Utah judge denies death row inmate's petition

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah judge has denied a request to vacate the death sentence of a man set to be executed by firing squad next month.

Third District Judge Robin Reese on Thursday heard arguments in the case of Ronnie Lee Gardner. Reese said two claims aimed at getting Gardner off death row, however, were not heard because they were brought to the court to late in the process.

Defense attorneys wanted Reese to order a new sentencing hearing in the 25-year-old murder case.

Gardner's defense attorney Andrew Parnes argued that there is mitigating evidence that would possible lead to Gardner being taken off death row and instead be given a life in prison sentence.

Parnes mentioned some of that evidence includes abuse Gardner suffered as a young child.

"Somewhere along the line, and he has not gotten it and that's our intention, is to make sure that he gets his one fair and full adjudication on the merits of his claim," said Parnes. "Once the state court does that, we will prevail and Mr. Gardner will get a fair sentencing hearing."

Another claim by the defense was that Gardner is being put through cruel and unusual punishment by being on death row for this long amount of time. It's been 25 years since Gardner killed an attorney while attempting to escape a Salt Lake courthouse.

But prosecutors said it's too late for Gardner to be raising any new issues.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Brunker countered, saying Gardner has been through appeal after appeal and has had plenty of time to bring up these arguments.

"At this point I would disagree that this is part of due process," Brunker said. "I think this is beyond what is permitted."

Reese agreed, saying arguments raised should have been part of a 2000 court filing.

Gardner will appear before the Utah Supreme Court on June 3 to make similar arguments to those brought forward Thursday.

Reese last month signed the warrant that set Gardner's June 18 execution date.

The 49-year-old Gardner was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in 1985 in the courthouse shooting death of an attorney.

Gardner's attorneys already have filed a notice of appeal with the Utah Supreme Court.


Story compiled with contributions from Randall Jeppesen and The Associated Press.


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