SALT LAKE CITY — As his execution looms on the horizon, death row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner has lost one of three remaining battles he is waging in an attempt to keep the state of Utah from carrying out his death sentence.
It took only four pages for 3rd District Judge Robin Reese to deny Gardner's motion to stay the execution, signaling — at least for now — a green light for his June 18 execution.
Defense attorneys for Gardner had asked for a stay of the execution because that they had filed a petition for post-conviction relief, but Reese said that because he denied the petition last week, the execution will go forward.
The interpretation from Gardner's attorneys that the law requires a stay of execution whenever a petition for relief is filed could "result in an absurd outcome," Reese said. The judge added that halting an execution every time a petition is filed could lead to an interminable cycle of execution warrants, execution dates and then petitions that would nullify them.
"This process could proceed, unabated, and effectively forestall the execution of the death sentence indefinitely. This cannot be what the Legislature intended," Reese wrote. "Because the court's consideration of the petition is concluded and, therefore, will not interfere with the execution of petitioner's sentence of death, it is appropriate to deny his motion for a stay of his execution."
Gardner has been appealing his death sentence for almost 25 years. He was sentenced to death in 1985 for the shooting death of defense attorney Michael Burdell. Gardner was in court on a separate murder charge when he attempted to escape from the now-demolished Salt Lake County courthouse. Using a gun slipped to him by a girlfriend, Gardner shot and killed Burdell and wounded court bailiff George "Nick" Kirk.
Gardner, who has chosen to die by firing squad, is also appealing to the Utah Supreme Court, which will hear his case on Thursday. On June 10, Gardner will also ask the Board of Pardons to consider changing his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.