The Law: Death-Row Dramatics

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"My soul is on fire and is screaming to vacate this ugly house."

—Gary Mark Gilmore

On the very day last week that Gary Gilmore had originally hoped to be executed by a Utah firing squad (TIME, Nov. 22), he was visited by Nicole Barrett, 20, the divorcee who broke off with him just before he committed two murders. The couple kissed and embraced during their prison meeting. But they were not left alone, and she had been closely searched. After the meeting, Nicole announced they were engaged, but when reporters asked about the wedding date, she said, "It doesn't matter." The next morning in his cell and her home, each swallowed overdoses of Seconal sleeping pills.

Practice Slash. Discovered a short time later (he by a guard, she by a neighbor), they were rushed to different hospitals. He had apparently taken only some ten to 20 pills and was soon back in prison. She had taken more Seconal, plus a second bottle of Dalmane sleeping pills, and was in a critical coma for several days. Prison officials had had reason to suspect a possible suicide pact. Gilmore, who dabbles in poetry as well as drawing, had written Nicole from his cell: "Hang myself? ... I may do that." She had written him that she had practiced suicide by slashing one wrist. "What a wonderful feeling," she said in a letter that officials at the prison read. Extra precautions were taken as a result, and authorities still do not know how the pills were slipped to the condemned man.

For Gilmore, the suicide bid may have taken him still further from his desired death—a desire that some psychologists now believe may have motivated his apparently random killings. A pardon-board hearing of his case was delayed last week until December so that he can recover. To head off another suicide try—so that the state may execute him at the legally chosen time—Gilmore will now be held in the infirmary in "as close to solitary confinement as this prison has had in years," said Warden Samuel Smith. Meantime Gilmore has little to do except mull over the book and movie offers that are pouring in.

The delays in Gilmore's case may transfer to Robert Excel White the lugubrious distinction of becoming the first person executed in the U.S. in nearly a decade. Recently convicted of a triple murder during a shooting spree in Texas, he requested and got an early execution date: Dec. 10. He too wants to die, and because the Texas capital-punishment statute was one of three specifically upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last July, there are few court maneuvers open to any legal opponents of the death penalty. White may pursue his execution even more splashily than Gilmore. He declares that he wants it to take place quickly in the electric chair as "my way of expressing my gratitude for the way justice is being preserved."