‘Let’s do it.’

by Justin

I can’t imagine any death-row inmate choosing lethal injection. Sure, if the choice is between the notoriously unreliable and undeniably painful electric chair or some fatal cocktail I’d leap for the syringe. But what if one of the choices is to stand in the open air and brace against a bullet through the heart? Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I’d take the instant and dramatic gunshot over feeling my life ebb away in the cold, sterile air of an indoor execution chamber.  Not to mention recent accounts of botched injections that required additional doses or observable pain in those last breaths.

This article in the Times about the last bastion of firing squad executions made me imagine the scenarios for the first time since Colonel Aureliano. A prisoner, Ronnie Lee Gardner, sat on death-row for 25 years – first electing the firing squad and later switching back and forth from lethal injection. This summer he may be the first man executed by rifle in nearly fifteen years. Here’s what warrants investigation:

Utah is phasing out firing squads because of the media attention and bad image they cause, legislators and corrections officials said.

It’s the last state in the US to not give in fully to lethal injections, and I can’t understand why that would be the case. What negative media coverage could there be that isn’t equally damaging to the use of the needle? Are there genuinely balanced portraits of the two options? I can’t help but feel like the stigma owes more to the association of murder with guns, while the science of a chemical concoction alleviates some of the barbarism. At the end of the day you’re still ending a life, and excepting the possibility of pain I don’t believe that the means should be of significance to anyone but the executioner and executed.

Maybe it’s because of the idealized images from films of a lone man, blindfolded, a cigarette hanging, standing tall before the bullets fly that this seems like a no-brainer. There’s something insidious and inhuman about the injection, and something classic and passionate about the firing squad. Or so I thought before this passage from the article that redrew the image in my mind:

Procedures for the last two such executions in Utah, which officials said would largely be followed with Mr. Gardner, had five unidentified officers using identical .30-30 hunting rifles from a distance of about 20 feet. One rifle — which one unknown to the shooters — was loaded with a blank. The condemned man was strapped into a seat while wearing a black jumpsuit and a hood, with a white cloth circle placed over his heart to provide a target.

Can you imagine being one of the gunmen? Or the hooded man in black? If someone hasn’t written that play or made that movie, it’s as arresting a setup as I’ve heard in a long time.