Criminal Justice

Gardner to Face Firing Squad for Murdering Lawyer During Botched Utah Courthouse Escape

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After nearly 25 years of appeals, a Utah prison inmate is now scheduled to face a firing squad in June for murdering an attorney during a botched 1985 escape from a Salt Lake City courthouse, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, who is now 49, was found guilty by a jury of shooting attorney Michael Burdell to death during the April 2, 1985 escape attempt and sentenced to death later that year.

He has exhausted his federal appeals, but his lawyer, Andrew Parnes, plans to appeal to the Utah Supreme Court and may also seek a reduced life prison term from the state Board of Pardons and Parole, the newspaper says.

The gun Gardner used to kill Burdell was smuggled into the courthouse by his girlfriend. Donna Nu, Burdell’s girlfriend at the time of the shooting, told the judge today that Burdell would not have wanted Gardner executed, the Deseret News reports.

“Knowing Michael as I did, he would not have wanted Ronnie Lee to be executed, and further, he would not have wanted to be the reason Ronnie Lee was executed,” said Nu, showing a photo of herself and Burdell.

If Gardner is executed June 18 as scheduled, it will be the first time the death penalty has been carried out in the state in more than a decade and the first time in nearly 15 years that an inmate has been executed by firing squad.

Gardner himself selected the method of execution in a court hearing today, telling Third District Judge Robin Reese, “I would like the firing squad, please,” the newspapers report. The state also uses lethal injections.

Additional coverage:

Salt Lake Tribune: “Inmate’s lawyers try to stop execution”

Salt Lake Tribune: “Condemned killer to get info on execution methods”

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