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Utah inmate seeks federal stay of execution

Associated Press / June 16, 2010

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SALT LAKE CITY — A death-row inmate set to be executed by firing squad Friday is scrambling to block his execution after losing an appeal at the Utah Supreme Court and failing to persuade the state parole board to grant him clemency.

Ronnie Lee Gardner’s lawyers are ramping up a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last week against the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

Gardner contends the commutation hearing process is tainted because lawyers who represent the board and the state prison all work for the Utah attorney general’s office, the same entity that sought Gardner’s death warrant and argued against a commuted sentence.

The parole board on Monday rejected Gardner’s efforts to get his death sentence reduced to life in prison without parole, and hours later, the Utah Supreme Court unanimously denied Gardner’s appeal.

In its 57-page ruling, justices said that it was too late for Gardner to challenge his sentence and that he had been treated fairly throughout his 25 years of appeals.

“All of the claims Mr. Gardner raises in his most recent petition for post-conviction relief are claims that he could have raised more than a decade ago,’’ Associated Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant wrote.

The court said it was “unpersuaded’’ by Gardner’s arguments that state law dictating how and when postconviction appeals can be filed should be set aside in his case in order to avoid a violation of his constitutional rights.

Gardner can still ask the US Supreme Court to review the state Supreme Court ruling and stay his execution while it does so.

The 49-year-old is being put to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt. Gardner was at the court because he faced a murder charge in the shooting death of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom.

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