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18 Jun, 2010 06:05

Noble atrocity of firing squad execution

A US man convicted of murder has been executed by firing squad. He is only the third person in America in 33 years to be killed by this method.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, tried in the state of Utah, chose the firing squad as the means of his execution over lethal injection, but the decision has roused global attention and called the practice into question.

Virginia’s former chief executioner Jerry Givens had been killing people for 17 years, which adds up to 62 people killed by a push of a button, or a shot of a lethal drug cocktail. The smell of burnt flesh remains stuck in his memory, even though he quit the job 11 years ago and turned to God, repenting.

The killing of 62 people – I think I was used as a means to send a message to the world that He does not need us to do this, He does not need me to do that because this is His job,” Jerry says.

Throughout those 17 years, he had been trying to convince himself he was doing the right thing – killing convicted murderers and following the will of the judges. But he would never tell his family the truth about what he had been doing. For them he was just a correctional officer.

“You had to put yourself into this killing atmosphere, being apt to take a life from this person. And you do not want anything to interfere with that because you do not want to make [any] mistakes,” relates the former executioner. “You will be saying [to yourself] ‘I’m trying to be a perfect executioner, I do no mistakes’, you understand? So you engage yourself up to get ready for this, because this is not something I normally do.”

Having heard about the upcoming execution by firing squad in Utah, Jerry says it is unfair to put that burden of sin on to law enforcers.

Five policemen will shoot Ronnie Lee Gardner this Friday.

As gruesome as it may seem, firing squad is seen by some as an honest way of execution. It is shocking enough to let people know a murder is being committed. For many Americans, lethal injections and electrocution have become part of a usual legal practice, while behind any execution method is the same murder.

“With the lethal injection it appears to be more like a normal procedure with someone going in for a small problem – he would be just put to sleep, when in reality a person is just being put to death. With a firing squad what you are witnessing is an execution,” explained Paul Murphy from the Utah Prosecutor General’s office.

Paul Murphy witnessed an execution by a firing squad in 1996, the second in the US in the past 33 years. As of 2010, only one other state still offers the option – Oklahoma – while the most common way of killing the condemned is by lethal injection.

Jerry, who had been doing it for years, now calls for a ban on government-sanctioned murders, whatever the method.

“You know – let them die naturally. Let God decide [their fate], not me,” Jerry said.