’s office, which sought his death warrant and argued against the board commuting Gardner’s death sentence

The firing squad has been Utah’s most-used form of capital punishment. Of the 49 executions held in the state since the 1850s, 40 were by firing squad.

John Albert Taylor, who raped and strangled an 11-year-old girl, was the last person executed by firing squad on Jan. 26, 1996.

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.

Gardner, who once described himself as a “nasty little bugger” with a mean streak, spent his last day sleeping, reading the novel “Divine Justice,” watching the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy and meeting with his attorneys and a bishop with the Mormon church. A prison spokesman said officers described his mood as relaxed. He had eaten his last requested meal — steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP — two days earlier.

Members of his family gathered outside the prison, some wearing T-shirts displaying his prisoner number, 14873. None witnessed the execution, at Gardner’s request.

“He didn’t want nobody to see him get shot,” Randy Gardner said. “I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He’s my little brother.”

The American Civil Liberties Union decried Gardner’s execution as an example of what it called the United States’ “barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment.” And religious leaders called for an end to the death penalty at an interfaith vigil in Salt Lake City on Thursday evening.

“Murdering the murderer doesn’t create justice or settle any score,” said Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church.

Burdell’s family opposes the death penalty and asked for Gardner’s life to be spared.

But Otterstrom’s family lobbied the parole board against Gardner’s request for clemency and a reduced sentence.

George “Nick” Kirk, was a bailiff at the courthouse the day of Gardner’s botched escape. Shot and wounded in the lower abdomen, Mr. Kirk suffered chronic health problems the rest of his life.

Mr. Kirk’s daughter, Tami Stewart, said before the execution she believed Gardner’s death would bring her family some closure.

“I think at that moment, he will feel that fear that his victims felt,” she said.

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