The protests began before the hearing took place.
A Utah judge finally signed an execution warrant for Ronnie Lee Gardner and set June 18 as the day for him to be killed by a firing squad. Predictably, outside the hearing room people opposed to the death penalty gathered.
They cited scripture and stated that lifelong incarceration was enough punishment for any crime. After all, once a man is locked away he can’t hurt anyone again, right?
That isn’t true in this case. Gardner committed two murders and attempted at least two other murders all while he was supposedly secure behind bars.
By 1984 the 23-year-old Gardner was labeled a habitual criminal and was locked away from society. In August of that year he was being transported for treatment to the University of Utah Medical Center. In the process, he managed to escape. He then went on a crime spree that included stabbing a man at the home of a relative when the man refused to give him money.
Still on the loose, on Oct. 9, 1984 he killed a 37-year-old bartender inside a Salt Lake City bar.
He was apprehended and went back to prison. During a courthouse hearing in 1985, he obtained a pistol and used it to kill an attorney who happened to get in the way of another escape attempt. He also shot and wounded a deputy during the attempt.
He was sent back to prison. In 1987 he and another prisoner barricaded themselves in a visitation room with two female visitors. In the process he made a weapon from broken glass and had sex with one of the female visitors. Fortunately, in this instance he was eventually subdued before he had the opportunity to use his weapon.
Still in prison, in 1994 he brewed a batch of homemade alcohol in the sink of his cell.
While under the influence, he repeatedly stabbed another inmate with a homemade knife. The man survived.
Gardner is the very definition of a murdering psychopath. He has readily admitted his crimes and never expressed remorse. He has manipulated the system at every turn as he spent 25 years on death row. He continues his manipulations even now by requesting death by firing squad rather than the less sensational lethal injection. For more than 10 years he has asked for the appeals to stop and for the sentence of death to be carried out. It is hard to know if that is a legitimate wish or if it is just more theatrics for public entertainment.
If the point of prison is to protect civilized society, then it failed miserably in Gardner’s case. If the point is punishment for crimes committed, then one must question a system that provided Gardner with 30 years of public defenders, free medical care, and opportunities to continue to enact violence against others.
The arguments about whether or not the death penalty is appropriate are off base and redundant. I understand forgiveness and repentance. But this situation is not about either.
During his lifetime of confinement, Gardner has not been punished. He has been protected. Now it is time for society to be protected from Gardner. And as his actions repeatedly demonstrated, there is only one way to make certain that occurs.