For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. witnessed the sudden rush of blood lust that comes with an impending execution. Dozens of men telephoned the Utah state prison warden, Samuel Smith, offering to join (for a fee of $175) the firing squad that would extinguish the life of Murderer Gary Mark Gilmore, 35. Reporters shouted objections when Warden Smith announced at a press conference that state law did not permit journalists to witness the execution, scheduled at 8 a.m., Nov. 15. But the most macabre aspect of the event was that it was Gilmore, insisting he wanted to die "like a man," who had gone to court to plead for his execution.
With the frenzy increasing around the spectacle, Governor Calvin Rampton intervened by staying the execution until the board of pardons can meet this week. The move meant that it will probably be next week at the earliest before Gilmore can get his death wish.
Hard Type. Though Gilmore was twice confined in an Oregon state mental hospital, there seemed to be little question of his legal sanity and his perverse sincerity. A Utah prison psychiatrist pronounced him "intelligent, very rational and without any indication of mental illness." The Texas-born Gilmore was first sent to a reformatory at 14 after breaking a school window. He has been behind bars during 18 of the 21 years since then for, among other things, auto theft, armed robbery and assault. Paroled last April, Gilmore was settling into a job in Provo and living with his Mormon uncle, Vern Damico; then, says Damico, "he met a girl this summer who was a hard type."
In July his uncle threw him out of the house because of his drinking, and then his companion, Nicole Barrett, went back to her ex-husband. A week later, on successive nights, Gilmore shot and killed a gas-station attendant and a motel clerk, both of them students at Brigham Young University. There were no apparent motives. After his trial and conviction in the motel slaying, Gilmore explained in court that it had been "something like watching someone else pull the trigger, looking at the scene through a wall of water."
Over his objections, his court-appointed lawyers filed an appeal. Gilmore tried to dismiss them. He sent the Utah Supreme Court a handwritten note asking to be allowed to "die with dignity." Said he: "Don't the people of Utah have the courage of their conviction?" When the justices nonetheless voted to stay his execution, Gilmore last week appeared before them in shackles and said calmly: "I was given a fair trial. The sentence was proper. I'm willing to accept it like a man and wish it to be carried out without delay." A few hours later that same day, the justices rescinded their stay of execution.
Gilmore's new lawyer, Dennis Boaz, a would-be writer who has acquired film and book rights to the Gilmore story, says the longtime con views a life prison sentence as "cruel and unusual punishment," and has hinted he would commit suicide if the state kept him incarcerated. Gilmore also took advantage of Utah's unique law that permits a condemned prisoner to choose between the noose and the firing squad.