Convicted courthouse killer Ronnie Lee Gardner has lost his first round of appeals, but state prosecutors say it likely will be a while before his death sentence is carried out.
The Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday to reject Gardner's appeal of his 1985 conviction for killing attorney Michael Burdell, seriously wounding bailiff Nick Kirk and holding a vending machine salesman hostage during a scuffle at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice.The court took three years to rule on the appeal. Prosecutors, who still are overcoming legal hurdles in an attempt to have killer William Andrews executed nearly 15 years after his crime, do not expect Gardner to be executed soon.
The state Supreme Court still has a stay of execution in place in the Gardner case. Prosecutor Sandra Sjogren said the next step for the state is to ask that the stay be lifted.
Gardner was being transported to the Metropolitan Hall of Justice for a hearing on a second-degree murder charge in 1985 when a woman handed him a gun. He shot and killed Burdell after firing at two other attorneys. He then shot and seriously wounded Kirk. Gardner was shot in the shoulder during an escape attempt. He gave up after being surrounded by police.
In his appeal, Gardner, 27, claimed the trial should have been held in a different location because of pretrial publicity; that the judge should have disqualified himself because he works in the building where the shooting took place; that jurors should not have been told about his prior convictions; that the death penalty violates both the state and U.S. constitutions; that courtroom security during the trial was excessive; and that the jury should have been instructed it could convict Gardner of a lesser offense, manslaughter.
Justices rejected each of the claims, although Justice Michael Zimmerman wrote in a separate, concurring opinion, that the court was wrong in telling the jury about Gardner's prior convictions before jurors had decided whether Gardner was guilty. Zimmerman, however, said the error did not affect the trial's outcome.
Chief Justice Gordon Hall said Gardner's appeals had no foundation.
"Having fully reviewed the extensive rec-ord in this case, we are convinced that defendant's constitutional rights were cautiously guarded at all phases of the proceeding and that, overall, the trial was conducted in the fair and dignified fashion a capital case deserves," he said in a 22-page decision.
Gardner attracted media attention in October 1987 when he barricaded himself in a prison visitor's room and had sexual intercourse with a woman visitor. Gardner surrendered after police officials called a SWAT team.