Ronnie Lee Gardner: If We Are Not Our Brother's Keeper, at Least Let Us Not Be His Executioner

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Security guard in jail

Many years ago, many many years ago, long before some of you were probably born, he was born. I'm told that his own childhood was not that of lollipops and sunshine, but one of violence and abuse and drugs and incarceration. Mental institutions and juvenile detention employed as places to keep him safe from his own relatives.

Lessons learned there only provoked him to harder and more criminal activities and more emotional and sexual abuse all before he was eighteen years old.  By the time he was sixteen, he was already a father, addicted to drugs and was angry at just about everything and everyone in the entire world.

He committed a very long list of heinous and unforgivable crimes.  Some would say his childhood of neglect, where society chose to quite literally ignore him and what was truly happening to him, created the monster that he was and others will be quick to point out that children are capable of surviving far worse and not choosing a life of robbery sprees, escapes from prisons and multiple murderous rages.

There are never any good excuses for a human being to choose to take the life of another.

I am not going to make them for this man or for any other man. 

Early last Friday morning, though, as I stood vigil with members of his family in a parking lot across the street from the state prison that Ronnie Lee Gardner has called home for the last 25 years, the state of Utah chose to take his life in my name.  They called it justice.  I called it murder. I am not God, none of us are and we should not be making these life decisions. Any of us.

I understand the impassioned voices that cry that he took three lives.  That there must be blood atonement.  An eye for an eye.  It is a very human response to the very awful crimes that this man committed. 

I just have to ask, though.  How are we any better, truthfully, any better at all, by killing this man than he is in the killing of others?  His executioners, the five marksmen tasked with taking aim at a white target pinned to his chest, took a human life.  Why is this okay?  If you were handed the rifle and told to kill him for justice, could you truly pull the trigger?  If you were a citizen of Utah, early Friday morning you did just that.

He was a human being.  He had a heart.  He was a father to children and grandchildren.  He committed horrific crimes.  But our own crimes against humanity are just as horrific and we are just as complicit when we commit murder to teach our children that killing people is wrong.

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