DRAPER, Utah: The niece of Ronnie Lee Gardner’s victim has said her uncle would not have wanted the death-row prisoner executed.Donna Taylor’s uncle, Michael Burdell, a lawyer, was shot through the right eye on April 2, 1985, by a convicted criminal who was trying to escape from the city’s central courthouse after he was on trial for a previous murder.Ashley Gardner’s uncle was Ronnie Lee Gardner, that same convicted criminal. In the early hours of Friday, just minutes before the two nieces, whose uncles are now both dead, embraced, Gardner was executed inside Utah State Prison, becoming the first person in the US in 14 years to be put to death by firing squad.There was precious little of the positive to be garnered during a long night spent waiting outside the prison for Gardner’s execution to be announced. We learnt that the prisoner had spent much of his final hours sleeping and talking to a Mormon clergyman. We heard that at midnight he had been restrained in the execution chair with six straps applied across his head, chest, wrist and ankles.We discovered that the expert marksmen who had volunteered to be the executioners had been issued with Winchester 30-30 rifles. We were told that they had taken aim at a circular target that had been attached to Gardner’s jumpsuit by a doctor, who used Velcro to exactly position it over the condemned man’s heart.We found out that the executioners were given a countdown but that for some unexplained reason they had decided in advance that they would all fire at the penultimate number.Five. Four. Three.And on the count of two they opened fire. He was pronounced dead at 12.17am.Gruesome detail piled on top of gruesome detail. But then there was this: the simple embrace, away from the cameras, of two bereaved nieces, brought together across a massive and violent divide by their common loss and their common disgust towards the death penalty.”I love him … he was a great guy,” Ashley Gardner said about her uncle, whose body was even then being wrapped in a black bag, placed on a stretcher and sent on its way to a local morgue to await cremation. ”I’m hurt because I don’t believe murder justifies murder.”The execution of Gardner has caused an outcry in the US and reignited the debate about the death penalty.While Donna Taylor wouldn’t speak after the execution she had said beforehand that her uncle had opposed capital punishment.”Mike was totally against the death penalty,” Ms Taylor said. ”He would not have wanted this; he would have said this doesn’t do any good.”It was only the third time since 1977 that execution by firing squad had been practised in the US. All three occasions took place in Utah, a state that is unashamed about its fondness for guns and has a history, dating back to its Mormon roots, of equating justice with the principle that blood begets blood. Of 49 executions in Utah over the past 160 years, 40 have been by firing squadThat confidence in the rightness of judicial killing was reflected outside the prison on Friday morning by some of the people gathered there, as a counterpoint to the sentiment reflected in the two nieces’ embrace.
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