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The weight of guilt: Executed killer Ronnie Lee Gardner's remorse

Before he was executed, a killer expressed remorse

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  • Love Utah Draper, UT
    July 17, 2011 6:34 a.m.

    I'm sorry, I've had enough. Can't we let murderers lie, in respect for the victims families? They suffer enough as it is without seeing this stuff in the papers.

  • LetsBeRational Spanish Fork, UT
    July 17, 2011 6:42 a.m.

    Gripping story--thanks to you and Bishop Bradshaw for sharing it. There is a bit of Ronnie Lee Gardner in most of us, and (hopefully) many friends, associates, spouses, and other family members who "rescue" us from ourselves.

  • WPLyon NORTH SALT LAKE, UT
    July 17, 2011 6:54 a.m.

    I would hope Bishop Bradshaw would publish his history with Ronnie Lee Gardner, fascinating reading. Thank you Bishop! You too Doug for writing this up.

  • Honor Code Denver, Colorado
    July 17, 2011 7:48 a.m.

    Interesting story - would be a making for a great movie!

  • EJM Herriman, UT
    July 17, 2011 8:39 a.m.

    Pretty powerful stuff.

  • washcomom Beaverton, OR
    July 17, 2011 8:57 a.m.

    Sometimes we forget that the murderers on death row are also human, have a background that is tarnished with horrible events, and that they have let those events dictate their lives. Their thoughts and feelings are just as real as any of ours.

    This doesn't dismiss the fact that Ronnie did bad things, but it's interesting that he finally had his own softening of the heart, and wanted to reach out to other kids before they turned their lives into a pit of existence.

  • AlanSutton Salt Lake City, UT
    July 17, 2011 9:09 a.m.

    This story reminds me of Matthew 25:34-40.

    Bishop Bradshaw's calling is not easy, it represents some of the best of Christian good works.

  • BobP Port Alice, B.C.
    July 17, 2011 9:42 a.m.

    Bradshaw does not excuse what was done. He does demonstrate the best of what being a follower of Christ would do. A couple of verses of "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief come to mind.

  • Nan BW ELder, CO
    July 17, 2011 9:54 a.m.

    This is a story that needs to be told because all of us have an obligation to reach out to help anyone within our scope and means of doing so. I am sorry I have failed to be more understand and comforting to out of control students, to distressed neighbors, and to anyone else I might have helped. We especially have the responsibility to be dedicated parents. It is obvious that the parents of the man executed entirely missed the boat. My commendations to Bishop Bradshaw and the author of the article for sharing this terribly sad story that has a message for all of us.

    I hope that the repentence process has continued beyond the veil.

  • Dektol Powell, OH
    July 17, 2011 10:00 a.m.

    Killing people to show that killing people is wrong makes society complicit in premeditated murder. Vengeance and revenge are the real motives for the death penalty. Prison can hold murderers, we don't have to kill them. Any 'religion' that believes in the death penalty is a cult and no better than those they kill.

  • Rifleman Salt Lake City, Utah
    July 17, 2011 12:26 p.m.

    Re: washcomom | 8:57 a.m. July 17, 2011

    No, most of the time it is the victims we forget. The killers want us to know how bad they feel about being executed but don't want to mention the unspeakable horrors they make their victims suffer.

    Sitting on death row may soften the heart of the killer but justice isn't served when the killer sits on death row for a quarter century.

  • Duckhunter Highland, UT
    July 17, 2011 1:24 p.m.

    I simply find the story interesting. I have a very keen interest in people, and why they behave the way they do. I don't find anything about this glorifying of Gardner nor insensitive to the families of the victims. I suppose I simply think I can learn something from the experience of others. Thanks for the story Bishop Bradshaw, Doug and DNews.

  • Ruben Jersey City, NJ
    July 17, 2011 3:34 p.m.

    While I agree that it may well be unpleasant or worse for the families of the victims to come across this story, I don't believe this story is glorifying Gardner. While it is not desirable to enhance or magnify the wounds of the families I don't believe that this article does that.

