June 15th, 2010
11:10 AM ET

Appeal denied for man set to die by firing squad

The execution of a Utah death-row inmate by firing squad moved a step closer Tuesday after the state's supreme court denied his latest appeal.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Ronnie Lee Gardner is set to die early Friday for the 1985 slaying of attorney Michael Burdell. The killing took place during Gardner's attempt to escape from custody at a Salt Lake City courthouse.

The state justices unanimously declined Gardner's request for a new sentencing hearing, saying he waited too late to make his latest claims for relief.

"All of the claims Mr. Gardner raises in his most recent petition for post-conviction relief are claims that he could have raised more than a decade ago," said Associate Chief Justice Matthew Durrant.

The court also noted various state courts have "endeavored scrupulously" to protect the 49-year-old prisoner's rights.

Gardner would become only the third person to die by rifle fire, all in Utah, since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976. Tuesday, his lawyers filed the first of what could be several federal appeals in coming days.

On Monday, Utah's Board of Pardons and Parole refused to commute the twice-convicted killer's death sentence. The commission members were unpersuaded by Gardner's pleas during a two-day hearing last week that he is a changed man.

Gardner had a long history of escapes and was slipped a gun before he fatally shot Burdell on April 2, 1985. He was there for a pretrial hearing in the 1984 slaying of Melvyn Otterstrom, who was killed at the Salt Lake City bar where he was working to earn extra money.

A last-minute appeal for stay of execution is expected to be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. The execution is set for midnight (2 a.m. ET) at the Utah State Prison in Draper, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City.

During the commutation hearing, parole board members heard testimony regarding Gardner's childhood, which was punctuated by poverty, abuse and neglect. His attorney, Andrew Parnes, maintained that jurors in the Burdell trial never heard this evidence - and presented affidavits from jurors who said it might have persuaded them to decide against the death penalty.

Life in prison without the possibility of parole was not an option for jurors at the time, and Parnes said it was suggested to the jury that Gardner might be released from prison at some point if he were given a life sentence.

Gardner pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Otterstrom's death, and jurors were not told of a judge's recommendation in that case that he not be released from prison, Parnes said.

Utah is the only state that has firing squad as a current execution method. Oklahoma allows it only if lethal injection and electrocution are ruled unconstitutional. Forty of the Utah's 49 executions in the last 160 years or so have been done this way, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

State lawmakers made lethal injection the default capital punishment by in 2004, but at least three inmates who already had chosen the firing squad were grandfathered in under the new law.

Five anonymous marksmen will each use matching .30-caliber rifles, standing behind a wall cut with five gunports. One of the rifles will be an "ineffective" round, similar to a blank, which delivers the same recoil as a live round.

The marksmen fire from a distance of 25 feet. The inmate is blindfolded, strapped to a chair and a target pinned to his chest.

- CNN's Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Justice
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. kik


    June 15, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. Greg Jones

    I love my CNN Twitter updates. If it weren't for them, this one may have slipped through the cracks. Was he given the option of firing squad, or is that just how they roll in Utah. What's the date today? June 15, 1710? Right?

    June 15, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Copslove

    Yay! Another one will die! Too bad it's not a cop...(sighs)

    June 15, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • SeanB

      Too bad its not a cop? You're an idiot.

      June 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Al

    Have him sent to Texas, we use lethal injection here I think is less expensive and more effective!

    June 15, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • frank from florida

      bullets are cheaper and less hassle, you don't have to botch it trying to find a vein in the case of drug users, you just have to shoot straight. Also, drugs affect people in different ways, depending on body weight, etc, A bullet to the heart is ALWAYS effective(and quicker).

      June 17, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. sothern gal

    I think this needs to happen more often, save the money it takes to feed and house these horrible people.

    June 15, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joan Roberts

    Finally able to comment on this...Someone made the comment about americans being fickle about justice and what other countries do as far as there punishments well this guy ask for the the firing squad we did not recommend it.... He could have been electricuted but HE CHOSE firing squad...HMMMM seems you must have missed that part

    June 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. alieu

    Go ahead Utah. I am not the biggest fan of the death penalty but people who repeatedly and arbitrarily deny others of their right to life deserve no less.

