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Girlfriend Finds God but Not Peace After Execution of Killer

January 11, 1987|PEG McENTEE | Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Nicole Baker remembers one of the nights that Gary Gilmore stole into her dreams. She called him a fool, this murderous lover she once tried to join in death, and he vanished without a word.

In the 10 years since Gilmore was executed, the woman he loved has found God.

She has not found peace.

"The things I went through are still in me," Baker said. "I still feel them sometimes, like on a cold winter morning, I look out the window and I get that same lonely feeling I felt when I . . . knew I wasn't going to see Gary anymore."

Not that she hasn't tried to forget. Three years ago she built a put-it-all-behind-me pyre of Gilmore's jailhouse letters. More recently, she burned a poem he had given her.

"It was just one more thing I felt was keeping me back. There wasn't any reason to keep it," Baker said in a reluctantly granted interview, speaking only on condition that her whereabouts and married name be withheld. Baker is her maiden name.

Troubled Youth

Dark-haired, petite and pretty, Baker was molested by a family friend as a child, committed to a home for troubled youths at 13 and married a year later.

In the spring of 1976 she was Nicole Barrett, a thrice-married 19-year-old with two children, when she met Gilmore, 35, a recent parolee who had spent most of his adult life in prison.

Theirs was a relationship in a time warp--Gilmore eager to recapture the youth he had wasted behind bars, Baker seeking respite from a string of drifters, drug dealers and one-night stands. The others were eclipsed the first time she gazed into Gilmore's blue eyes and heard him say, "Hey, I know you."

It was a revelation, finding a mystic and sufferer like herself who believed in reincarnation. "I felt like I had always known him," she said. "And I felt like I had always loved him."

Now 30, Baker recently quit a job in a damp warehouse that had aggravated her heavy smoker's cough. She is signed up for welfare assistance and looking for other work.

Sees Fifth Husband

Her fifth marriage, to a rancher whose Christian beliefs she embraced, has lasted six years and produced a son. The couple separated some months ago but still see each other.

Baker worries that she hasn't the patience to be a good mother to her children, that she yells too much. She prays with her pastor for strength to conquer feelings of helplessness and depression that have dogged her since childhood.

Gilmore too was tormented by "spiritual injuries" that threatened to destroy him, Baker said. "We both knew that. It took so little time to understand that in each other. And it was like just knowing each other and loving each other healed them all."

But if their love was a soothing balm, it did not make a model citizen of Gilmore. An adept thief, he began lifting cartons of cigarettes for Baker and beer for himself. Bored with a menial job, he drank heavily and picked fights that he always lost.

As the relationship deteriorated, she began seeing other men. Gilmore became enraged one day about the price offered for some guns he had stolen and quarreled with Baker, slapping her in his fury.

She Moves Out

That was it. Baker, who had been manhandled so many times before, moved out.

"He knew I was going to leave," she said. "And I knew that if I left he was going to go kill somebody . . . and that somebody might be me."

After a frantic week of searching for Baker, Gilmore robbed a service station, ordering attendant Max Jensen to the restroom floor before shooting him twice in the head. In a bloody replay the next night, his prostrate victim was motel manager Bennie Bushnell.

Baker remains angry about the senselessness of the crimes, an emotion that colored her dream of Gilmore.

"I called him a fool because I was just angry that he'd blown it, that he hadn't waited for things to work out . . . even give it a chance," she said. "As soon as I left, he just blew it."

Convicted of Bushnell's murder, Gilmore refused to appeal his death sentence.

Suicide Pact

He and Baker, reconciled during her jail visits, began talking seriously during his trial about a suicide pact. Forgiving of her past but jealous of the men in her future, Gilmore persuaded her to join him on "the other side."

She did not know if she believed such a reunion possible, but it was enough that he did. She smuggled sleeping pills to him on a prison visit. It was the last time she saw him.

On Nov. 16, 1976, prison guards found Gilmore unconscious in his cell. He was rushed to a hospital and revived. Baker, comatose on her apartment couch, was discovered by a friend. When she pulled through, she was involuntarily committed to the state mental hospital by her mother.

Two months later, Gilmore was executed by a prison firing squad.

Baker remembers lying on her hospital bed that morning and seeing "Gary's face, contorted with pain, just like he'd jerked up. It was terrifying. At that moment, when I saw Gary's face, I knew that was it."

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