Utah convicted killer to face execution by firing squad

By Calvin Palmer

A state judge in Utah today signed the warrant for the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner who has been on death row for 25 years.

Gardner, 49, was convicted of the fatal shooting of attorney Michael Burdell in April, 1985, during an escape attempt from a downtown Salt Lake City courthouse.

Third District Judge Robin Reese said, “The defendant has exhausted all his legal remedies.”

Reese then said he assumed Gardner would want the method of execution he had chosen previously.

Gardner, who appeared in court shackled and under heavy guard, replied, “I would like the firing squad, please.”

His execution is scheduled to take place on June 18 at the Utah State Prison in Draper.

Defense attorney Andrew Parnes said he would appeal to the Utah Supreme Court on Gardner’s behalf. Gardner could also ask the Board of Pardons and Parole to reduce his sentence to life in prison, a request that must be made by May 4.

A 3rd District Court jury convicted Gardner of murder and he was given a death sentence in November 1985, which started years of appeals. He has spent more than half of his life in jails or correctional institutions.

Gardner appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Campbell’s decision last year. He asked for a review of the 10th Circuit ruling by the Supreme Court, which rejected his petition on March 8. The state Attorney General’s Office then asked for the death warrant.

Under state law and Administrative Code rules, Department of Correction officials will select five people, plus an alternate and a team leader, for a firing squad. All members must be certified peace officers.

Members of the news media will not have a view of the executioners, and the identity of the firing squad members will not be revealed.

The last inmate to die in Utah by firing squad was John Albert Taylor, who raped and murdered 11-year-old Charla King. On January 26, 1996, he was hooded and strapped to a chair as five shooters took aim at a cloth target taped over his heart. Four executioners fired live rounds, while one weapon had a blank.

Taylor said he chose the firing squad over lethal injection to embarrass Utah, the only state with that option.

The last inmate executed in Utah was Joseph Mitchell Parsons on October 15, 1999, when a lethal dose of drugs was administered. Parsons was executed for murdering Richard Lynn Ernest, a laborer from Loma Linda, California, who had given him a ride.

The first execution in Utah, and the nation, after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, was Gary Gilmore. He faced a firing squad on Jan. 17, 1977, for the murder of Bennie Bushnell, a motel manager in Provo. Gilmore chose the firing squad over hanging.

[Based on a report by The Salt Lake Tribune.]

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