Man set to die by firing squad makes last appeal - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Man set to die by firing squad makes last appeal

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Nine days before he is set to be executed by a five-man firing squad, Gardner is asking Utah's parole board to commute his death sentence to life in prison. Nine days before he is set to be executed by a five-man firing squad, Gardner is asking Utah's parole board to commute his death sentence to life in prison.

DRAPER, Utah (AP) — A Utah man set to die by firing squad next week made his final appeal for clemency Friday, with his attorneys saying he's a changed man and asking the state parole board to reduce his sentence to life in prison.

Ronnie Lee Gardner has taken responsibility for the crimes — including two murders — committed some 25 years ago, attorney Andrew Parnes told the five-member panel during closing arguments of a two-day commutation hearing.

"He's acknowledged the harm that he's caused. He's expressed to you the remorse that he feels," Parnes said Friday.

Gardner said for most of his life he was an impulsive, unapologetic person who looked for trouble. That began to change in 1999 as he met with psychologists and understood the damages wrought by his dysfunctional family life, Gardner said Thursday.

"I'm really remorseful," he said, acknowledging that he had no reasons for killing.

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will announce its decision on Monday. A majority of the board must vote for clemency for the sentence to be changed before his June 18 execution.

Gardner, 49, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1985 for the fatal shooting of attorney Michael Burdell in a botched courthouse escape attempt earlier that year. Gardner shot Burdell while trying to escape from custody at a Salt Lake City courthouse; he was at the courthouse for a hearing on charges that he murdered bartender Melvyn Otterstrom the previous year.

Utah law allowed him to chose a firing squad rather than lethal injection because he was sentenced before 2004, when lethal injection became the state's default execution method.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Thomas Brunker opposed the commutation petition. The two murders, along with a string of other violent crimes including several escapes, support Gardner's death sentence, he said.

As an adult, Gardner has spent nearly 30 years in prison on various criminal convictions.

"Even if he has made some changes, the board has to weigh this late change against a lengthy history of criminality and his refusal to obey the rules in prison and in the community," Brunker said.

Earlier this week, attorneys for Gardner asked the Utah Supreme Court to vacate his sentence and order a new sentencing hearing so that a jury could consider mitigating evidence from Gardner's troubled life — early drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage — uncovered during a federal appeal in 1999.

Parnes said he believes a jury's knowledge of that information could have produced a different sentence.

It's unclear when the high court will rule.

Parnes made a similar argument to the pardons board and submitted four affidavits from four jurors in the 1985 trial that said such evidence might have resulted in a lesser sentence.

 

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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