Utah Execution Still on Track

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday denied a
request from a Utah death-row inmate to postpone his Friday
execution by firing squad while he pursues a civil rights lawsuit.

Ronnie Lee Gardner filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last
week, challenging the commutation process of the Utah Board of
Pardons and Parole. He contends the process is tainted and fraught
with conflicts of interest, and asked for a stay to investigate it
further.

But U.S. District Court Chief Judge Tena Campbell rejected the
request, saying it seemed unlikely the lawsuit could succeed.

"I simply cannot grant, on the evidence before me, the motion
for a stay," Campbell said.

Gardner attorney Andrew Parnes said he will appeal her decision
to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

"We will keep raising the issues to make sure he has a fair and
full adjudication," Parnes said after the hearing. "That's been
the problem all along."

Gardner 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. Both rulings were issued
Monday.

Parnes appealed the Utah Supreme Court's decision to the U.S.
Supreme Court and is also seeking a stay from the U.S. Supreme
Court.

Campbell did not dismiss Gardner's federal lawsuit.

"Obviously there are problems with that if a stay is not issued
and Mr. Gardner is executed," Parnes said.

The suit contends the clemency hearing was "hopelessly biased"
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 attorney general's office disputes the conflict and said it
is charged with representing all state agencies.

Assistant Attorney General David Wolf said the office
established internal electronic firewalls in May to prevent any
conflicts between attorneys working on different aspects of
Gardner's case. He said no "substantive" issues had been
discussed by those attorneys.

"There is no conflict because what the AG's office did was
entirely permissible," Wolf said.

Gardner, 49, was sentenced 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.

Burdell's family does not support the death penalty and asked
the board to spare Gardner's life. Otterstrom's family - and that
of a court bailiff wounded during the courthouse shooting - lobbied
for the death sentence to be carried out.

In the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Parnes is arguing that
Gardner's constitutional rights will have been violated if he is
executed before a state court hears mitigating evidence that could
have swayed jurors toward a sentence of life in prison.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker said the state
will oppose any further delays of the execution.

All things considered, Gardner is holding up pretty well, Parnes
said Tuesday.

"He is handling this as well as can be expected. ... He's in
good spirits given the situation," Parnes said.


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