Roger writing the LAWmag

Michael Burdell, Lawyer, Rest In Peace

Lawyer_killerIt has been twenty five years since attorney Michael Burdell fell in the line of duty, killed by Ronnie Lee Gardner in the now-demolished Metropolitan Hall of Justice in Salt Lake City.

Burdell  attended the Summum Church in Salt Lake City, an off-beat church that believes in extra-terrestrial visitors and mummification.

As an attorney, he was known to oppose the death penalty. He had served in Vietnam and since, as a member of the Utah bar, he hosted a regular radio talk show.

On April 2, 1985, Burdell had just completed a court hearing in which he represented another Vietnam veteran. He had then retreated to a basement archival room to help a member of the church with an adult guardianship application.

Gardner was facing a murder charge and was to meet with his two attornies and get ready for a pretrial hearing later that day.

As Gardner entered the courthouse lobby,  and although he was handcuffed, a woman accomplice suddenly ran up to him and gave him a .22 calibre handgun. Gardner immediately opened fire.

His guards, surprised by the sudden action, retreated and returned fire hitting Gardner in the shoulder. Gardner bashed through the nearest door and fell into a research room. There, he came across two lawyers, 38-year old Michael J. Burdell and Robert Macri.

Gardner cocked his gun at Macri but when Burdell exclaimed "Oh my God!", Gardner turned and shot Burdell, twice. The shots were at point blank range. One of the bullets entered Burdell's skull through the eye and caused fatal injury.

Macri hid behind a door and Gardner was then distracted by the guards who were giving chase. He managed to get to the front lawn of the courthouse when he collapsed from his shoulder wound.

But Burdell did not move. He would die of his wounds within hours. Death, the finality of it all ... in the line of judicial duty.

Gardner, a punk then only 23, stood trial for the death of attorney Burdell.

He was convicted and sentenced to die.

But for decades, he benefited from years of litigation, legal appeal after legal appeal all resulting in the continuation of his life at public expense.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty (I'm not a member) hosted Gardner and posted this:

"Greetings from Death Row. My name is Ronnie Lee Gardner. I'm 39 years old and I've been on Death Row for almost 15 years. I'm anticipating having my sentence overturned real soon and I'm looking for someone that would be interested in helping me write a book. I don't have the skills to do it myself, that's why I'm looking for someone with excellent writing skills to help me with my project. There are many twists, turns, plots and subplots to my story. I've had numerous people tell me I should write a book about my life but I've never been able to find the right person for the job. I think now is the perfect time to get this project rolling. If you are interested in helping me with my project and have the skills, let's get started. Please contact me as soon as possible. I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Always and forever, Ronnie Lee. Contact me at: Ronnie Lee Gardner #14873, Death Row. P.O. Box 250. Draper, UT 84020"

On Friday, April 23, 2010, himself exhausted by all the legal briefs and hearings, Gardner appeared before state court judge Robin Reese at the Matheson Courthouse and chose death by firing squad on June 18, 2010.


Posted in Crime and Criminal Law, Legal Profession and Lawyers