• U.S.

The Law: Much Ado About Gary

6 minute read

What’s to become of Gilmore, the killer who wanted to die? Will they just do away with Gilmore, or will they give him another try?

—The Ballad of Gary Gilmore

To all appearances, the long wait seemed almost over for Gary Mark Gilmore last week. Just as he had been demanding ever since his conviction two months ago for the murder of a 25-year-old motel clerk in Provo, Utah, Gilmore was being given the right to die. After a steamy two-hour hearing before the state board of pardons, the board voted 2 to 1 to grant the condemned man’s plea that he stand “like a man” in front of a firing squad in the first U.S. execution in almost a decade. The following day, District Court Judge J. Robert Bullock set the execution date for sunrise, Dec. 6, just two days after Gilmore’s 36th birthday. “That’s acceptable,” Gilmore said quietly.

The pardon-board hearing took place, like some futuristic fantasy, on television. At 9 a.m. Gilmore was led in, his tattooed wrists manacled. He wore a white prison uniform, and he looked somewhat gaunt from his twelve-day hunger strike (he has lost about 201bs.).

Ex-Judge George W. Latimer. 75. chairman of the board, asked Gilmore if he had anything to say. Answered Gilmore: “Your board dispenses privileges that I always thought were sought, deserved and earned. I haven’t earned anything. To paraphrase Shakespeare, this is much ado about nothing. I simply accepted my sentence.”

Gilmore repeated his earlier charge that Governor Calvin Rampton was a “moral coward” for staying his execution last month. As for the others who wanted to speak in his defense—the witnesses at the hearing included a right-to-life housewife and a vociferous representative of the Citizens Against Pornography and Other Crimes Committee —Gilmore was equally blunt: “All I have to say to all of them—the rabbis, the priests, the A.C.L.U.—I’d like them to butt out. It’s my life and my death.”

“Courtroom graphics and Gilmore in chains,” said TV Reporter John Hollenhorst as he sat in the studio of Salt Lake City’s KSL-TV and watched the 10 p.m. news. “The story today has all the visual elements.”

“Most people around here want the Gilmore story to disappear because they’re embarrassed by the publicity,” said the program’s producer, Janice Evans. “But I think it’s terrific.”

The next day’s hearing before Judge Bullock was brisk. Again the manacled prisoner was asked whether he had anything to say. Gilmore rose shakily to his feet and made one request: “I understand, your honor, they are planning to seat me in a chair with a hood over my head. I don’t want that. I don’t want a hood, and I want to be standing.”

The judge said he did not have the authority to set the details of the execution but would notify Warden Samuel Smith of Gilmore’s request. That left only the time to be set.

“I’m going to set it at sunrise Monday,” the judge said. “Do you request another time?”

“I don’t request anything,” Gilmore said.

Outside Salt Lake’s massive Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution, a handful of pickets paraded among the Christmas shoppers with sandwich boards demanding RELEASE GILMORE NOW. “The man I see there is not a guilty killer,” said Demonstrator Larry Wood, 30, pointing to a newspaper photograph of the wan Gilmore at the hearing. “He looks like a high beam to me. We Christians should turn the other cheek.”

Though Gilmore has persistently disavowed all lawyers who tried to win him a reprieve, the decisive intervention came when Stanford Law Professor Anthony G. Amsterdam moved in the following day, on behalf of Gilmore’s mother. Amsterdam, a leader in the fight against capital punishment for a decade, filed a petition with Supreme Court Justice Byron White, who is responsible for emergency appeals in the Utah area. “The need for a stay of execution is obvious,” said Amsterdam. “Such stays are commonly granted in death cases. Indeed, the only factor that makes this application unusual is [Gilmore’s] assertion that he wished to be executed.” Among Amsterdam’s reasons for appealing: that there may have been judicial errors in the original trial, that Gilmore may have waived his constitutional rights without fully understanding them, that his defense lawyers were inadequate, and that Utah’s capital punishment law may be unconstitutional. Justice White duly turned the petition over to the full court. The next day the court voted 6 to 3 to stay the execution for one day so that Utah state authorities can provide more information. That demand is very likely to require several further delays.

So, for a time, the execution was called off.

In the dingy foyer of the Utah State Prison, Gilmore’s aunt, Ida Damico, and her daughter, Brenda Nicol, maintain a sort of vigil. They say, though, that if they had been on Gilmore’s jury, they would have voted to convict.

“The Indians had the right idea,” says Brenda, a cocktail waitress in Orem. “When a rapist was caught, he got tied down and everyone was invited to throw stones. You better believe the other young bucks got the right idea. Poor Gary—I love him even though he is a murderer. Gary says the only way to atone for the dead is to give your own life. He’s prepared and so are we.”

The family has already discussed the division of Gilmore’s worldly possessions, including parts of his body. One of Brenda’s children hopes to get Gilmore’s pituitary gland. “I wish I could get his brain, “Aunt Ida says with a smile. “I always wanted to go to college.”

As Gilmore waits out the next round, book, magazine and television offers keep flooding in. Gilmore has fired his first agent, Dennis Boaz, who until recently was also his lawyer, in favor of his uncle, Vern Damico. Damico listened to a $5,000 bid from the National Enquirer, a $100,000 bid from David Susskind, and then accepted a more elaborate contract from Los Angeles Photographer and Entrepreneur Lawrence Schiller. For a $100,000 down payment, plus royalties, Schiller has arranged a package deal that includes a TV dramatization of Gilmore’s life and death for ABC’s Movie of the Week. As money comes in, along with celebrity, so do bills. Last week a Massachusetts insurance company filed suit against Gilmore to collect $45,818 in death benefits for one of his shooting victims. Even so, there will be money left over that Gilmore has promised to parcel out among his family, to the relatives of his victims and to such favorite charities as a Pennsylvania society of handicapped artists. Gilmore, who has spent 18 of his 36 years behind bars, says he will keep only $1,000 so that during his remaining days in prison he can live well.

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