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'Let's Do It'

January 11, 1987|BILL BEECHAM | Associated Press

POINT OF THE MOUNTAIN, Utah — Gary Gilmore didn't get everything he wanted when he sought execution. He wanted to be tied to a stake, hands behind his back, staring at his five rifle-bearing executioners.

He wanted to refuse a blindfold. He had said he considered the military method of execution more dignified.

Instead, Gilmore, wearing a black T-shirt, white prison trousers and tennis shoes, was seated in a wooden office chair inside an old, damp prison warehouse that had once been a cannery. His arms and legs were strapped to the chair.

Behind him were a soiled blue-and-white mattress, a length of plywood and a pile of sandbags to absorb the bullets.

He faced the firing squad 10 yards in front. A black corduroy hood was slipped over his head moments before four steel-jacketed bullets tore into his heart.

Gilmore was executed at 8:06 a.m. Jan. 17, 1977. He was 36.

He had been convicted of killing Bennie Bushnell, 25, a Provo motel manager. He also had been charged with the execution-style killing of a gas-station attendant but was never tried for that crime.

Reporters were barred from witnessing Gilmore's execution, but dozens of broadcast and print journalists were encamped at the prison 20 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City that cold, crisp morning to report the first execution in the United States since 1967.

Details of his death and his last night were given piecemeal by his lawyers, an uncle and Lawrence Schiller, who paid Gilmore for the rights to his life story.

All but Schiller had passed the night with Gilmore in the visiting area of the maximum-security building. Schiller joined them to view the execution.

"I would like to say at this time, Gary, my nephew, died like he wanted to die, in dignity," Vern Damico, Gilmore's uncle, told reporters minutes after Gilmore was declared dead.

In a recent interview, Damico said that, when he talked to the strapped-in Gilmore before the execution, his nephew suggested one last arm wrestle. Damico, with his powerful cobbler's hands, had always won.

"I said, 'Oh, Gary, come on. I could pull you right out of that chair,' and he said, 'Would you?' He was joking right up to the last."

After Warden Samuel Smith spoke briefly with Gilmore, Schiller related, a prison official passed out cotton balls to witnesses to protect their ears from the sound of the rifles.

Warden Read Order

The warden then read a legal order. Gilmore looked directly at the warden without moving.

"Gary looked up for an extended period of time and said, 'Let's do it,' " Schiller told reporters gathered in an upstairs room in the prison's administration building.

"There were some emotional exchanges. A priest, a doctor and several other prison employees placed a hood over Gilmore's head," Schiller said.

The Rev. Thomas Meersman, the prison's Roman Catholic chaplain, administered last rites.

Meersman said Gilmore's last words to him were from the Latin Mass: "Dominus vobiscum"-- the Lord be with you.

Meersman gave the traditional response: "Et cum spiritu tuo"-- and with your spirit.

Reared as Mormon

Gilmore was baptized as a Catholic but reared as a Mormon.

A white circular target was pinned by a doctor to the left breast of Gilmore's shirt.

"I think I saw the warden give the signal out of the corner of my eye," Schiller said. "I heard three noises in rapid succession--bang, bang, bang. Gary's body moved. His head turned slightly to the left. . . . Then, slowly, red blood emerged from under the black T-shirt onto the white slacks."

The state medical examiner said Gilmore lived for about two minutes after the four bullets shredded his heart. One of the five marksmen had fired a blank so none could be sure that he had fired a fatal shot. Their identities were never disclosed.

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