Attorneys ask judge to put Utah firing squad execution on hold as they appeal

By Jennifer Dobner, AP
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Attorneys ask judge to halt firing squad execution

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for a Utah inmate scheduled to be killed by firing squad have asked a judge to put the execution on hold while they appeal.

Ronnie Lee Gardner is scheduled die June 18, after 3rd District Judge Robin Reese last week signed the warrant for his execution. Gardner requested the sentence be carried out by firing squad instead of lethal injection.

Late Tuesday, attorneys filed a motion to stay the execution pending an appeal of the warrant to the Utah Supreme Court. A notice of appeal was also filed with the state’s high court Tuesday.

Gardner’s attorneys will argue that he was denied state funds to pay for experts and investigators to provide mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of his 1985 trial.

It’s unclear when Reese might rule on the stay. Attorneys made the same argument when asking Reese not to sign the appeal, and he rejected it.

The state opposes any delay of the case and will ask Reese not to put the execution on hold, Assistant Utah Attorney General Tom Brunker said Wednesday.

Gardner, 49, was sentenced to death in 1985 for the Salt Lake City courthouse slaying of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt.

Gardner can still ask Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole to commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If Gardner is executed, he will be the first person put to death by firing squad since 1996.

Utah’s death row inmates were for decades allowed to choose how they wanted to die. State lawmakers removed that choice in 2004 and made lethal injection the default method, but because Gardner was sentenced before 2004, he got to choose.

Utah is the only state to use the firing squad. Oklahoma considers a firing squad an acceptable option, but by law would only use it if lethal injection was deemed unconstitutional.

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