    Ultimately, there will be countless things that the victim's families will encounter that will remind them of the losses they suffer.

    If they are to obtain peace in their lives, it will be by applying principles and tools that are just as effective at helping them to overecome the daily reminders of their loss as such tools and principles are in overcoming or dealing with the interspersed reminders of the life, or former life of Gardner, such as this article.

    As for myself, I certainly benefited from reading the article.

  • runwasatch Ogden, UT
    July 17, 2011 3:34 p.m.

    The greatest characturistic of man is his capacity to change.

    Ronnie committed vial and horrendous crimes for which he received a just sentence. Yes, Ronnie destroyed and disrupted the lives of many families for generations to come, for which he received a just sentence.

    What this story conveys is that the most vial and viscious among us still possess the capacity to change.

    Change does not, nor should, mitigate justice.

    Change in these most debased and seemingly inhuman humans SHOULD give to all who are imperfect the hope that they too can be greater than they now are, regardless of the depths to which they have sunk.

    Great story.

  • A voice of Reason Salt Lake City, UT
    July 17, 2011 4:45 p.m.

    "No, most of the time it is the victims we forget. The killers want us to know how bad they feel about being executed but don't want to mention the unspeakable horrors they make their victims suffer.

    Sitting on death row may soften the heart of the killer but justice isn't served when the killer sits on death row for a quarter century."

    1) The families will never forget. The friends will never forget.

    2) Killers who genuinely feel guilt and want people to know of it typically only want others to know as a means of somehow trying to make amends. (I'm not saying it does or that they can, but that the intention isn't automatically selfish, only God would really know)

    3) Justice may possibly be served in 1 day for all we know. Have men ever been murderers, horrible men, who never knew anything else than that life... and been converted instantly? Yes, the Book of Mormon even gives us an obvious example- the point? Yes, we punish them... and rightly so. But in the end, justice will be served either way. God is not unjust- which is why we trust him over man's judgement.

  • Rifleman Salt Lake City, Utah
    July 17, 2011 5:23 p.m.

    Re: runwasatch | 3:34 p.m. July 17, 2011

    When a killer is convicted and sentenced to be executed the penalty shouldn't be left hanging over his head for a quarter century. Appeals should be resolved quickly and the sentence carried out swiftly. That would leave little time for death bed conversions.

  • Chad S Derby, KS
    July 17, 2011 6:24 p.m.

    Let's not forget that Gardner did, in fact, die for his crimes.

    That said, I find this more of a compelling story of the LDS bishop. Gardner's change was probably sincere, and the tragedy of his life is made more interesting by the recollections of the bishop.

  • Randy Gardner SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    July 17, 2011 6:53 p.m.

    This last year has been a very hard for all of us that were close to Ronnie, and had to deal with another murder. We have never said Ronnie was not guilty of a terrible crime. And we defiantly feel what other families of murder feel. To wrongs don't make it right. If this is what we are teaching our children that its OK to kill someone who kills someone. People do change and I don't believe we should have the ultimate right or decision to take another persons life. Thats why this last year, I have been involved with abolishing the death penalty, here in Utah, and the rest of the USA, and around the world. Thank you Dan for sharing your point of view. Peace to all...

  • NeilT Clearfield, UT
    July 17, 2011 7:09 p.m.

    Remember, remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. My favorite scripture. To Love Utah how sad your comments are. The lord said I will forgive whom I will forgive. We are required to forgive all. We all need the atonement and forgiveness. Forgiveness does not excuse or justify wrongdoing. Yes even Ronnie Lee Garder has a soul and has value to god.

  • hc1951 Bend, OR
    July 17, 2011 9:18 p.m.

    NeilT wrote: "Yes even Ronnie Lee Garder has a soul and has value to god." It is precisely that value that makes his crimes so heinous. If people lost intrinsic value because of their actions, everything they did would become less important. Thank you, Dan, for sharing your & Ronnie's story. My heartfelt condolences to Ronnie's family, as well as the victims' families. There are no winners in this story, except for the lessons we can learn for ourselves and the choices we make to be better than we were. If Ronnie can find his soul, then we certainly have no excuse not to. Rest In Peace means more to me today.

