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Lawyers try to halt firing squad execution

Associated Press / April 29, 2010

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lawyers for a Utah inmate scheduled to be killed by firing squad have asked a judge to put the execution on hold while they appeal.

Ronnie Lee Gardner is scheduled to die June 18, after Third District Judge Robin Reese last week signed the warrant for his execution. Gardner requested the sentence be carried out by firing squad instead of lethal injection.

Late Tuesday, lawyers filed a motion to stay the execution pending an appeal of the warrant to the Utah Supreme Court. A notice of appeal was also filed with the state’s high court Tuesday.

Gardner’s lawyers will argue that he was denied state funds to pay for specialists and investigators to provide mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of his 1985 trial.

It’s unclear when Reese might rule on the stay. Lawyers made the same argument when asking Reese not to sign the appeal, and he rejected it.

The state opposes any delay of the case and will ask Reese not to put the execution on hold, Assistant Utah Attorney General Tom Brunker said yesterday.

Gardner, 49, was sentenced to death in 1985 for the Salt Lake City courthouse slaying of lawyer Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt.

Gardner can ask the state parole board to commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If Gardner is executed, he will be the first person put to death by firing squad since 1996.

Utah is the only state to use the firing squad.