EX­E­CUTE ME

FOR KILLING TWO MEN IN COLD BLOOD GARY GIL­MORE WAS FAC­ING THE FIR­ING SQUAD: HIS CRIME HARDLY STOOD OUT AMONG THE CON­VICTED MUR­DER­ERS OF HIS TIME, BUT HIS CASE WOULD BE­COME A LAND­MARK IN US CRIM­I­NAL HIS­TORY

Real Crime - - Contents - Words Tanita Matthews

Dou­ble- mur­derer Gary Gil­more wanted to die rather than spend any more time in prison. The irony was – the peo­ple wouldn’t let him

IT’S HU­MAN NA­TURE TO GASP FOR EV­ERY LAST BREATH, BARTER WITH EV­ERY TOOL AT YOUR DIS­POSAL, YET GIL­MORE WAS PRE­PARED TO DIE

As crim­son blood seeped through the shirt of con­victed mur­derer Gary Gil­more, it pooled at his feet in­side a tiny, cold out­house be­hind Utah State Pen­i­ten­tiary. While the world’s me­dia waited im­pa­tiently out­side, buzzing with an­tic­i­pa­tion, the air in­side the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber was still on the morn­ing of 17 Jan­uary 1977, as 30 wit­nesses watched med­i­cal staff take the pris­oner’s pulse, be­fore con­firm­ing he was fi­nally dead.

Gil­more’s death sig­ni­fied the end of a bat­tle not just for those who Gil­more’s mur­der­ous spree had af­fected, but also for the per­pe­tra­tor him­self. For months he had begged ju­di­cial su­pe­ri­ors to let him die. De­spite mul­ti­ple stays of ex­e­cu­tion put for­ward by fam­ily and cam­paign­ers, Gil­more was adamant he should pay for the crimes he had com­mit­ted.

Gil­more’s tragic life and shock­ing death in­spired a Pulitzer Prize- win­ning novel by Nor­man Mailer in 1979 en­ti­tled The Ex­e­cu­tioner’s Song. A film by the same name fol­lowed only three years later. While it seems un­eth­i­cal that a mur­derer should be im­mor­talised and his vic­tims lost in the shad­ows, Gil­more’s case has fas­ci­nated the masses for decades. It’s hu­man na­ture to gasp for ev­ery last breath, barter with ev­ery last tool at your dis­posal, yet Gil­more was pre­pared to die from the minute his life was signed away. It ap­pears that Gil­more’s rea­sons be­hind his ap­a­thy to­wards his own death were part of his com­plex na­ture.

Gil- more or less

Al­though in death Gil­more’s name be­came iconic, in life he lacked a true sense of iden­tity thanks to his early years. He was born on 4 De­cem­ber 1940 to his par­ents Bessie and Frank, who were at the time on the run un­der the pseu­do­nym Coff­man, thanks to Frank’s schem­ing ways. The sec­ond of four chil­dren, Frank named his new­born son Faye Robert Coff­man, af­ter his mother. Bessie, a Mor­mon out­cast, was not keen on the name, and once the cou­ple left Texas she changed it to Gary Mark Gil­more. She kept her son’s orig­i­nal birth cer­tifi­cate, a de­ci­sion that would prove to be the un­do­ing of her son later in life.

Through­out much of Gil­more’s child­hood, his fam­ily fre­quently re­lo­cated across the western USA. At home, an al­co­holic Frank sub­jected Gary Gil­more to hor­rific beat­ings, more so than any­one else, al­though Bessie and her other sons were also fre­quently at­tacked for no good rea­son. Gil­more’s youngest brother Mikal, when later re­search­ing for his 1994 book Shot In The Heart, made the con­nec­tion that Gary Gil­more re­minded his fa­ther of his own fail­ings and there­fore re­ceived more abuse. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween fa­ther and son was a con­fus­ing para­dox of emo­tions – while Frank was abu­sive, he also de­manded that his sons love him and hug him even though they feared him deeply. Mean­while, Bessie was re­port­edly de­void of af­fec­tion to­wards her chil­dren, who were left crav­ing for the ten­der moth­erly touch they would nor­mally re­ceive in a tra­di­tional house­hold. In 1952, Bessie forced Frank to go straight, and the fam­ily set­tled in Port­land, Ore­gon, where Frank set up his own le­git­i­mate busi­ness.

