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A look at Utah's most infamous executions


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Unless the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole issues a surprise decision Monday, this Friday Utah will carry out its first execution in more than a decade.

Ronnie Lee Gardner has been on death row for 25 years for killing courtroom attorney Michael Burdell. Although it is not an option in new cases, Gardner has elected to die by firing squad.

Utah is the last state to allow the firing squad and many critics charge it is archaic and violent.

Here are some other executions in Utah that have caught the world's attention:

  • In 1877, John D. Lee faced a firing squad seated on his own coffin. It happened in Mountain Meadows 20 years after the infamous massacre.
  • In 1915, Utah gained global attention for executing Joe Hill. Many believed the union supporter was innocent and people from all over the world, including U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller, pleaded for his life.
  • Barton Kay Kirkham was the last person hanged in Utah. He killed two clerks at the Nibley Park Grocery Store in 1956. Kirkham said he chose hanging to inconvenience the state.
  • In 1977, Utah became the first state to execute anyone after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment. Gary Gilmore faced a firing squad and famously proclaimed "Let's do it" before the gunmen took aim.

Related:

  1. Pierre Selby and William Andrews walked into the Hi-Fi shop in Ogden in 1974, took five people hostage, killed three of them and left the two who survived with horrific injuries. Both were sentenced to death, and in 1987 Selby became the first person in Utah to die by lethal injection. Andrews was executed five years later.
  2. Gary Bishop kidnapped, molested and murdered five young boys between 1979 and 1984. He confessed and was executed by lethal injection in 1988.
  3. John Taylor raped and strangled an 11-year-old Washington Terrace girl in June 1989. He chose to face a firing squad to embarrass the state, and his execution did indeed put Utah's death penalty under global scrutiny.
  4. Utah's last execution did not attract much attention outside of Utah, in part because Joseph Parsons asked that no one protest his death. He robbed and stabbed Richard Ernest to death while hitchhiking in 1987. Parsons was given a lethal injection on October 15, 1999. To date, there have been more than 50 executions in Utah. All the condemned were men and all were given a choice as to the method of their execution.

Those choices have included beheading, hanging, a firing squad or lethal injection.

In 2004, Utah banned the firing squad, but the law was not retroactive. Since several other men on death row have said they want to die that way, America's last execution by firing squad could be years away.

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