Ronnie Lee Gardner Faces Firing Squad in Utah

Sometime after midnight Friday, Ronnie Lee Gardner is to be strapped into a chair in the execution chamber at the state prison in Draper, Utah. A black hood is to be slipped over the bald head of the 49-year-old convicted killer, if he wishes. A small circular target will be pinned over his heart.

After a reprieve was denied by Gov. Gary Herbert late Thursday, Gardner is all but guaranteed to become the third person to die before a firing squad in Utah or anywhere else in the nation since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

VIDEO: Prisoner requests firing squad death
Prisoner Requests Firing Squad Death

It has been 14 years since rifles last were fired in a state 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.

Utah is the last state that still conducts executions by firing squad.

The simple mechanics of an old fashioned execution by firing squad are cold blooded, efficient and have just a hint of consideration for the person living his last moments.

In his final hours, a fasting Gardner was seen reading a book called "Divine Justice" by David Baldacci and watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He had been visited by family members, his attorney and a clergyman. The prison was locked down at 4 p.m. MT.

VIDEO: A reporter in Utah describes the impact of seeing a firing squad execution.
The Effect of Witnessing a Firing Squad

Gardner's final procession toward this moment began earlier this week. He was moved at 9 p.m. Wednesday from his 6-by-12-foot cell on death row to a death watch cell near the execution chamber. Prison guards monitor him round-the-clock.

Gardner ate his final meal Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and elected to fast before his execution. His last meal included steak, lobster, 7-Up, apple pie and vanilla ice cream at a cost of $35 to the state, corrections officials said. He did not request a cigarette.

Utah corrections department guidelines said the meal was prepared on site by prison personnel.

"Alcohol will not be served or used in the cooking of the meal," the guidelines state.

Still, the condemned are indulged to a point.

"If they asked for escargot to be flown in from Paris, we would have said no," said Gary DeLand, who ran Utah's prison system from 1985 to 1992 and crafted the state's 200-page manual for carrying out executions. "One final meal was a hamburger and fries from a particular fast food place."

Utah last used the firing squad in 1996 to execute John Albert Taylor, who was convicted of the 1989 rape and strangulation of an 11-year-old girl. He ordered pizzas "with everything" for his last meal, according to press accounts.

Reporter Amy Donaldson witnessed Taylor's execution.

"The gunshots went off," Donaldson said. "It was silent, his fists clenched, clenched again, then his head went down."

The final cigarette is mythical -- in Draper, at least. DeLand said he oversaw two executions by lethal injection and neither inmate requested a smoke.

"We were a non-smoking institution when I was there," DeLand said.

DeLand was supposed to supervise Gardner's execution in the 1990s, but it was halted by court order.

Gary Gilmore's Execution Was Marred by Photos, Drinking

In Utah, the weapon of choice for firing squads is the .30-caliber rifle, which uses powerful .30-30 cartridges designed to take down big game such as black bear, deer and moose.

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