How­ever, trou­ble was never far be­hind for the fam­ily. In Ore­gon their fa­ther fell in with a bad crowd and was in­tro­duced to shoplift­ing, booze and nar­cotics. The chil­dren grew up con­stantly hear­ing their par­ents ar­gue. Frank’s vi­o­lence, com­bined with Bessie’s threats to kill her hus­band in his sleep, cre­ated an un­sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment. Mikal would go on to claim that his fa­ther’s vi­o­lence mel­lowed as he aged. A trou­bled child, Gary Gil­more fre­quently played tru­ant from school and was a trou­ble­maker, play­ing ‘ chicken’ with on­com­ing trains and stick­ing his wet fin­ger into live sock­ets to show­case his bravado.

Frank’s con­tempt for the law was soon in­stilled in his sec­ond- born, who be­gan tak­ing part in petty crime from an early age. When he wound up be­fore a judge, his fa­ther would step in and de­fend his son, teach­ing him to ma­nip­u­late the sys­tem in his favour. Gary Gil­more avoided pun­ish­ment for a num­ber of years, but when he was only 14 he was ar­rested for his first crime – grand theft auto – and sent to Ma­cLaren Re­form School for Boys for a year. From here, his crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity showed no signs of slow­ing down. In­stead Gil­more was spi­ralling out of con­trol. Un­til the age of 18 he was per­pet­u­ally in and out of trou­ble.

Even­tu­ally ju­ve­nile delin­quency turned a boy into a hard­ened crim­i­nal, and he was in­stead held at the Ore­gon State Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion as an adult in 1960 for an­other car theft charge. He was re­leased later that year. In 1962 Gil­more was ar­rested and sent back to the pen­i­ten­tiary for rob­bery and as­sault, rack­ing up ad­di­tional prison time for a se­ries of mis­de­meanours. While be­hind bars, his fa­ther de­vel­oped ter­mi­nal lung can­cer and died in June that same year. Gil­more was de­liv­ered the news while in his cell by a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer at the prison.

En­raged, Gil­more smashed up his cell and slashed his arms with a bro­ken light bulb in an­guish. He be­came a pro­lif­i­cally vi­o­lent in­mate, was not per­mit­ted to leave the prison to at­tend his fa­ther’s fu­neral, and was drugged up on anti- psy­chotic med­i­ca­tion that had se­verely de­bil­i­tat­ing

ef­fects. Af­ter his re­lease he dis­cov­ered his orig­i­nal birth cer­tifi­cate nam­ing him as Faye Robert Coff­man. The dis­tinct dif­fer­ences in his name caused a lot of ques­tions from Gil­more, who formed the opin­ion that Frank wasn’t his bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther, an­swer­ing his life- long ques­tion as to why his fa­ther had taken his anger out on him so much grow­ing up – as the bas­tard child of an­other man. Be­fore his mother could ex­plain he stormed out of the house. It would be the last time his mother would see her son a free man.

Il­le­git­i­macy in the Gil­more fam­ily was a re­cur­ring theme. Frank’s mother had once re­vealed to Bessie that she had fallen preg­nant with Frank fol­low­ing a brief fling with a fa­mous ma­gi­cian who had passed through Sacra­mento.

Af­ter re­search­ing this claim at the library, Bessie con­cluded that her hus­band was the il­le­git­i­mate son of the il­lu­sion­ist Harry Hou­dini. Mikal Gil­more, the third son born to Bessie and Frank, later re­vealed that while his mother and fa­ther be­lieved in their con­nec­tion to the great Hou­dini, few oth­ers in or out of the fam­ily did.

