May 5, 2010— -- A convicted murderer ordered executed by firing squad has found unusual allies in his effort to be spared -- the family of the man he killed.
Ronnie Lee Gardner is to be executed by a firing squad for the 1985 murder of attorney Michael Burdell. His date with death is set for June 18.
Gardner, 49, has asked the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for a commutation hearing and among the witnesses will be Burdell's father, former girlfriend and a friend.
"Michael didn't believe in capital punishment, he didn't believe in eye for an eye, a life for a life," Donna Nu, Burdell's girlfriend at the time of his murder, told ABC News. "Michael would have done the same for me had the situation been reversed."
"Further, Michael would not want to be the reason that Ronnie Lee is executed," she said.
Nu noted that Burdell, who was a pacifist, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam but refused to carry a gun.
Gardner's attorney, Andrew Parnes, said, "Nu and Ron Temu, a close friend of Burdell, are both listed as witnesses as far as commutation. They both believe that Burdell wouldn't want the death penalty for Gardner. And that isn't what they want either."
Parnes has also submitted a video of Burdell's father stating that his son would not have wanted the death penalty.
Gardner is asking that the board to spare his life and sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Utah attorney general has seven days to respond to the request. The board can grant or deny Gardner a hearing according to Jim Hatch, a board spokesman.
"The five member board can say we don't feel compelled to grant the hearing or we will hold a hearing, and from there we decided as a body to either stay with the original sentence of death by firing or we grant him his wish for life in prison," Hatch told ABC News.
Gardner also filed a petition in state court in Salt Lake City asking a judge there to halt the execution. Gardner's petition raises arguments made before: that defense attorneys at his 1985 trial did not offer evidence of a troubled childhood or have the money to investigate Gardner's background and that to execute Gardner 25 years after his crime would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
Condemned Killer Had to Choose Between Lethal Injection and Firing Squad
Gardner was sentenced to death over two decades ago for killing Burdell while attempting to escape a Salt Lake County courthouse. At the time, Gardner was in court for the murder of a Utah man, Melvyn Otterstrom, at a Salt Lake City bar.
Gardner was asked to choose between firing squad and lethal injection as his method of execution. Before deciding, he asked that he be allowed to review the protocols for each method. He then chose firing squad.