    June 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. USCS


    June 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pacoatemiami

      The ones who are falsely convicted too?

      June 17, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. LC

    I'm appalled that death penalty by firing squad still exists. I understand that this inmate's sentence was decided years ago before they changed the law, but it doesn't change the fact that it's the most barbaric (for lack of a better word) form of capital punishment and makes me want to throw up. I'm also disgusted by the male news anchor's remarks about "at least do it outside."

    June 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • pav

      LC, so go ahead and throwup. it won't bring the murdered back to life. it won't give the children their mother back, or the mother her daughter back. because u don't see the murderers barbaric behavior u can't understand justice and how to fairly even the score. this man killed in cold blood not one life did he squash, but two. so go ahead and throw up at the sound of the shots during his execution. i myself will rest easier knowing this killer of ma is gone.

      June 17, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nicole


    STFU. This person didn't give a thought to how he murdered someone else, so why should anyone care how he dies? He lost his rights when he took them away from another. Go be appalled by something that actually matters.

    June 15, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • SeanB

      No doubt.. How would you feel if it was someone you cared about that he murdered in cold blood? People always like to have bleeding hearts for these criminals until it affects someone they care about.

      June 17, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pacoatemiami

      We demonstrate how wrong it is to kill by killing again? Something doesn't add up.

      June 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • pav

      nicole, i'm with u. and by the way, i meant killer of man, not ma. sorry. lol

      June 17, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Texan

    True believer in the death penalty here!!!! I'm just upset that we don't do more executions, we got a butt load waiting. I actually would like to see public beheadings for murder like they do in Saudi. Want to murder somebody??? Come on down to my great state!!!! We'll fix you up!

    June 16, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • pav

      to pacoatemiami, what dosen't add up is that there are so many murderers on death row fors years and years. when one takes the life of another human it is the responsibility of the state to protect the innocent. a man that kills once can kill again, and a child molester cannot stop. if there are no examples being sent based on zero tolerance then what is to stop up and coming offenders. you are not understanding correctly the science of fairness and retrobution. how can man sleep in peace with predators roaming free. perhaps u might feel the pain of loosing a loved one to truly understand. this is human life. justice and fairness for the innocent. not pity and slack for the guilty.

      June 17, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Carol Tures

    "True justice?" in the case of the execution to take place in Utah on Friday? Are we talking about "justice" or about revenge? Revenge is an ugly and destructive response to evil. On the other hand, Justice in the Hebrew Scriptures means to "make right", " to raise up that which has broken down," "to adjust our ways to God's ways," "to restore," "to build up," "to make whole." Our words "adjustment" and "justify" and "righteousness," carry this meaning. In the Hebrew Scriptures the Israelites sometimes had much difficulty–as we all do–in turning around their hatred and revenge. The Christian Scriptures offer an example of Jesus forgiving those who were in the midst of executing him, and in the process he was "justified." Our laws should call forth the best in us, not the worst.

    June 16, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • SeanB

      Ok Carol, then YOU take him in and rehabilitate him!

      June 17, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. brianb

    I honestly fail to see how the firing squad is more barbaric then lethal injection, or especially the gas chamber. It sounds like the least barbaric method to me, actually.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank from florida

      I agree, I'd rather die by bullet than having someone try to find a vein for half an hour while I was strapped down looking at the ceiling.

      June 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank from florida

      And the gas chamber, forget about it, you die by choking to death with your eyes bulging out of your head.

      June 17, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pacoatemiami

      I think I would choose death by chocolate

      June 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mony

    Way to go Utah! We should do often to these criminals.

    June 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Frank Rizzo

    They say when the angel of death is near a person knows it......hmm let justice be served and end the life of this cold blooded murderer. He played the system for twenty-five years and now it's time to pay up. I say face death in face and welcome it he knows well that he deserves to die, so let's not keep the guardians of hell waiting any longer I hope his soul never rest and he burns in Hell for ever amen.

    June 17, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
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