The Law: After Gilmore, Who's Next to Die?

  • Share
  • Read Later

It was an old mahogany office chair with a black vinyl seat and back. There, in an old tannery known as the Slaughterhouse in the southwest corner of the Utah State Prison, sat Gary Mark Gilmore, 36, freshly shaven and wearing a black T shirt, crumpled white trousers and red, white and blue sneakers. His neck, waist, wrists and feet were loosely bound to the chair. Twenty-six feet away hung a sailcloth partition with five slits. Hidden behind the curtain stood five riflemen armed with .30-.30 deer rifles, four loaded with steel-jacketed shells, the fifth with a blank.

Five yards to Gilmore's right, behind a green line, were 20 people; four were the convict's invited guests: his uncle Vern Damico; his two lawyers, Robert Moody and Ronald Stanger; and Lawrence Schiller, a West Coast promoter who owns the rights to Gilmore's story. Warden Sam Smith invited them to say farewell, and then read to him the court's sentence of death for the murder of a young motel manager. Gilmore peered around the cold, harshly lit room, stared at the warden for a moment and finally said, "Let's do it."

Three Noises. The Rev. Thomas Meersman, the Roman Catholic prison chaplain, intoned the last rites. Fortified by a bit of contraband whisky smuggled into the prison, Gilmore remained calm as the state medical examiner pinned a target over his heart. Nor did he flinch when the doctor fitted the black corduroy hood over his head. Then the priest placed his hand on Gilmore's shoulder. Tilting his head, the condemned man, who was reared as a Catholic, spoke his last words: "Dominus vobiscum [The Lord be with you]." Replied Father Meersman: "Et cum spiritu tuo [And with your spirit]."

With that, the warden made a slight motion with his left hand, and a rifle volley shattered the silence. "Bang! Bang! Bang! Three noises," Witness Schiller reported later. Actually, four bullets tore into Gilmore's heart, twisting his body, which then turned limp. Blood slowly poured out, staining the bullet-pocked chair. Two minutes later, at 8:07 a.m. on Jan. 17, Gary Gilmore was declared dead. He was the first prisoner to be executed in the U.S. since 1967. After a series of unsuccessful appeals that lasted until the very morning of the execution, what the warden called "the event" took just 18 minutes. Hearing the fusillade, prisoners in three nearby cellblocks screamed obscenities.

Gilmore's body was quickly removed and rushed to a Salt Lake City medical center. After a three-hour autopsy that included the removal of eyes, kidneys and pituitary glands for scientific research, his remains were sent to Damico, who, according to Gilmore's wish, had them cremated. The following day, as Gilmore had also wished, his ashes were scattered from a plane flying over Provo, Utah, where six months ago he had committed the murder that led to his execution. The chair in which he had been executed was burned.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3