Friday, June 18, 2010

Blowing Out a Candle

Maybe it's pointless to be disturbed at anything that happens in Joseph-Smith-fearing Utah, but even as I favor a limited version of the death penalty on alternating Sundays and Thursdays, this is unsettling:

Death row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner died in a barrage of bullets early Friday ... Gardner was strapped into a chair, a black hood was fastened around his head, and a team of five marksmen aimed their guns at a white target pinned to his chest ... [the condemned man] told his lawyer he did it because he preferred it ... The executioners were all certified police officers who volunteered for the task and remain anonymous. They stood about 25 feet from Gardner, behind a wall cut with a gunport, and were armed with a matching set of .30-caliber Winchester rifles. One was loaded with a blank so no one knows who fired the fatal shot. Sandbags stacked behind Gardner's chair kept the bullets from ricocheting around the cinderblock room.
Well, then -- the firing squad was still a legal form of execution in a putatively modern jurisdiction as late as 2004 (Utah has since ended it). Neat!

For all the precautions taken, and for all the voluntary aspects of it, it still seems needlessly barbaric: to the people firing the rifles, to the people who have to clean up the mess afterwards, to the medical staff who have to close in and check for signs of life -- presumably this means watching until the man stops squirming and until breathing visibly stops, and thereafter getting hands-on.

It is certainly barbaric to anyone who still cares for the executed man. As for the victims' survivors:
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.
Maybe. Plausibly. Who knows? "Closure" is notoriously elusive and unpredictable. What sounds more certain is that these people will go forward with yet one more bloody, brutal trauma to replay in their minds, and that doesn't sound constructive. From the comfort of this armchair, I decline to press the point further, but stand aside for the people involved to speak, think, and emote for themselves.

It's nice that Utah got around to ending this means of execution. It appears to be vanishing as a legal practice in the USA -- mostly:
On April 1, 2009, a bill to eliminate firing squad as a method of execution in Idaho was enacted, and took effect July 1, 2009. As of 2010, Oklahoma is the only other state in which execution by firing squad is legally available, though as a backup method only, in case both lethal injection -- the state's primary method of execution -- and electrocution are regarded unconstitutional.
Sigh. That's Oklahoma for you -- doing what it takes to keep a few candles burning in the long-abandoned caverns and sewers of modern civilization.

(via Obscene Desserts)


Jeremy said...

Interesting post. I did not know that about the Utah law. One would have thought death by firing squad would have gone extinct in America by the mid-20th century or so, but backwards as we are ...

Dale said...

Jeremy, I share the surprise. Fortunately, it is *almost* completely gone by now.