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Convicted killer executed by firing squad in US

Associated Press
Jun 19, 2010 at 09:06am IST

Draper, US: A barrage of bullets tore into Ronnie Lee Gardner's chest where a target had been pinned over his heart. Two minutes later, the twice-convicted killer was pronounced dead as blood pooled in his dark blue prison jumpsuit.

It was the first time in 14 years that an American inmate was executed by firing squad - a method Gardner choose over lethal injection. But death penalty opponents around the world reacted with horror all the same, renewing an international debate about capital punishment in the US.

Gardner was the third man to die by firing squad since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Unlike Gary Gilmore, who famously said "Let's do it" before he was shot on January 17, 1977, Gardner offered few words. Asked if he had anything to say before a black hood was fastened over his head, he said simply, "I do not, no."

The five executioners were police officers who volunteered for the task. They stood about 7.6 meters away, behind a wall cut with a gunport.

One of their .30-calibre Winchester rifles was loaded with a blank so no one would know who fired the fatal shots.

Gardner was in a straight-backed metal chair, with sandbags stacked around it to keep the bullets from ricocheting around the cinderblock room at the Utah State Prison.

Nine journalists were permitted to observe the execution, including one from The Associated Press.

When the prison warden pulled back the beige curtain covering the witness room, Gardner was strapped into the chair, his head secured by a strap across his forehead.

Harness-like straps also constrained his chest. His arms were at his sides, handcuffed and strapped to the chair. Affixed to his chest was a white cloth square about 7.6 centimetres wide bearing a black target.

The AP reporter never saw the rifles and did not hear the countdown to the trigger-pull. Utah Department of Corrections Director Thomas Patterson said the countdown went "5-4-3..." with the shooters starting to fire at the count of 2.

Seconds before the bullets hit him, Gardner's left thumb twitched against his forefinger. When his chest was pierced, he clenched his fist. His arm pulled up slowly as if he were lifting something and then released.

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