Utah AG defends Twitter use after execution order

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff defended his use of Twitter on Friday to tell the world that he had given the Department of Corrections the OK to execute a condemned man by firing squad.

Shurtleff's tweet shortly before Ronnie Lee Gardner was shot to death Friday morning has drawn criticism from other Twitter users and on comment boards from those who found his use of the microblogging site distasteful.

Shurtleff's post said: "I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner's execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims."

He sent the tweet from his iPhone while walking into a news conference to tell reporters about the phone call he had just made to the state prison.

Tweeting news of interest is not uncommon for Shurtleff and his tweets are frequently reposted by reporters who follow him. He has more than 7,000 followers on Twitter and posts frequently.

He said he was surprised to see some of the vulgar messages on Twitter about him from those who found his post offensive.

"Obviously they have the wrong idea about what it's about. They just feel Twitter is a frivolous play thing. I've never used it as a play thing," Shurtleff told The Associated Press. "I was very careful in what I said. I wanted to express the somberness of the moment -- the mood. It was nothing that wasn't said in the press conference."

Shurtleff said he believes some who read about his post mistakenly believed he was tweeting from the state prison. He was at the Capitol, about 20 miles to the north.

Shurtleff said he was unaware of the outcry over his tweet until someone showed him an article on the BBC's website that mentioned his use of Twitter the previous night.

He later sent out a link to that article on Twitter, saying in his post, "I believe in an informed public. As elected official I use social media to communicate directly with people."

Shurtleff said he doesn't regret any of his execution-related Twitter posts and that he would continue to use social media to spread news.

For Shurtleff, this isn't the first time his tweets have drawn attention.

Last year, he accidentally tweeted that he was running for U.S. Senate, a campaign he has since abandoned.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Brock Vergakis writer


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