Twitter Execution Comment Causes Controversy

By Suzanne Choney
|  Friday, Jun 18, 2010  |  Updated 5:25 PM CDT
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Twitter Execution Comment Causes Controversy

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Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has been criticized for tweeting about an execution.

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Comments about the execution of a prisoner — "I just gave the go ahead"— by Utah's attorney general on Twitter were generating lots of comments by others on the microblogging site and in the world of social media.

"A Tweet too far?" said a headline on website Mashable. "A sign of the times, although many may find it distasteful, or much worse," said TechCrunch. And Twitter users were appalled by the remarks.

"Utah AG ... plumbs new depths" tweeted Liliana Segura of Brooklyn. "I'm against the death penalty. And (against) using Twitter to announce a Utah execution," tweeted Erin Rooney Doland of Washington, D.C.

Lots of outrageous things are said and shared on Twitter, which limits posts to 140 characters. But those by Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff seemed to strike some as inappropriate, and even macabre.

"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," was Shurtleff's tweet, about an hour before midnight when Ronnie Lee Gardner was placed before a firing squad.

Then, within an hour, Shurtleff tweeted: "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."

And shortly after that, the attorney general said on Twitter: "We will be streaming live my press conference as soon as I'm told Gardner is dead. Watch it at www.attorneygeneral.Utah.gov/live.html."

Gardner, as The Associated Press reported today, "died in a barrage of bullets early Friday as Utah carried out its first firing squad execution in 14 years."

He was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt. He was at the Salt Lake City court facing a 1984 murder charge in the shooting death of a bartender.

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