Ronnie Lee Gardner's Appeal Referred to Utah Supreme Court

Ronnie Lee Gardner's Appeal Referred to Utah Supreme Court

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An issue in death-row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner's appeal has been referred by a federal judge to the Utah Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell said Thursday, "It might be an excess of caution, but given what we're dealing with here, I'm inclined to do it."

Campbell asked Gardner's attorney, Andrew Parnes, to explain the complexities of the matter to his client, who repeatedly has expressed his desire to move forward on the matter.

"I know he is very eager to get this resolved," the judge said.

Gardner, 44, is on death row for killing attorney Michael Burdell and wounding a bailiff during a failed 1985 courthouse escape attempt. Gardner was shot in the chest during the melee, which began when his girlfriend smuggled a loaded gun into the old Metropolitan Hall of Justice while Gardner was in court on an unrelated matter.

Gardner's federal petition, which was first filed in 1995, has been stymied by procedural questions. It has already been sent to the Utah Supreme Court once before for clarification of state-law matters. In May 2004, the state's highest court said Gardner's challenge to a specific jury instruction was procedurally barred because it could have been, but was not, raised in his original state appeal.

The Utah court will be asked to determine if the jury-instruction challenge would have been allowed under a 1990 version of state law.

Gardner's attorneys maintain the jury instruction improperly instructed jurors on the elements of capital murder through a faulty definition of the word "knowingly."

Campbell will not rule on the merits of that argument unless she determines that state law allows her to consider it.

According to the federal case docket, Campbell received a letter from Gardner on March 1 asking that his appeal be withdrawn. The docket indicates that Gardner was informed that any withdrawal of his petition must be done through his attorney, who was unaware of Gardner's request when asked about it Thursday.

Parnes said his client is frustrated by the protracted appeals process and said he wasn't surprised by such a request. However, Parnes said, Gardner has not asked him to file such a motion with the court.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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