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Gardner execution appeals running out

Published June 4, 2010 3:31 pm

Court • Only two weeks remain before he is scheduled to be killed by a firing squad.
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With two weeks remaining before he's slated to face a firing squad, Ronnie Lee Gardner on Friday lost the latest round in his quest for a stay of execution, but he still has a few options left.

In a brief ruling, the Utah Supreme Court upheld the issuance of an execution warrant last month by 3rd District Judge Robin Reese. The high court, which heard arguments Thursday on the issue, said Reese was required under law to sign the warrant once he determined that Gardner had no appeals pending.

"The statute does not permit review of substantive claims that the underlying sentence is invalid such as those raised here by Mr. Gardner," the decision says.

Still ahead is a Wednesday hearing before the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on a separate challenge by Gardner to Reese's dismissal of a petition asking that the death sentence be reduced to life without parole or that he be granted a new sentencing.

The condemned man also will ask the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole at a June 10 hearing to grant him mercy and reduce the sentence to life. The execution is scheduled for June 18.

The petition before the Supreme Court claims Gardner's trial lawyers were ineffective because they failed to present mitigating evidence that could have led to a life sentence and that executing him after 25 years of litigation amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

The state has responded that Gardner has no constitutional right to bring his claims at this late date and that they have no merit anyway.

The condemned man also will ask the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole at a June 10 hearing to grant him mercy and reduce the sentence to life.

Gardner, 49, is sentenced to die for killing attorney Michael Burdell during an April 2, 1985, escape attempt from a courthouse in Salt Lake City. After a woman slipped him a gun, Gardner wounded bailiff Nick Kirk and fatally shot Burdell before being captured on the courthouse lawn.

Gardner had been brought to the courthouse that day for a hearing in the 1984 slaying of Melvyn Otterstrom at a Salt Lake City bar. He pleaded guilty in that case and is serving a 5-year-to-life sentence for that murder.

pmanson@sltrib.com