Public Defenders

Executed Inmate’s PD—Later Accused of Bungling the Trial—Recalls 'Thankless Job'

The trial lawyer for the Utah inmate executed last week by firing squad says he’s not bitter, even though appeals had asserted he bungled the defense.

Lawyer Andrew Valdez and his brother, James Valdez, had tried to present mitigating evidence on behalf of Ronnie Lee Gardner, convicted of killing a lawyer and wounding a bailiff in a 1985 courthouse escape attempt. But Gardner wouldn’t cooperate, Andrew Valdez told the Salt Lake Tribune. He didn’t want evidence of childhood sexual abuse or intellectual limits to come out.

Gardner was in the courthouse for another murder charge when he made his escape attempt.

Before the trial for the courthouse murder, Valdez and his brother, both public defenders, had moved for a change of venue and sought to delay the trial, but a judge refused their motions, Valdez told the newspaper. At trial the lawyers argued the shooting death was accidental, but the jury didn’t agree. In the penalty phase, they introduced evidence about Gardner’s dysfunctional background, but they had trouble finding mental health experts and couldn’t win their client’s cooperation.

“We worked our heart out to try to help him,” Valdez told the newspaper. “Ultimately, being a public defender is a thankless job.”

Valdez is now a juvenile court judge.

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