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A Gentleman’s Agreement?

Gary Mark Gilmore (December 4, 1940 – January 17, 1977) used to live in Provo, the third-largest city in Utah, the US. Even after spending 35 springs, he had remained a bechelor. All of a sudden, he met Nicole Barrett Baker, a 19-year-old widow and divorcee with two young children , who lived in Orem (adjacent to Provo). It was love at first sight for the two, as if they had known to each other for ages!
On the evening of July 20, 1976, Gary and Nicole visited a motel to enjoy food. Unfortunately, Gary got involved in an argument with the guard of the motel. It was not easy for short-tempered Gary to tolerate an insult in front of his fiancée. He snatched the pistol from the guard and shot him dead. In the previous night, he had robbed and murdered Max Jensen, a gas station employee in Orem.

Gary Mark Gilmore.jpg
Gary Mark Gilmore

The Police arrested Gary… and, the trial continued till October 6. Peter Arroyo, a motel guest, testified that he had seen Gary in the motel registration office that night. After taking the money, he ordered Bennie Bushnell, the guard, to lie down on the floor and then shot him. Gerald F Wilkes, an FBI ballistics expert, matched the two shell casings and the bullet that had killed Bushnell to the gun hidden in the bush. Meanwhile, a patrolman testified that he had traced Gary’s trail of blood to that same bush. Gary’s two court-appointed lawyers – Michael Esplin and Craig Snyder – reportedly made no attempt to cross-examine the majority of the State’s witnesses, and rested without calling any witnesses for the defence.
Gary protested and asked the judge if he could take the stand in his own defence. Perhaps, he thought that he could dissociate himself from the crime due to lack of control he had felt at the time, and he would have a good case for insanity. His attorneys presented the findings of four separate psychiatrists… however, all of them said that Gary was aware of what he was doing and that he knew it was wrong. While Gary did have an antisocial personality disorder that might may have been aggravated by drinking and drugs, he did not meet the legal criteria for insanity. Finally, Gary withdrew his request.
The verdict was unanimous, as the Jury was convinced that the crime committed by Gary was unpardonable! The jury unanimously recommended a Death Penalty due to the special circumstances of the crime. Soon after the Jury awarded him the Death Sentence, he told the Judge that the Judiciary should implement the sentence fast, as it had become increasingly difficult for him to stay behind bars!


On November 11, the Judge declared that Gary would have to stand in front of the Firing Squad at 8am (local time), on November 15. A happy Gary thanked the Judge for fulfilling his request. As per the rule, the officials asked Gary about his last wish. He told the officers that he would like to marry Nicole before leaving this world as he was born only to do this job. Nicole, too, was happy because she had decided to commit suicide on the same day! The media persons were having an interesting story, and started making preparations to cover the event scheduled to take place on November 15.
Meanwhile, the news shook the local Civil Rights Groups, which considered the Death Sentence as a nefarious punishment. Mainly because of their movements, no criminal had been executed in the US since 1967. So, Gary’s Death Sentence triggered a sensation in the country. Various broadsheets and political groups, too, condemned the verdict. They also slammed the Government for re-introducing Capital Punishment. The Utah Court received so many petitions, demanding Justice for Gary, in the next few days! After considering the situation, the Governor of Utah suspended the Death Sentence temporarily, and asked the State Pardons Board to verify the verdict. The Board called its meeting on November 17, 1976.
Gary, who was inside the jail, had no information about all these. He found that he was still alive on November 15! Next day, the guards found Gary lying in his cell after consuming poison! The concerned authorities came to know that Nicole, too, had consumed poison on November 16. Later, investigation revealed that Nicole had supplied poison to Gary. Gary and Nicole were admitted to the University of Utah Medical Centre and the Utah State Hospital, respectively. Surprisingly, both of them survived! After getting well, Gary told the Police that he would like to meet Nicole. However, the doctors and Nicole’s relatives did not allow Gary to meet his beloved lady. Even, he was not allowed to make a phone call to Nicole. A disheartened Gary, then, started a hunger strike inside the jail.


Perhaps, the State Pardons Board would have upheld the Death Penalty… but, the series of events prompted the Board to cancel its meeting scheduled to be held on November 17! On the other hand, the Civil Rights Groups urged the Attorney General of Utah to take up their case. The incident shocked Gary, who wanted to die. He stunned the world on November 30 by appointing Attorney Ronald Stanger as his Legal Adviser in order to implement the Death Penalty.
Inside the courtroom, Stanger argued that a person could make a final decision about her/his own life, unless it harmed others. It was Gary’s decision to live or to leave (this world)… The Attorney also said that if the Court failed to implement its verdict, then the Court would be subject to Civil Rights violations! Finally, the Civil Rights Groups lost the case on December 1, and the Court confirmed that Gary would face the Firing Squad on December 6.
The drama still continued, as Gary’s mother, Bessie Gilmore, entered the scene! She filed a mercy plea with the Supreme Court and the execution ought to be stayed. The Supreme Court honoured her appeal, suspending the Death Sentence on December 3. Therefore, Gary was not executed on December 6 as per schedule. Gary became upset, once again. The Supreme Court reconsidered the verdict on December 14 and lifted the suspension, announcing that the Death Sentence would be implemented on January 17, 1977. As Gary was not ready to wait another 30 days, he requested the Judiciary to implement the verdict the following week.
Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Groups launched a fresh campaign against the Capital Punishment… and, the situation deteriorated. On January 15, huge public rallies paralysed the normal life in Utah! At 1:30am (local time) on January 17, Federal Judge Willis Ritter suspended the sentence for the reason unknown. That stay was overturned at 7:30am, and the execution was allowed to proceed as planned.

Gilmore was executed.jpg
Gilmore was executed by firing squad at Utah State Prison.

At last, Gary was executed at 8:07am on January 17, 1977 by Firing Squad at Utah State Prison in Draper! The night before, he had requested an all-night gathering of friends and family at the prison’s Mess Hall. On the evening before his execution, he was served a last meal of steak, potatoes, milk and coffee, but consumed only the milk and coffee. His uncle, Vern Damico, who attended the gathering, later claimed to have smuggled in three small, 50ml Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottles that Gary supposedly consumed.
Gary’s wish was fulfilled… however, a question remained unanswered… is it a Crime to want to die or is it a matter of an Individual Freedom?

Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes
By Michael Coy

I can see clearly
now the rain has gone.
I read the news today, oh boy.
Psycho killer – qu’est-ce que c’est?
Nice surprise.
They’ve given me his eyes.
Will I start to show
at the bars he used to go?
Bottom rung, unsung,
unhung, bring ’em young.
My name is Faye –
now you’re gonna pay.
Lean, mean, Steve McQueen,
Terry Malloy,
Bobby Prewitt.
I can see Deirdre
now Lorraine has gone.
Sound and vision.
Going in with my eyes open.
Slip slidin’ away.
New start, too smart,
play the part,
Robin Hood, no good,
In cold blood,
through the heart.
Let’s do it.

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