June 20, 2010

The Executioner’s Conscience

Draper facility, Utah State Prison.
Photo
by David Jolley

“The five law enforcers remain anonymous, and will be stationed behind a gun ported brick wall in the execution chamber. The executioners will be armed with .30-caliber rifles, four of which will be loaded with live rounds. The weapon carrying the blank round will be unknown to the law enforcers.”
Execution Procedures, Utah Dept. of Corrections

Ronnie Lee Gardner committed heinous acts condemned by all civilized people. Given a choice of methods of his own execution, he elected to face death by firing squad.

The procedures instituted by the state suggest more ambivalence about this procedure than one might have expected. The five peace officers called upon to perform this civic duty are to remain anonymous. One can understand that, given possible future shifts in public opinion about the death penalty, it might make sense to hold the executioner anonymous. (This differs sharply, of course, from systems that hold judges anonymous.)

The more intriguing decision is the fact that information is withheld from the executioners themselves. None of the five officers knows if he or she is the one who helped cause the death or if his or her rifle carried a blank.

None of the five law enforcers knows if he or she is indeed an executioner. Why does the State of Utah deny this information from these officers?