The State of Utah’s June 18 execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner broke ground in American history as the first execution by firing squad in 14 years and as the first to be ‘tweeted’ across the world by the attorney general who approved the final stage of death.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used his Apple iPhone to confirm that he had given permission to execute the two-time convicted murderer by publishing a live update on the Twitter account, #MarkShurtleff:
“I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.”
The decision to publish the ‘tweets’ online has evoked some staunch criticism of both Shurtleff and the practice of capital punishment in general.
Twitter users and online news consumers have compared America to third world dictatorships, where executions by firing squad would be permitted under elements of the law.
One online commentator claimed, “The death penalty is the greatest blot on the world’s greatest nation.”
Others have directed their disgust at Attorney General Shurtleff, referring to him as “repulsive” and “perverse.”
Shurtleff posted another two tweets before the execution:
“We will be streaming live my press conference as soon as I’m told Gardner is dead. Watch it at http://www.attorneygeneral.Utah.gov/live.html.”;
And, “A solemn day. Barring a stay by Sup Ct, & with my final nod, Utah will use most extreme power & execute a killer. Mourn his victims. Justice.”
He is not the first political figure to be criticized for the questionable use of a Twitter account.
A Republican Party Operative in South Carolina posted in June 2009: “JUST HEARD OBAMA IS GOING TO IMPOSE A 40% TAX ON ASPIRIN BECAUSE IT’S WHITE AND IT WORKS.”
Republican Senator Mike Parry, tweeted during his campaign for the Minnesota Senate seat in late 2009: “read the exclusive on Mr O in Newsweek. He is a Power Hungry Arrogant Black Man.”
But perhaps the most shocking Twitter moment in recent year was the decision by Rocky Mountain News in Colorado to post almost two dozen live feeds from the funeral of a three-year-old boy.
Some of those tweets included: “family members shovel earth into grave”, “coffin lowered into ground” and “people again are sobbing.”