For Ronnie Lee Gardner, one of the state's most notorious inmates, the decision is simple:
"I either got to live a fairly normal life, or I'd rather die," the condemned killer told the Deseret News Friday.Because he feels he can't live that "fairly normal life" under his present circumstances in the prison's maximum security section, he's decided to end his efforts to appeal his death sentence.
Thursday afternoon he filed a handwritten petition in federal court asking that his appeals be terminated and that he be executed as soon as possible.
Gardner said he doesn't have a death wish, there's just nothing left to live for in prison.
"I don't want to die," he said. "I have a lot to live for if I could help somebody. . . . But under these circumstances, it's just not worth being here tomorrow."
The problem, he said, is that the prison moved him from the section where all other death row inmates are housed except for Troy Kell, who was sentenced to die for stabbing another inmate in the Gunnison prison four years ago. Kell was moved after he overdosed on heroine and tried to kill himself.
Gardner said he was moved because prison officials don't like him. Because of the move, Gardner can't participate in a new program created for those on death row where they can earn privileges such as time out of their cells with other inmates.
"I didn't have any write-ups," he said. "I didn't do anything to be moved off (the section)."
He said he doesn't know if he'd change his mind if the prison decided to allow him to participate in the program and move back to the death row section.
"When you got one foot in the grave already, it's hard to change your mind," he said.
The 37-year-old said he's not asking to end the appeals to get sympathy, either.
"I know the public don't give a (expletive)," he said. "I'm not trying to make anybody feel sorry for me. . . . But what else do I have to live for?"
Gardner has a lengthy criminal history both inside and outside the prison walls. He has traditionally been a difficult prisoner for officers to manage. But he claims that recently he's been on his best behavior to participate in the program.
"I just cannot deal with it (prison)," he said.
He's scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Sam Alba on Wednesday, May 13, for a hearing on his petition to end his appeals. If the petition is ultimately granted, the case would be sent back to state court.
Barring further outside intervention, Gardner could then be executed by lethal injection no sooner than 30 days and no longer than 60 days from the date the death warrant is issued by a state judge.
"All I can say is hallelujah," said Veldean Kirk, whose husband, Nick, then a Salt Lake County sheriff's bailiff, was shot and critically wounded by Gardner during a failed escape attempt. Nick Kirk died in 1995 after enduring years of pain from the stomach wound.
"Nick never got better," his widow said. "Maybe this will bring some closure for all of us."
Gardner was appearing in court on a murder charge in 1985 when he obtained a handgun hidden in the building earlier by a girlfriend. Gardner shot Kirk and attorney Michael Burdell as he tried to escape. Burdell later died.
He was convicted of the Burdell homicide and sentenced to die later that year. Appeals have delayed his execution.
Gardner first went to prison in 1981 at the age of 20 for robbery, a first-degree felony. He's had multiple other convictions, including two aggravated assaults on prisoners.