Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Sunday, December 18, 2016


On this date, December 18, 1995, ex-bailiff George “Nick” Kirk died from a heart attack. He was shot and wounded by Ronnie Lee Gardner on April 2, 1985. Justice was served 15 years later, when the killer was put to death by firing squad on June 18, 2010.

Let us hear from his loved ones: 

By Amy Donaldson, Staff Writer

Nick Kirk never had problems with his heart, but it was a heart attack that killed the ex-bailiff shot by one of Utah's most infamous death-row inmates.

George "Nick" Kirk, 69, died Monday from a heart attack. His widow and wife of 46 years, ValDean, said she knows why her husband's heart failed him."Just my personal opinion is that it was probably the stress of the pain, and not being able to do the things he thought he should do," ValDean Kirk said.

The pain she spoke of was inflicted by notorious prison inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner during an 1985 escape attempt. A woman slipped Gardner a gun as prison officers brought him into 3rd District Court to be arraigned on homicide charges.

Once in the courtroom, Gardner began shooting, hitting and killing attorney Michael Burdell. Kirk, a bailiff for then-Judge James Sawaya, was on another floor of the five-story building when the shooting started.

ValDean Kirk said her husband heard about it from a woman on an elevator who was screaming that someone had been shot. Sawaya and ValDean Kirk say it was Nick Kirk's concern for Sawaya that sent him running towards the armed man as others ran from Gardner.

"I wasn't in the building at the time," Sawaya said. "I was on my way to work. I think Nick heard about the shooting, and he ran down there knowing I was on my way in to work. I think his intent was to protect me. I'll be forever grateful to him for his loyalty."

Nick Kirk ran down several flights of stairs followed by several other men. He opened the door to the stairway, and, according to his widow, "There stood Ronnie Lee Gardner pointing a gun at him. He shut the door behind him so the others couldn't get out. (Gardner) shot him."

He'd been working in Sawaya's courtroom for four years when the shooting occurred. He missed months of work and suffered pain the rest of his life, his widow said.

"He was in constant pain for the last 11 years," ValDean Kirk said. "He was bitter, not toward the sheriff's office, but the county commission and the state."

Kirk was bitter because the state and county wouldn't pay him more than $40,000 in compensation for mental suffering from the trauma, his widow said. Instead the commission approved a $6,000 payment.

"He liked fishing, hunting and bowling, but he wasn't able to do a lot of that after the shooting," she said. "He felt like if the guards had done their jobs, he wouldn't have been shot. He went down there to make sure the judge didn't come inside the building."

Kirk retired in 1992, just a couple of months before Sawaya retired. ValDean Kirk said the two men kept in close contact even after their retirements.

"Nick was a good friend, and we had a close relationship for the 10 years we worked together," Sawaya said. "He was just a kind, considerate person. He was very loyal and very kind to me. We thought a lot of each other."

Kirk is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Funeral services are scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. at McDougal Funeral Home, 4330 S. Redwood Road. A viewing will be held Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday from 1 p.m. until 1:40 p.m. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Debra.

QUOTE 1: George "Nick" Kirk, was a bailiff at the courthouse the day of Gardner's botched escape. Shot and wounded in the lower abdomen, Kirk suffered chronic health problems the rest of his life. Kirk's daughter, Tami Stewart, said before the execution she believed Gardner's death would bring her family some closure. "I think at that moment, he will feel that fear that his victims felt," she said.

QUOTE 2: Barb Webb, daughter of Gardner victim Nick Kirk, sobbed when news of the execution came. "I'm so relieved it's all over," she said, hugging her daughter, Mandi Hull. "I just hope my sister, who just passed away, and my father, and all of the other victims are waiting for his sorry ass. I hope they get to go down after him."

QUOTE 3: "Everybody said it would be gruesome and it would affect me," said Jamie Stewart, the 27-year-old granddaughter of Salt Lake County sheriff's bailiff Nick Kirk. "But it wasn't bad whatsoever. You didn't see hardly any blood. He was dressed all in black. I just feel like justice has finally been served. He deserved it."

AUTHOR: Loved one of George “Nick” Kirk - George “Nick” Kirk was shot and wounded by Ronnie Lee Gardner on April 2, 1985. Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by the firing squad in Utah on June 18, 2010. 


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