Utah inmate chooses death by firing squad

A Utah inmate facing the death penalty for a violent 1985 escape attempt is scheduled to die on June 18 by firing squad, an execution method that has been phased out in nearly every state, including Utah.

Ronnie Lee Gardner elected Friday to face a firing squad under a provision of state law that exempts five death row inmates who signaled their preference to die by firing squad before Utah all but banned the old, frontier-style practice in 2004.

"I would like the firing squad, please," Gardner, 49, told District Judge Robin Reese during Friday's hearing in Salt Lake City.

The case has renewed calls among death penalty opponents in Utah for an end to executions by all methods, and particularly those by firing squad.

"Even Utah has decided that it's so barbaric that it actually is no longer an option for people sentenced to death today," said Ralph Dellapiana, death penalty project director for High Road for Human Rights, one of a coalition of death penalty opponents in Utah.

"It's kind of a shock to the community when there's actually going to be somebody put up against a wall and killed," he said.

Utah is the only state that still actively uses firing squads. A state law in 2004 ruled out such executions except if death by lethal injection is found to be unconstitutional. Oklahoma has a similar provision, but that state allows firing squads only if both lethal injection and electrocution are ruled unconstitutional.