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US experts defend firing squad death

A condemned US inmate's decision to die in a barrage of bullets fired by five unnamed marksmen was vilified by many as an archaic form of Wild West-style justice.

But some experts argue it is more humane than all other execution methods, without the court challenges of cruelty that plagued lethal injection.

"Lethal injection, which has the veneer of medical acceptability, has far greater risks of cruelty to a condemned person," said Fordham University Law School professor Deborah Denno, who has written extensively on the constitutional questions that surround execution methods.

The reasons that Ronnie Lee Gardner chose death by firing squad in the state of Utah are unrelated to the drama or controversy it evokes, his attorney said.

"It's not about the publicity. He just prefers it," Andrew Parnes said.

Mr Parnes has appealed to both the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and the US Supreme Court, hoping to block the execution.

It was the same day Gardner ate what may be his last meal - steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP. Utah State Prison officials said Gardner now intends to fast until the execution on Friday.

Gardner, 49, was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt. Gardner was at the court because he faced a murder charge in the shooting death of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom.

Barring any last minute stays, Gardner will be the first person to die by firing squad in the United States in 14 years.

He will be the third man killed by that same method in Utah since a US Supreme Court ruling reinstated capital punishment in 1976: Gary Gilmore on January 17, 1977 - after famously uttering the last words, "Let's do it" - and John Albert Taylor on January 26, 1996.

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