Ronnie Lee Gardner’s quarter-century on death row ended at 12:20 a.m. today when a firing squad executed one of Utah’s most notorious killers, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. His death signaled the end of a gut-wrenching saga for the families of the Utah men Gardner murdered or wounded and those who had hoped to spare the killer’s life. The 49-year-old Salt Laker’s death by four bullets marked what could be the last U.S. execution of its kind. Utah is the only state still using a firing squad, and only four men on death row could still choose it — the state switched to lethal injection in 2004.
Some hope the attention will highlight problems meting out capital punishment in Utah. Both death penalty opponents and believers decry the nearly 25 years Gardner spent between his conviction and execution for the 1985 murder of Michael Burdell. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has pushed to streamline death row appeals, said the run-up to today’s execution may have generated legislative momentum to remake state law. “I’m hearing from a lot of people, 25 years is just too long,” said Shurtleff. “It’s ridiculous.”