SALT LAKE CITY — Ronnie Lee Gardner's Friday execution now leaves nine men on Utah's death row.
Four of them could face a firing squad, while the others face lethal injection. But no one can say when those sentences will be carried out.
"I would never hazard a guess," said Tom Brunker, head of the Utah Attorney General's Office capital crimes team. Gardner's death by firing squad early Friday morning was Utah's first execution in 11 years. There have been seven men executed in the state since 1976.
All nine death row inmates have appeals pending in either state or federal court not necessarily challenging their convictions, but questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty.
Douglas Stewart Carter, who fatally stabbed and shot a Provo woman in 1985, is furthest along in the legal process, but that doesn't mean he would be the next man executed, Brunker said. Carter has appeals pending in both state and federal court.
Capital cases are complicated and filled with volumes of paperwork in the form of court motions, briefs and legal arguments. Von Lester Taylor, for example, filed a 500-page document in his case. Taylor killed two women during a cabin robbery in 1990.
Ron Lafferty has been on death row a year longer than Carter, but the appeals clock started over for him after the courts granted him a new trial in 1996. Brunker said Lafferty's appeals have "moved along rather quickly" since the retrial.
Cases move faster when the condemned killer doesn't pursue or ends the appeals process.
Of the seven men executed in Utah since 1976, four — Gary Gilmore, Gary Bishop, John Albert Taylor and Joseph Mitchell Parsons — did so.
Brunker, who spends 95 percent of his time on those nine death penalty cases, said the state sometimes seeks a death warrant, also known as a push warrant, to move a case along.