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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
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.

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.

Gardner remained calm, he said. "There has been no change in attitude or behavior."

Corrections officials also announced that the families of all three of Gardner's victims had been extended invitations to view the execution, even though his death sentence was only ordered for the murder of Michael Burdell. A total of five family members will be allowed to watch the execution.

During an earlier update, Gehrke said Gardner had been reading "Divine Justice" by David Baldacci, described as a "spy thriller" novel, and watching "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Gehrke said Gardner had "been fairly private" and had met with his attorney Thursday morning.

"For the most part, he has been by himself," Gehrke said.

The prison went into lockdown just after 4 p.m. in preparation of the execution. Gehrke described it as a "somber atmosphere" among the inmates and prison staff.

One of Gardner's final chances to avoid the firing squad was a plea to Gov. Gary Herbert, but the governor declined to postpone the condemned killer's execution. Gardner's attorneys Thursday morning hand-delivered a letter to Herbert asking him to use his executive power to delay the execution so Gardner can have another hearing before the board of pardons.

"Upon careful review, there is nothing in the materials provided this morning that has not already been considered and decided by the Board of Pardons and Parole or numerous courts," Herbert wrote in a letter to Gardner's attorneys. "Mr. Gardner has had a full and fair opportunity to have his case considered by numerous tribunals."

Under Utah law, the governor has a very limited role in executions. He does not have the authority to commute a death sentence or issue a pardon. He may, however, issue a respite or reprieve until the next meeting of the board of pardons.

Gardner's lawyers claimed the Utah Attorney General's Office has an "untenable conflict of interest" in its dual role as criminal prosecutors and advisers to the board of pardons. They contended that conflict kept Gardner from getting a fair and impartial hearing before the board last week. The five-member panel deemed his death sentence "not inappropriate."

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals' rejection for a stay of execution was largely based on the same arguments.

The Denver-based court ruled that Gardner "utterly fails to demonstrate any prejudice from the asserted conflict to his right to an impartial hearing. At most, he raises a theoretical 'appearance of impropriety' — a weak predicate for a due process claim in this extra-judicial context."

The court noted that Gardner has no constitutional right to a clemency hearing as conducted by the board of pardons.

State attorneys say a "conflict screen" was in place to keep them from discussing Gardner's case or accessing each other's files.

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