Condemned killer Ronnie Lee Gardner was ordered Friday to be executed on Aug. 24 for the shooting death of an attorney during a 1985 escape attempt at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice.
Gardner, who was shackled and surrounded by armed guards Friday, told 3rd District Judge Frank G. Noel he preferred to die by lethal injection - despite the fact that he requested to die by firing squad during his original sentencing five years ago.Noel issued the new death warrant Friday. The original death order expired while Gardner's case was being appealed. The Utah Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in January 1989. The court rejected all 16 of Gardner's arguments for an appeal and said his constitutional rights "were cautiously guarded at all phases of the proceeding."
Then on April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for a review of that ruling.
On Friday, Noel also appointed three new attorneys who specialize in death penalty cases to represent Gardner - Manny Garcia, Craig Truman and Karen Chaney. The attorneys indicated they will appeal the death warrant.
Gardner's former attorneys, Andy Valdez and Joan Watt, withdrew from the case, citing conflict of interest. Part of the appeal arguments will apparently be that Gardner had ineffective counsel during the trial, a routine argument in such cases.
"I guess the next focus of attack is going to be me now," said Valdez, who was present for what he called the "solemn hearing."
"I was dismayed and saddened," he said of the new execution order. "Any time a judge says your client will be executed . . . it's kind of weird."
But with an appeal already in the works, it is unlikely Gardner will be put to death in August.
"It's more likely than not that they (defense attorneys) will obtain a stay of execution," said prosecutor Sandra Sjogren, of the Utah Attorney General's Office.
"I anticipate a stay of that date, of course . . . But it is getting closer," Valdez said.
"I think Ronnie's feelings are basically that he's preparing himself for the worst."
Gardner was sentenced to die in 1985 for killing attorney Michael Burdell during a courthouse shootout. On the day of the killing, he was being taken to a hearing on the slaying of bartender Melvin John Otterstrom, who was shot to death during an October 1984 robbery while Gardner was on escape from the Utah State Prison. An accomplice slipped a gun to Gardner.