Ronnie Lee Gardner Faces Firing Squad in Utah

"Word was put out that we needed five rifles," said DeLand. "We selected a firing squad and provided them a good deal of ammunition. They went out and practiced, making sure they could shoot on proper cadence, making sure they could keep all the shots inside a pattern that would be easily covered with a quarter."

A court order prolonged Gardner's life until now. After the customary last meeting with visitors and a minister, Gardner will be manacled and escorted to the execution chamber. His head, arms, legs and torso will be strapped to a winged, black metal chair that last was used for Taylor's execution.

The chair sits on a raised platform that is like a small stage. A tray beneath the chair collects the blood that runs from the prisoner's body. Sandbags stacked behind the chair are meant to stop stray bullets.

"The death chair, painted a deep midnight blue to neutralize the color of blood into an indistinguishable glistening hue, was made of steel and mesh," the late reporter Hal Schindler wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune. "Velcro strips secured the condemned's ankles, wrists, arms and body. It was a far cry from the piece of ordinary office furniture used when the notorious Gary Mark Gilmore faced a firing squad in 1977."

It was Gilmore's poorly planned and sloppy execution that prompted DeLand to craft a manual with protocols for firing squad executions. At Gilmore's execution, a camera had been smuggled into the death chamber and photos snapped.

Alcohol also was smuggled into Gilmore's cell the night before. Photos surfaced of Gilmore sipping whisky from miniature bottles.

The circular patch that was pinned over Gilmore's heart was attached backwards, making it hard for the firing squad to take aim on the vital organ.

"A friend on the Gilmore firing squad said it was one of the most poorly organized events he had ever been to," DeLand said. "The whole situation with Gary Gilmore was a mess."

In observation rooms surrounding the death chamber, about two dozen witnesses will view the execution, including relatives of the victims, state representatives, the news media and five people selected by Gardner. He was convicted of capital murder 25 years ago for the 1985 fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt.

One of the Five Gunmen Will Fire a Blank

Once Gardner is strapped into the death chair, the prison warden will open the curtains to the observations rooms. Gardner will be asked for any last words.

The five anonymous riflemen, all state law enforcement officers, will stand behind a brick wall with a gunport. They will aim at the target on Gardner's heart from about 25 feet away. Four of the five rifles will be loaded with live rounds. The weapon with the blank round is unknown.

"It's a very easy shot," DeLand said. "It's not like you need to be much of a marksman. If you couldn't hit that target from that distance, you have no business owning a gun."

Execution by firing squads date back as far as firearms themselves, but they are rare in the United States. Utah is one of the last states with the practice -- using firing squads in 40 of its 49 executions in the last 160 years.

In 2004, Utah lawmakers made lethal injection available in death penalty cases but inmates condemned before then were given the choice of a firing squad. In April, a judge asked Gardner for his preference.

"I would like the firing squad, please," he politely replied.

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