Friday, April 30, 2010

Corrections Officials Bar Media Interviews of Death Row Inmate

1916 photograph of an execution by firing squa...Image via Wikipedia
On June 18, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be hooded, tethered to a chair, and a bullseye target  placed over his heart. Five sharpshooters will aim at the target with .30 caliber rifles, four of which carry live rounds, and fire.

If Gardner, who faces execution for murdering attorney Michael Burdell during a courthouse escape attempt on April 2, 1985, in the course of which he also wounded bailiff Nick Kirk, feels remorse toward the victim's loved ones or has any thoughts about his incarceration or previous crimes, he will take them to his grave. That's because Utah corrections officials, deviating from past practices, will not permit news media interviews of Gardner, according to The Salt Lake Tribune (

Utah law empowers prison officials to restrict communications with an inmate provided a "reasonable institutional policy" underlies the decision limiting access. Corrections officials contend that permitting media interviews would unduly focus attention on the criminal while ignoring innocent victims of his crime.

Opponents of the move argue that forbidding media interviews violates Gardner's First Amendment rights. At the time of his failed escape attempt, Gardner was appearing in court on 1984 charges of robbery and murder at a Salt Lake City tavern.

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  1. A disturbing picture.

    I'd be very interested in hearing your opinion on this media restriction, as well as how you feel about the death penalty in general, if you'd care to share.


  2. Although the news media unfailingly botches such opportunities with lurid, sensational coverage, I am troubled whenever the govt. restricts media access, especially when it offers disingenuous reasons for doing so ("keep the focus on the victims"). Insights can be gained into the criminal mind from a thoughtful interview, and the comfortable public should be afforded a closer look at the criminal justice system that carries out death sentences on the public's behalf.

  3. Thank you. I hope your students realize how fortunate they are to have you.

  4. You're very sweet to say so, but I've already had 2 students complain about their final grade within a few hours of my submitting them.

  5. Not today, perhaps, but someday those students will appreciate and thank you for your high standards.