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Supreme Court • Justices also hearing sentencing request but don't rule.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ronnie Lee Gardner's lawyers made two last-ditch requests on Wednesday to derail the killer's commutation hearing and execution but found no sympathy.

The Utah Supreme Court heard a scheduled request to reduce Gardner's sentence to life or grant him a new sentencing hearing, but the justices did not immediately rule.

Hours later, a federal judge heard an emergency request to postpone Gardner's commutation hearing, which starts Thursday. Gardner is set to die by firing squad June 18.

Attorney Andrew Parnes told U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell that the condemned man could not be assured a "fair and impartial hearing" because while the Utah Attorney General's Office is serving as legal advisers to the Department of Corrections and the Board of Pardons and Parole — which could spare his life — the office also is arguing for Gardner's execution.

"My concern is that all these people work for Mark Shurtleff," Parnes said of the attorney general, whose website says its criminal appeals division "battles killers such as Ronnie Lee Gardner ... to see that their convictions and sentences remain in place."

Parnes wanted to delay the commutation hearing until outside lawyers could be hired or procedures could be set up to ensure fairness. But a lawyer for the state said the A.G.'s Office is obligated to represent all state agencies and that it has established a "firewall" to avoid any problem.

"The conflict screen is a very solid conflict screen," said Charles Stormont, an assistant attorney general.

Campbell denied Gardner's request for a temporary restraining order, saying his arguments were not strong enough.

"It appears to me that the state has established a sufficient division between the potentially conflicting segments of the Attorney General's [Office]," Campbell said.

At the Supreme Court, Parnes argued that Gardner's trial lawyers had failed to tell jurors of his client's abusive childhood and possible brain damage from meningitis and drug abuse, saying that could have led to a lesser sentence.

He asked the justices to review the evidence themselves and either order a new sentencing hearing or reduce the punishment to life in prison.

"Are we going to permit the execution of Mr. Gardner without a court looking carefully at the merits?" Parnes asked.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker said Gardner should have brought the arguments up years ago, adding that they have no merit and there is no injustice.

pmanson@sltrib.com

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