For the second time in its existence, Utah State Prison’s execution chamber will be used to carry out the death penalty Friday shortly after midnight.
The condemned, Ronnie Lee Gardner, will be executed by his chosen method, firing squad.
Though Gardner has attempted appeals to reduce his sentence to life in prison, judges have kept him on death row for the 1985 murder of attorney Michael Burdell, who he killed while in court for a separate murder charge. He used a gun slipped to him in an attempt to escape the courthouse and wounded a guard in addition to killing Burdell.
The impending execution has stirred up the capital punishment controversy, and it proves to be just as difficult an issue as it was when reinstituted by the United States in 1976.
“For me, it’s not like a yes death penalty all the time thing,” said Kevin Pessetto, a Brigham Young U. student, studying international relations. “It’s a hard issue to make cut and dry, but I think in cases where guilt is 100 percent sure, then I think it’s appropriate. But if we were to execute somebody who turned out to be innocent, it would be terrible.”
Yet despite the risks, Pessetto said the death penalty could be acceptable.
“If they are 100 percent sure, then I think it’s good because as the price of something goes up, the demand will go down,” Pessetto said. “So as opposed to some years in prison, the penalty of death will reduce crimes.”
Pessetto said even if a condemned person were to change while on death row, they should still be left on death row.
“It’s nice that they repented, but that’s an issue to take up with God,” Pessetto said. “It’d be terrible if we make leniency for people who have claimed to have repented then release them and find out that their repentance wasn’t sincere, which is really difficult to tell.”
Pessetto supports Gardner’s method of execution.
“Good for him,” Pessetto said. “I think you should be able to choose. [Firing squad] is a cheaper way to do it.”
Scott Stevens, a BYU senior, studying advertising, didn’t even know the condemned could influence how they were executed.
“I think that’s pretty interesting,” Stevens said. “It seems a little out of place that they would get to choose. I guess if he’s going to die either way it doesn’t really matter.”
A law eliminating firing squads as an option for execution passed in 2004. But since it was not retroactive, it did not affect the decision Gardner made when he was sentenced to death in 1985.
However, Stevens did not agree with some methods of execution.
“One thing I think I’m against is the chair,” Stevens said. “I don’t know that anyone still does that anymore. Doing stuff like that nowadays is a little over the top. But something like an injection where they can pass peacefully, you know, it doesn’t need to be any more of a show. They’re losing their life either way, and I think keeping it simple either way is better for everyone.”
Electrocution is only allowed as an option for execution in four states: Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, though lethal injection is an alternate method in each state.
But as for the issue of the death penalty, Stevens said he didn’t feel like he was on either side.
“I’m kind of in the middle,” Stevens said. “I guess I don’t have an opinion either way. I think though that if someone were to do something bad enough, then I guess I would support it. Like the taking away of other people’s lives, especially a significant number of people would probably be enough grounds to have it be OK.”
Cali Hansen, a BYU student, studying political science, said the death penalty was something of a necessary, though unfortunate, part of government.
“In general, I think in some cases it’s necessary,” Hansen said. “It’s kind of hard. I hate to see human life destroyed, but if they’ve committed that crime, that should be the penalty.”
A state parole board denied Gardner’s request for clemency on Monday. According to the Associated Press, an appeal is still pending in the Utah Supreme Court.
And yet Gardner will be eating his last meal as BYU students finish another round of finals and head home or prepare for school again a few days later. Barring an act of God or government, in the middle of the night, Ronnie Lee Gardner will suffer the penalty for the crime he committed more than two decades ago.