Paroled Utahn who faced a potential death penalty arrested again on weapons charges

Oct 26, 2022, 5:56 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 6:16 pm

ST. GEORGE, Utah — A convicted killer who once faced a possible death sentence but was paroled after serving nearly 30 years in prison is in custody again facing new weapons charges.

Joseph Charles Gardner, 64, of St. George, was charged Wednesday in 5th District Court with four counts of being a restricted person in possession of a weapon, a third-degree felony.

On Tuesday, a 54-year-old woman was charged with several felony counts of theft accusing her of stealing guns and a knife. When she was arrested, she claimed she had sold the guns to Gardner, according to police.

Police then questioned Gardner about the firearms but he denied purchasing them. He claimed he allowed the woman to store the weapons at his residence for a couple of days before they were moved out of his home, according to a police booking affidavit.

When St. George police learned that Gardner was on parole for aggravated murder, his parole officer was contacted. The parole officer confirmed by going through Gardner’s phone that he had sent messages to the woman making inquires about purchasing the guns and had made her an offer, the affidavit states.

“The agent told Joseph he needed to come clean about what was in the house. Joseph told the agent that in the shed in the backyard, in a brown cabinet there was a gun. The agent searched the shed and he found the gun, along with a backpack that had knives and some ammunition in it,” according to the affidavit.

Gardner was charged with capital murder in 1990 for the death of Janice Fondren, the best friend of his ex-wife. He argued in court that his use of the anti-depressant drug Prozac caused him to suffer “involuntary intoxication” when he shot Fondren. He body was then dumped in the desert near St. George where it wasn’t found for several days.

In 1992, as part of a plea deal, Gardner pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of murder, a first-degree felony, in exchange for prosecutors agreeing not to seek the death penalty. He was instead sentenced to up to life in the Utah State Prison.

But during a parole hearing in 2017, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole noted the progress Gardner had made while being incarcerated. He was granted parole in 2020.

His initial court appearance on his new charges is scheduled for Thursday.

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Paroled Utahn who faced a potential death penalty arrested again on weapons charges