David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Utah Executes Man By Firing Squad; First in 14 Years

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

Witnesses to the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner say it happened very quick as four out of the five marksmen fired .30-caliber bullets into his chest shortly after midnight Friday, marking the first time an inmate has been executed by firing squad in Utah in 14 years.

Four of the guns used live ammo while one shot blanks so none of the marksmen knew who actually fired the fatal shot.  An unidentified journalist who witnessed the execution told NBC News he was expecting Gardner to flinch as he was executed.  Instead, he described the process as so quick that, for a split second, he wondered if it had actually happened.

The first thing witnesses saw when the warden pulled back the curtain of the execution chamber was the 49-year-old Gardner strapped to a metal chair; his head held in place by a strap across his forehead and straps across his chest.  A target was placed over his heart and his hands were handcuffed at his sides.

Moments before the shots were fired, Gardner’s thumbs twitched.  As the bullets pierced his chest, his fist clenched.  His blood pooled through his dark blue prison jumpsuit. At 12:20 a.m, Gardner was pronounced dead.

One witness said, “The silence was deafening.”

A Life Of Crime and Turmoil

Ronnie Lee Gardner’s life was filled with turmoil.  Most of his life was spent behind bars.  Court documents show Gardner became addicted to sniffing gasoline and glue when he was only 6-years-old.  By age 10, he was addicted to LSD and heroin.  Around the same time in his life, court documents revealed his stepfather used him as a lookout on robberies.

Gardner spent much of his teen life in a foster home where he says he was sexually abused.  At age 23, he spent 18 months in a state mental hospital.  Six months after his release, at the age of 24, he shot and killed a bartender.  In 1985, while on trial for the bartender’s murder, Gardner shot and killed attorney Michael Burdell using a gun smuggled to him in an attempt to escape.

O. Wallace Kasteler / AP

In 2004, Utah adopted lethal injection as the default method of execution.  Because Gardner was sentenced before the law changed, he was able to choose being executed by firing squad.  According to NBC News, Gardner told his lawyer he preferred to be executed by firing squad.  Though he made that choice, he spent the following years aggressively fighting his capital sentence.

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June 18, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At Least 5 Killed In Midwest Tornado Outbreak

By: David Shepherd [ dshepherd@wtwo.com ] –  Sunday, June 06, 2010

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes plow through the Midwest overnight killing at least 5 people and leaving a path of destruction 100 yards wide.

In Millbury, Ohio, rescue workers continue their search for victims in the rubble of shattered homes Sunday.  It’s too soon to tell whether anyone else is missing.

The storms hit around 11 p.m. Saturday night with heavy rain, wind, hail and tornadoes.  The storm swept through a small farm town,


narrowly missing a heavily populated suburb of Toledo.

The violent storms damaged at least 50 homes and another 50 were severely damaged.  School buses and police cars were tossed in a mile long trail of devastation.

5 people, including 1 child, were killed.  Police say, among those killed, a person standing outside of the police department and a motorist.

In Michigan, it was a terrifying night as violent weather ripped off siding on a nuclear plant.

Nuclear Plant Automatically Shut Down as Storms Blew Through

Enrico Fermi Nuclear Power Plant

Severe storms that blew through Michigan caused damage to the Fermi 2 nuclear plant in the southeastern part of the state.  Per design, the plant shut

down as the high winds ripped off siding from one of the buildings there.


were called in to inspect the plant to make sure there was no further damage.  A public information officer for Monroe County tells NBC News the plant was expected to go back into operation soon.

Power was knocked out to about 35,000 people nearby during the storms but it’s not clear if it was directly related to the shutdown of the nuclear power plant.

In Dundee, Michigan, 11 people were taken to a nearby hospital with minor injuries.  Meteorologists with the National Weather Service are looking into reports of a tornado touchdown there.

More than 12 people were hurt in Dwight, Illinois where 10 homes and 40 mobile homes were destroyed.

June 7, 2010 Posted by | Polls, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment