Barring any last-minute delay, convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner will face a firing squad in the state of Utah.

If that sounds like a punishment from a long time ago, it is. So is the crime for which he will be executed.

Gardner shot attorney Michael Burdell in a courthouse escape attempt while he was facing a murder charge. All that happened in 1985.

Twenty-five years later, the state has still not carried out its punishment, after spending thousands of dollars to prosecute Gardner all the way through appeals as high as the U.S. Supreme Court.

The long delay is not an example of what’s wrong with the judicial system, but an indictment of the death penalty itself. Because death is irrevocable, a condemned inmate should have every opportunity to argue his case.

Much more effective is Maine’s ultimate penalty — life in prison without the possibility of parole. The penalty is sometimes called “death on the installment plan.”

Because courts and prosecutors are fallible, the sentence could be overturned.

But no victim’s family has to wait 25 years for the sentence to begin, and in almost every case, the murderer will never be free again.