Condemned killer Ronnie Lee Gardner was going into a court hearing Wednesday afternoon hinting he might withdraw or postpone his petition for a speedy execution if prison officials restore his death row privileges.
Gardner filed the petition for a voluntary dismissal of his death penalty appeal on May 7, saying he fully understood the ramifications of dropping his appeals. A hearing was scheduled Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Sam Alba.If his petition isn't withdrawn or stayed pending further discussions, Gardner will be sent back to state court for a death warrant. He could then be executed by lethal injection no sooner than 30 days and no later than 60 days from the date a death warrant is issued.
In the days preceding Wednesday's hearing, Gardner and his attorneys - whom he is attempting to dismiss - discussed the concerns that led Gardner to take the step toward death.
"Basically, he has said if he can get back into the death row program, he might drop the petition," said Jack Ford, Utah Department of Corrections spokesman.
And Ford said Gardner's attorneys also discussed theossibility of seeking a 60-day delay in court action on the petition to give Gardner time to resolve his dispute with the prison.
Gardner told the Deseret News last week that he didn't have a death wish, but that he could no longer tolerate the conditions of his confinement.
"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."
He was referring to his transfer from the section that houses nine of the 10 other death row inmates into a section where he is deprived of certain privileges.
Ford said Gardner himself could earn his way back into the death row program by demonstrating good behavior. He was moved because of a history of bad behavior, including physical attacks on others, brewing alcohol and other violations of prison rules, Ford said.
Gardner doesn't like his current housing circumstances because he is allowed out of his cell on one hour each day instead of the two hours allowed under the death row program, Ford said. Also, the section houses a largely younger and noisier population of in-mates.
"He (Gardner) wants to be back with the other death row inmates and wants his privileges restored," Ford said. "We're willing to do that if he earns it."
Gardner, 37, was sentenced to death in 1985 for the murder of attorney Michael Burdell during a bloody escape attempt at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice in Salt Lake City. Gardner was being taken to court on another murder charge when he obtained a gun from a girlfriend and tried to shoot his way to freedom.