Ronnie Lee Gardner meets with his Mormon bishop; with appeals exhausted, execution will proceed

Published: Thursday, June 17 2010 10:27 p.m. MDT

Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke speaks to the media in Draper during an update Thursday afternoon about the pending execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner. Gehrke said Gardner had been reading "Divine Justice" by David Baldacci and watching "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Ronnie Lee Gardner continues to remain relaxed as his execution date draws nearer.

With a little over two hours to go before his scheduled execution by firing squad just after midnight, Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke said Gardner's mood had been described "many times" throughout the afternoon and evening as relaxed.

Gardner was continuing to meet with his LDS bishop and at one point was standing in his cell while talking to him, Gehrke said during his latest update.

Gardner also was continuing the fast he began following his last meal Tuesday night, but was seen drinking a variety of soda pop beverages and vitamin water.

Just before 10 p.m., Gehrke said Gardner was watching the third movie of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He had watched the other two movies earlier in the afternoon and evening.

Earlier this evening, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied Gardner's request for a stay of execution.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor reviewed a trio of appeals from the condemned killer, denying each of them late Thursday evening. Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer would vote for a stay, according to the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision means there are no pending court appeals for Gardner. Two appeals to Utah's governor and one to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals were both denied earlier Thursday.

Gehrke said Gardner has now met with a clergy member, an LDS bishop who Gardner has known for the past several years.

"Someone he trusts," Gehrke said.

The bishop sat on a chair outside Gardner's cell, in an observation port, while Gardner sat on his bunk, he said. There was no word whether Gardner would be allowed any type of LDS blessing before his execution.

At 8:45 p.m., Gehrke described Gardner's mood still as "calm," just as it had been described all night.

An attorney Gardner submitted a second request to Gov. Gary Herbert late Thursday, again asking for a temporary stay of execution but it, too, was rejected. His latest plea was based on an issuance from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which asked for the execution to be delayed while the commission reviewed Gardner's request.

"No court has given us a full and fair adjudication," Andrew Parnes told reporters. "It's a shame, because if they had, Ronnie Gardner would have a life sentence."

Parnes pointed to affidavits from four original jurors who said they would have given Gardner life without the possibility of parole if the sentence had been available under Utah law in 1985.

As he has argued in numerous appeals, Parnes said Gardner's dysfunctional upbringing — which includes a history of neglect, sexual abuse and drug use as early as age 5 — left his client less culpable.

"We as a society didn't give him the benefit we give a lot of people," Parnes said. "He really is a changed person. … He understand now what created him."

Gehrke said the prison was ready to move forward with the execution as scheduled because there are no further pending legal issues.

As of 7:35 p.m., Gehrke said it would be up to Gardner's attorneys to inform the inmate of the court's decision and not Corrections staff.

With under five hours to go before execution, Gehrke said Gardner remained in a consistent pattern of sleeping and watching the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He was talking with prison staff about the movie, Gehrke said.

Gardner earlier began drinking fluids, including vitamin water and Sprite, but was still fasting from food. The inmate was also reading mail that he had received, though Gehrke did not have details on where the mail was from, who sent it or what it said.

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