  • wjgramma West Jordan, UT
    July 17, 2011 10:05 p.m.

    Thanks to the author of this article, and to the bishop who told this compelling story. It was well worth reading.

    I also offer my condolences to Ronnie's family. I read his brother's comment about how difficult it has been for his family this past year. Like Randy said, "...two wrongs don't make a right," and we are teaching our children that it's okay to kill a killer. I am in favor of abolishing the death penalty. Only God can judge what a person has done. and whether or not they have had a change of heart. Those who have not sinned can cast the first stone, but in this case, I'm quite sure no one would.

    May Ronnie rest in peace, regardless of the crimes he commited; and may his family find some joy in their lives now that he gone. Good luck to Randy in trying to abolish the death penalty in Utah.

  • JSB Sugar City, ID
    July 17, 2011 10:18 p.m.

    This was a very interesting story. I have real mixed feelings about the death sentence. I wonder how much the state of Utah has spent on Ronnie. Perhaps everyone would be better off if murderers sent to prison for the rest of their lives without the possibility of parole.

  • mommynick OGDEN, UT
    July 17, 2011 10:23 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing this story, Dan. It definitely gives us all some things to think about.

  • Wayne Rout El Paso, TX
    July 17, 2011 10:43 p.m.

    I am not in a position to judge repentance. It does seem, that with most such people, they are sorrier that they got caught than that they did the crime. This applies to politicians especially. It seems they rarely say that they did something wrong, but rather dwell on "the pain" that events caused others, etc. We seem to have many behind bars that are "repentant" but very few walking into the police station to confess their crime.

  • wtfhinutah SOUTH SALT LAKE, UT
    July 18, 2011 7:54 a.m.

    This article evokes many thoughts about Ronnie Lee Gardner that create a dilemma for many. Having said that, I must say that it is regrettable that the victims and their families are not remembered at all.

    What I found most interesting was remembering my family, teachers, mentors etc. who had a profound influence in my life. Also, the hoping that when I was raising my children that they too had those types of individuals who would influence them for the good. Sadly, many grow up never having that.

    With that in mind, I do have a modicum of understanding for Ronnie Lee Gardner.

  • juni4ling Somewhere in Colorado, CO
    July 18, 2011 9:57 a.m.

    Manipulating manipulators manipulate.

    Gardner had nothing to lose, and everything to gain by forming a relationship with the LDS Chaplain.

    90% of the thugs in prison will only ever *take* from society.

    To imply that Gardner has something to offer, or something to *give* is him only *taking.*

    Officers won't *give* inmates books on tape. They try to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. But they will allow it, or be forced to allow it, once a chaplain gets in the inmates corner, and starts fighting for the inmate, and tells them to.

    When I started reading this article, I started to think: Lets all pay attention to the times the Bishop is "getting" the inmate something that no one esle will "get" him.

    If you look close, you will find that this story is nothing more and nothing less than a manipulating manipulator doing what a manipulating manipulator does...

    When a used car salesman starts talking about their "great, great grandfather was LDS..." Once they find out their "mark" is LDS it is an example of a manipulating manipulator...

    Same with inmates, except multiply that by 100...

  • Rational Salt Lake City, UT
    July 18, 2011 11:37 a.m.

    This was a great, great story.

    People fail to remember this part of it, though, especially, apparently, his relatives:

    "The crimes he committed were atrocious," says Bradshaw. "I believed he should die, and so did he."

    I remember a year or two after Gary Gilmore was executed, reading a story in the paper about a man who was being robbed, and the criminal was about to pull the trigger and the victim said, "Remember Gary Gilmore," at which point the robber turned and fled. The man was certain Gilmore's death saved his life.

    The death penalty is for deterrence, not just justice, and no amount of "studies" will ever convince me the death penalty isn't a deterrence. How many paroled murderers are walking the streets in this country? How many have killed again? I suggest people google "paroled murderers kill again."

