Death by Firing Squad: Time Running Out for Utah Man

Cynthia Dermody

man firing rifleIt has all the makings of a Hollywood movie starring Sean Penn: A Utah man on death row for nearly 25 years has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay just days before his scheduled execution by firing squad tomorrow.

Yes, firing squad. If all goes as planned, 49-year-old Ronnie Lee Gardner will be only the third man in United States history to be executed by rifle shot in the last 33 years.

It sounds a little Civil War-ish, but this is a legal means of sending a bad boy or girl to their maker here in modern day 2010.

But it's still not the weirdest. Of the 35 states that have capital punishment, a few states have even odder execution preferences.

Lethal injection is the primary or most common method of death in the 35 states with capital punishment. Most of Utah's 49 executions in the last 160 years have been done this way, reports CNN. But several states offer alternatives if that's ruled unconstitutional.

Nine states still use electrocution, CNN says, five states have the gas chamber, and two -- Washington and New Hampshire -- would hang condemned inmates as an alternate method! Talk about Civil War times.

Gardner has a history of murder and escape attempts. He was originally charged in the 1984 killing of a man in a bar where he worked. During an attempted escape from custody in 1985 at a Utah courthouse for a pre-trial hearing in that case, he shot and killed a lawyer, after which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Now his lawyers claim that it's ridiculous to execute a man who's been sitting on death row for more than two decades because the example has lost its deterrent effect. In addition, Gardner told members of the parole board, who denied his request, that he's a changed man.

Time is running out. He's set to stand before five men with rifles (one of them containing blanks so no one knows who had the fatal shot) shortly after midnight tonight. I guess we'll all know tomorrow morning how the Sean Penn movie will end.

Do you support the death penalty and do you think death by firing squad is better or worse than lethal injection or some of the other methods?

Image via AMagill/Flickr

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