Now in his 20s, Gil­more’s be­lief in his il­le­git­i­macy fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of his birth cer­tifi­cate had a last­ing ef­fect. He be­came more wor­ried about where he had come from and much less about where he was go­ing. Af­ter a quick taste of free­dom, Gil­more was quickly back be­hind bars for a rob­bery worth $ 11. A se­rial of­fender with no signs of con­form­ity and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, he was given a 15- year jail sen­tence. While be­hind bars his younger brother Gaylen was stabbed and died of his in­juries. De­liv­ered the news that an­other fam­ily mem­ber had died while he was be­hind bars, Gil­more re­sorted to his old ways and was fre­quently sent to soli­tary con­fine­ment.

Fa­tal At­trac­tion

Be­hind bars Gil­more de­vel­oped his artis­tic skills and be­came an artist and poet. He was granted the op­por­tu­nity to leave the prison to at­tend an art col­lege pro­gram, but much like ev­ery other op­por­tu­nity he had been given in life, Gil­more wasted it. Rather than at­tend his course, he in­stead skulked off to drink and was picked up for yet an­other armed rob­bery. Fu­ri­ous that their at­tempts to help Gil­more had ended in bit­ter em­bar­rass­ment, the court sen­tenced him to a fur­ther nine years be­hind bars de­spite Gil­more’s plea for le­niency. Ad­dress­ing the court, he said he had “stag­nated” in prison and was des­per­ate to have his free­dom back, and that if they sen­tenced him fur­ther he would be­come more trou­ble­some then ever.

The courts did not re­spond to his threats and, as promised, Gil­more con­tin­ued to be a trou­ble­some and prob­lem­atic pris­oner, get­ting into fights and at­tempt­ing to com­mit sui­cide on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions. He was trans­ferred to a max­i­mum­se­cu­rity prison in Mar­ion, Illi­nois, in 1975 where no one, not even his fam­ily, could reach him for vis­i­ta­tion. He be­gan writ­ing to his cousin Brenda Ni­col and con­vinced her that he was ready to be re­leased. She du­ti­fully worked on free­ing her cousin, who she had not seen since he was a boy, and helped pre­pare him for re­lease by giv­ing Gil­more some­where to stay in Utah and of­fer­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Af­ter serv­ing only 13 years of his 15- year sen­tence,

Gil­more was a free man, but he soon found on the out­side that, with his lack of em­ploy­able skills, he was equipped to do very lit­tle. His un­cle Vern Dam­ico em­ployed him in a bid to give him a pur­pose and a sense of ac­com­plish­ment in the world. Work­ing in his shoe re­pair shop, Gil­more was eas­ily dis­tracted by the fe­male cus­tomers who walked through the doors. Al­though his un­cle cau­tioned him about his wan­der­ing at­ten­tion, he wasn’t eas­ily dis­suaded – es­pe­cially when a young woman named Ni­cole Bar­rett Baker walked in on a May af­ter­noon in 1976.

A 19- year- old mother of two, she had re­cently got­ten di­vorced for the sec­ond time. The at­trac­tion be­tween her and Gil­more was in­stan­ta­neous, and within a week of dat­ing, Gil­more moved in with Ni­cole in Span­ish Fork, Utah. His pas­sion for her was matched by his drunken ag­gres­sion and vi­o­lent tem­per­a­ment, and with two chil­dren to con­sider, she left him af­ter only a few months. She later re­called how she knew that in do­ing so Gil­more would kill some­one, but she ad­mit­ted she thought it would be her. Af­ter an ar­gu­ment with her on 19 July, Gil­more stormed out that evening and drove to Orem with Ni­cole’s younger sis­ter April in the pas­sen­ger seat of his truck. Leav­ing the truck parked around the cor­ner, Gil­more headed to a gas sta­tion while April sat in the car, bliss­fully un­aware of what Gil­more was up to. In­side the build­ing Gil­more marched up to the at­ten­dant, 20- year- old Mor­mon Max Jensen, armed with a .22- cal­i­bre Brown­ing au­to­matic pis­tol, and aimed it at the at­ten­dant’s head.

