Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gary Gilmore

The End and the Beginning

The night before he was to die, Gilmore had been given plenty of drugs. His relatives visited and he was in good spirits. Uncle Vern admitted on A&E that he'd brought him some whiskey, which Gilmore drank down. Then Johnny Cash, his favorite singer, called and sang him a song. Gilmore tried to sing it with him. Then he made a tape for Nicole on which he asked her to kill herself for him.

Finally, the circus was over. All of those who believed the con was bluffing, that he'd change his mind at the last minute, were in shock. Gilmore had asked to be allowed to die and he was going to die.

Gilmore's execution chair (CORBIS)
Gilmore's execution chair (CORBIS)

At 8:00 a.m. on January 17, 1977, the volunteer firing squad got into place. Four of the five weapons were loaded and one would fire a blank. That way, each man would have some idea that perhaps he was not the one who had ended another man's life. They placed the barrels of their rifles through small square holes in a wall as Gilmore was strapped into a chair. He gave his watch to Vern to give to Nicole; he'd broken it at his estimated time of execution. A paper target was placed over his heart and a black corduroy hood over his head. He was strapped into the chair. The least movement could make the bullets miss their mark.

Mailer gives a full account of the final minutes, which were also described on film by some of those who attended.

Asked for last words, Gilmore said, "Let's do it."

Then to the priest delivering last rights, he said in Latin, "There will always be a father."

The countdown began. Gilmore appeared calm. There were three distinct shots. His head went forward into the strap, his right hand delicately lifted, then dropped. The spectators he'd requested to witness the event watched as blood flowed from his heart down his shirt and onto the floor. The doctor went forward to listen, and said that he was still alive. In twenty more seconds, it was over.

Three lives had been tragically wasted.

Bessie got the news that there had been a Stay, but then she saw on the television that her second son, Gary Mark Gilmore, had been executed. Some of his organs were donated before he was cremated, and his ashes were spread in three designated areas of Utah, including Spanish Fork.

His immortal words, "Let's do it," opened the door for other convicted criminals to be put to death. Since 1977, there have been 711 executions in the United States.



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