    I realize the justice system is imperfect. Guilty people go free, innocent people are convicted, and we don't want the innocent killed. Still, there are some who should die, their crimes heinous, their guilt beyond question, their only useful purpose as a symbol of justice.

  • coltakashi Richland, WA
    July 18, 2011 11:40 a.m.

    It is certainly true that people who are willing to commit heinous crimes find lying about anything to be relatively easy. One has to approach them with skepticism and only afford them credibility if they demonstrate consistency and reliability over time.

    But at the same time, once such offenders have been punished so they cannot harm society, engendering unforgiving hatred is an offense against ourselves and our families. We can retain skepticism and not embrace criminals while refusing to nurture an ongoing anger that harms only ourselves, and does nothing to punish the offender.

    When we learn that anyone we have responsibility for as a leader has committed a serious crime, we need to ensure that justice is served and not preempt it with a premature preemptive mercy that enables an offender to continue his crimes. Once we have protected others from becoming his victims, we can then afford to set about the business of offering forgiveness and teaching true and honest repentance.

  • patriot Cedar Hills, UT
    July 18, 2011 4:15 p.m.

    Not to excuse anything that Gardner did - because his murderous acts caused untold pain for many and that pain will continue for generations - but I have to wonder what kind of person Gardner would have turned out to be had he been raised in a better home - with values and support from parents and siblings. Nurture is HUGE in how a boy matures into a man and the values (or lack thereof) that he has. I don't believe that some are just born murderers. Take an innocent boy and raise him right with love, support and correct teaching and the chances are almost nil that he will turn out to be a criminal. There are always a few exceptions but data shows that a strong family unit with mother and father and supportive siblings will result in producing great kids. It all goes back to the home.

  • higv Dietrich, ID
    July 19, 2011 6:55 a.m.

    Actually opposing the death penalty you are opposing justice for the victims. You are saying it is ok to be killed for whatever reason the person kills you, But not ok to forfeit your life for taking someone elses. Several LDS scriptures call for the death penalty for murder. He that Killeth shall die. If a murderer knew he would be dead than the murder rates of innocents would go down.

    YOu are not like the murdereres if you support the death penalty for murder. It is justice.

  • yell1985 CEDAR CITY, UT
    July 19, 2011 11:43 a.m.

    I can understand how this story could be very painful; however, I feel I have been reminded of some powerful lessons of making the most of each day, forgiveness, justice, and mercy. Thank you for your article.

  • county mom Monroe, UT
    July 21, 2011 1:40 p.m.

    After many years as a mother and baby-siter(before it was daycare). I can tell you that the child that steals and his parents justify him is the one who becomes a theif. Every child will take something that belongs to someone else. It is how that childs parents deal with this that makes all the difference. Every child has encounters with animals. If Mom and Dad are kind and gentle with animals, the child learns to be the same. If Mom and Dad are kind and gentle with the child, the child learns this too.
    As a society we have the responsibility to care for the inocent, the victims. If there are those among us who are killers we must protect the rest of society from them. We must make the punishment for such crimes extremely harsh.
    It may not deter some but, it will others. The child that gets away with to much, thinks they are smarter then their parents. That same adult thinks they are smarter then everyone else.

  • Mormoncowboy Provo, Ut
    July 22, 2011 10:14 a.m.

    Gardner didn't "die for his crimes", he was "put to death for his crimes". There is a difference. In the former case, the murderer accepts the punishment and does nothing to interfere with the carrying out of justice. In the latter, the guilty is executed by the State, notwithstanding their many appeals to stay the punishment. In an appeal Gardner is going to try and make a case that his punishment is not justified on at least one of several grounds. That is not repentance or remorse folks. The fact that he was somewhat civil only means that he had come to terms with the fact that he was going to die, not that his death was justified. In failing to recognize the justice in his own actions he implicitly fails to recognize the immeasurable instrinsic value of his victims' life, and therefore irreparable harm caused by his actions. How can one be remorseful about the victim in such cases?