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Sunday, October 10, 2021

Ronnie Lee Gardner: The Last Man To Die By Firing Squad

     On the night of October 9, 1984, in Salt Lake City, 24-year-old Ronnie Lee Gardner was under the influence of cocaine when he held up a bar and killed the bartender, Melvyn Otterstrom, by shooting him point blank in the face. The twice-convicted robber netted $100 from the deadly hold up.

     Three weeks after shooting the bartender to death, police officers arrested Gardner at his cousin's house in Salt Lake City. Officers booked him into jail on the charge of capital murder. The judge set Gardner's bail at $1.5 million.

     On April 2, 1985, as Gardner was being escorted through the underground garage on his way to an upstairs courtroom, he managed to get his hands on a firearm someone had left hidden in the garage for him. The moment he displayed the gun in the courtroom, a guard shot him in the chest. Although wounded, Gardner shot a bailiff in the stomach.

     As the armed and wounded Gardner tried to flee the building, he encountered two attorneys and shot one of them in the eye. A dozen police officers surrounded the armed prisoner before he could leave the courthouse. When he dropped the gun, officers took him into custody. The lawyer he shot died a little later in the hospital. The bailiff survived.

     Ronnie Gardner was himself rushed to a local hospital where he recovered from his gunshot wound.

     In October 1985, Gardner pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to death.

     Two years later, inmate Gardner broke a glass partition in the prison's visiting area and had sex with a woman who was visiting him. The other prisoners barricaded the doors and cheered Gardner and his partner on.

     In 1994, while still housed at the state prison in Draper, Utah, Gardner got drunk on alcohol he had fermented in his cell and stabbed a fellow prisoner named Richard "Fats" Thomas. Thomas survived the attack.

     Gardner's death house attorneys, citing their client's troubled upbringing, petitioned to have his death sentence reduced to life in prison. In 2010, the governor of Utah denied the commutation request. Gardner's lawyers appealed that decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost.

     Out of legal remedies, Ronnie Gardner requested that he be executed by firing squad. He said he sought this method of execution because of his Mormon background. It had been 14 years since anyone in the country had been executed this way.

     On June 18, 2010, the state of Utah, pursuant to Ronnie Gardner's request, executed the 49-year-old by firing squad. He was the last condemned prisoner in the United States to be executed by bullet.

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