The Old West seems like a long time ago, but the methods of execution for prisoners on Death Row have only recently been adapted to suit more “civilized” times. In fact, it was only in 2004 that the US state of Utah banned using firing squads as a method of carrying out a death sentence.
However, the ban only included those convicts sentenced to death after this date – anyone sentenced beforehand could still choose to face the rifles – although the method has not been used for 14 years.
So, times of old and new were very much intertwined last week, when Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used a very modern way of announcing a very old practice; notifying the public of the execution by firing squad of convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Garner via his Twitter account.
The Attorney General sent a total of three Tweets from – yes, you’ve guessed it – his iPhone ; two of which concerned the execution and the third, a little shameless promotion for the live press conference from his own website.
Mr Garner was originally given a life sentence after the 1984 murder of Melvyn Otterstrom, a bartender during a botched robbery attempt. However, during trial, Garner attempted to escape, killing his attorney Michael Burdell in the process and eventually being sentenced to death by lethal injection or firing squad.
Gary DeLand, executive director of Utah’s corrections agency until 1992, speculates what made Gardner choose to face the firing squad; he told the BBC, “We don’t know why Gardner chose this method but one prisoner who had chosen the firing squad basically said if he was going to die, he wanted someone to have to clean up the mess.”
Ronnie Lee Garner was pronounced dead at 0020 on 18th June.
Those of you that want to can view Mark Shurtleff’s Tweets here.
Clearly this is an edgy subject that some of you may find wholly distasteful, but we would love to hear your thoughts on the subject – you can leave them in the comments box below.