Gil­more or­dered his vic­tim to empty his pock­ets and, with a wife and chil­dren at home, Max did not want to do any­thing to anger the gun­man, so agreed and fol­lowed Gil­more’s in­struc­tions. Then, Gil­more ush­ered him into the back room, where he or­dered Max to lay on the floor with

let’s do it

his arms un­der his body. Plac­ing the bar­rel against Max’s skull, Gil­more told his vic­tim, “This one’s for me” and pulled the trig­ger. Not sat­is­fied with his kill, he kept his weapon at point- blank range to his in­no­cent vic­tim and fired a sec­ond bul­let into his brain, this time declar­ing, “for Ni­cole”. He and April then spent that evening go­ing to see a movie and hang­ing out in a mo­tel.

The fol­low­ing evening, Gil­more walked to the City

Cen­tre Mo­tel in Provo, where he set his mur­der­ous sights on overnight clerk Ben­nie Bush­nell. Gil­more or­dered that the mo­tel clerk give him the cash registry box and lay down on the floor. In al­most ex­actly the same way as he killed

Max the pre­vi­ous night, Gil­more shot him in the head. As he ex­e­cuted Ben­nie, his wife, who lived on the prop­erty with her hus­band, en­tered the room. Gil­more picked up the cash box and fled.

As he at­tempted to rid him­self of the mur­der weapon in a bush close to his most re­cent crime scene, Gil­more shot him­self through his right hand. Bleed­ing and in ag­o­nis­ing pain, he phoned his aunt’s home, who rang her daugh­ter Brenda. Af­ter lis­ten­ing to her mother de­tail Gil­more’s con­fes­sion of killing the mo­tel clerk, she re­ceived a call from Gil­more him­self, who asked for drugs and ban­dages. Coolly, Brenda asked for his ad­dress, be­fore hang­ing up and di­alling 911 to re­port him to the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. A man­hunt for Gil­more en­sued, and when au­thor­i­ties fi­nally caught up with him a few hours later at a road­block, Gil­more sur­ren­dered. At first he de­nied killing the two men, but af­ter a few hours of ques­tion­ing he ad­mit­ted ev­ery­thing.

Death Wish

On 5 Oc­to­ber 1976 Gil­more ap­peared be­fore a jury at the Provo court­house. His trial lasted only two days. Charges for Ben­nie’s mur­der were the only ones brought against Gil­more be­cause there had been no eye­wit­nesses to the first mur­der. A man who had been stay­ing at the down­town mo­tel the night Ben­nie was mur­dered had seen the killing un­fold and tes­ti­fied against Gil­more. An FBI bal­lis­tics ex­pert matched the bul­let lodged in the vic­tim’s brain to the gun found thrown in a hedge close to the mo­tel. They also matched Gil­more’s gun­shot wound in his hand to the am­mu­ni­tion in the gun, and even more damn­ing was a trail of Gil­more’s blood that went from the mo­tel right to the bush where the mur­der weapon was found.

The de­fence had barely any­thing to go on and did not call any wit­nesses. Gil­more’s chief coun­sel, Michael Esplin, rested his case al­most im­me­di­ately. Gil­more in­sisted that he was al­lowed to take the stand in his own de­fence. Judge J. Robert Bul­lock en­sured that Gil­more un­der­stood that, by tak­ing the stand, he would be sub­jected to cross- ex­am­i­na­tion by the state. Gil­more replied in the af­fir­ma­tive. He felt he had a good case to plead in­san­ity, but his at­tor­neys told him that four psy­chol­o­gists had eval­u­ated him, and al­though they had di­ag­nosed him with an an­ti­so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der ( wors­ened with drugs and al­co­hol), he did not meet the cri­te­ria for an in­san­ity plea. Gil­more sub­se­quently with­drew his re­quest, much to the as­ton­ish­ment of the trial judge. It took the jury only 80 min­utes to find Gil­more guilty of first­de­gree mur­der.

Later that day the jury dis­cussed Gil­more’s pun­ish­ment. While an ex­e­cu­tion hadn’t been car­ried out in the state of Utah in al­most a decade thanks to a nine- year mora­to­rium, pros­e­cu­tors ar­gued that Gil­more, a vi­o­lent and dan­ger­ous crim­i­nal, showed no prom­ise for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ar­gued for the death penalty, which had only that year been re­in­stated. At the end of the hear­ing Gil­more was asked if he had any­thing to say be­fore the sen­tenc­ing was passed. The court­room had ex­pected to hear some con­tri­tion or re­morse from Gil­more, but in­stead he sim­ply replied, “I am fi­nally glad to see that the jury is look­ing at me.”

