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Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

Death penalty debate continues

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In April of 1985, Ronnie Lee Gardner shot and killed an attorney during a court appearance at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice in Salt Lake City, Utah. Though handcuffed, a female acquaintance slipped him a small calibre weapon and he fatally shot an attorney in court that day for a completely different case. Gardner was in the court room to discuss evidence in an earlier murder case against him.

Ronnie Lee Gardner will soon face execution in Utah. What makes this case another headline is that Gardner has chosen a firing squad as his execution of choice. And barring even more court actions, Gardner will likely get his wish.

The case brings to public discussion both the matter of capital punishment and, specifically, the method of that capital punishment. Only Utah has used a firing squad in current times; first with the sensational case of Gary Gilmore more than three decades ago and again with John Albert Taylor in 1996.

Capital punishment is an interesting topic that has long been discussed and debated. Opponents pose several arguments against the subject and supporters are equally vocal in their support.

This case will change none of that.

In recent years we've had countless court cases - including ones in Missouri - arguing that lethal injection - the most frequently used method - is cruel and unusual punishment. Though the argument has delayed some executions, it has not changed the courts and capital punishment still remains in most states.

There's also been some interesting and unique arguments. Lawyers for obese inmates have argued that their size makes lethal injection problematic. That too has delayed cases.

The Gardner case brings to the surface two age-old arguments. Do you favor capital punishment and, if so, is a firing squad an acceptable practice for society to use to end the life of someone convicted of the ultimate crime in this country?

Though many would argue otherwise, I have always felt that capital punishment is a deterrent to crime. I base that perhaps on common sense. There are those who clearly disagree.

And if a firing squad is one of those methods available, I would assume the convicted has the one final right of selecting his method of death.

It's been since 1976 that the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment. Given the current political climate in this country, some future court may well rule otherwise.

From time to time, cases surface that focus national attention on this issue once again.

I am always reminded in those instances of the victims. It seems that we all too often lose sight of those who were killed or harmed during the crime that produced the death penalty.

I remember debating capital punishment in high school and believe me, that was many years ago. Truthfully, little has changed.

As best as I can determine, public sentiment still supports capital punishment in this country. And as best I can also determine, those opposed will never change their minds.

If it's a firing squad, lethal injection or the electric chair, the debate will continue.

Maybe that's the way it should be.

Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen