This undated photo obtained June 16, 2010 courtesy of the Utah Department of Corrections shows inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner. Gardner, 48 was executed by firing squad for the 1985 murder of Michael Burdell during an attempted courthouse escape. Image Credit: AFP

Salt Lake City: A Utah firing squad shot to death a convicted killer early on Friday in the third US execution by that means since 1976.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, was pronounced dead at 12:20 am Mountain Time (0620 GMT) after being shot in the chest by a five-man firing squad at the Utah State Prison in Draper, a suburb of Salt Lake City, Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections, told reporters.

Gardner was condemned to die for the murder of an attorney during a bloody 1985 escape attempt and chose the firing squad as his means of execution before it was banned by the state and replaced by lethal injection.

His last hope for a reprieve was dashed when the US Supreme Court denied his 11th-hour appeal.

As the execution neared, Gardner was strapped to a black metal chair and hooded and a target was placed over his chest.

Five executioners fired .30 caliber rifles, although one of the firearms carried a blank, allowing members of the firing squad to retain some doubt over whether or not they fired a fatal round into Gardner's chest.

Gardner ate his last meal of steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP soda on Thursday, having chosen to fast for the remaining time until his execution.

On Thursday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who does not have the power to commute a death sentence or pardon a condemned prisoner, denied Gardner's request for a temporary stay of execution.

"Upon careful review, there is nothing in the materials provided this morning that has not already been considered and decided by the Board of Pardons and Parole or numerous courts," Herbert said in a written statement released through his office.

"Mr. Gardner has had a full and fair opportunity to have his case considered by numerous tribunals," the governor said.


Like all other US states where the death penalty is in use, Utah now uses lethal injection as its primary means of putting a condemned man to death. Only Oklahoma still offers the firing squad as an alternative.

Utah's firing squad made international headlines in 1977, when double murderer Gary Gilmore was executed.

Gilmore, who demanded that the state carry out his death sentence, was the first person executed after the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty a year earlier.

"I find it barbaric," Bishop John C. Wester of The Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said in an interview.

"If you're going to do the death penalty, lethal injection would be the more humane way," Wester said, adding in reference to the firing squad, "It emblazons in our consciousness the violence that guns wreck on our lives."

Gardner was sentenced to death for the murder of attorney Michael Burdell, whom he shot to death while trying to escape from a courthouse. Gardner had been in court to face a murder charge for the shooting death of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom and was ultimately convicted in that case as well.

Otterstrom's son, Jason, was among those who attended the execution.

Some of Gardner's relatives held a candlelight prayer vigil near the prison in the hours leading up to the execution.