The 12- per­son panel unan­i­mously de­cided to sen­tence Gil­more to death, with the ex­e­cu­tion sched­uled for 15 Novem­ber. Gil­more was asked if his pre­ferred method of ex­e­cu­tion was by hang­ing or by fir­ing squad. Gil­more felt there was less to go wrong in be­ing shot and so opted for the lat­ter op­tion. What fol­lowed was a bizarre bat­tle be­tween pris­oner and the out­side world: he wanted to die, while some fol­low­ing the case wanted him to con­test and fight the sys­tem. Gil­more’s mother did sue for a stay of ex­e­cu­tion on her son’s be­half, but the Supreme Court re­fused to hear her claims. Gil­more was adamant that he would not ap­peal his sen­tence and dis­missed both of his at­tor­neys when they tried to in­ter­vene on his be­half.

As he sat be­hind bars await­ing his death, let­ters be­tween Gil­more and Ni­cole pro­fessed their undy­ing love for one an­other. Ev­ery day she had hitch­hiked 30 kilo­me­tres to the prison to see him. Af­ter his 15 Novem­ber dead­line was tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended for an­other month thanks to the pro­life cam­paign­ers fight­ing Gil­more’s case against his wishes, the lovers hatched a sui­cide plot that would en­sure that the

I would like them all… to butt out. This is my life and this is my death. It’s been sanc­tioned by the courts that I die

and I ac­cept that

bound­aries of prison wouldn’t keep them apart. De­liv­er­ing 36 pills to him in per­son via a dis­creetly stashed pack­age, Ni­cole and Gil­more planned to take the pills at ex­actly the same time that night. At the stroke of 8pm on 16 Novem­ber, both par­ties be­gan their sui­cide mis­sion, swal­low­ing the toxic dose. The sui­cide at­tempts were in­ter­rupted: Gil­more was rushed to the in­fir­mary while Ni­cole was taken to hos­pi­tal. Both were saved, and fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the pair was cut off by prison of­fi­cials.

Be­fore the end of 1976 there would be an­other stay of ex­e­cu­tion against Gil­more’s wishes. Again he tried to com­mit sui­cide but failed. Each time his ex­e­cu­tion was halted he grew in­creas­ingly frus­trated with those who were in­ter­ven­ing. Dur­ing a Board of Par­dons hear­ing in Novem­ber 1976, Gil­more spoke of the ef­forts of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union ( ACLU) and other ac­tivist groups to pre­vent his ex­e­cu­tion. He told the panel, “They al­ways want to get in on the act. I don’t think they have ever re­ally done any­thing ef­fec­tive in their lives. I would like them all, in­clud­ing that group of rev­erends and rab­bis from Salt Lake City, to butt out. This is my life and this is my death. It’s been sanc­tioned by the courts that I die and I ac­cept that.”

No one ex­pected Gil­more to be the first Utah ex­e­cu­tion, but he was count­ing on it. Mean­while, the press, who had been fol­low­ing Gil­more’s tu­mul­tuous bat­tle since his ar­rest, were watch­ing his story care­fully, wait­ing to see if Gil­more would re­lieve him­self of life be­fore the state did. Af­ter his last post­pone­ment, he was sched­uled to die on 17 Jan­uary 1977, mak­ing him the first to be put to death in al­most a decade in the USA. Gil­more’s ex­e­cu­tion would pave the way for death row in­mates across Utah. On the morn­ing of 17 Jan­uary, af­ter Gil­more’s lat­est stay of ex­e­cu­tion was over­turned – much to the dis­may of the ACLU, who be­lieved they had suc­ceeded in post­pon­ing it fur­ther – Gil­more was led to the out­house. His fam­ily gath­ered around him, and he spent a fi­nal few min­utes with each one be­fore they were ush­ered be­hind a screen. Marks­men read­ied them­selves for the sig­nal.

When asked by war­den Samuel W. Smith if he had any last words, Gil­more sim­ply replied, “Let’s do it”. A black cor­duroy hood was placed over his head. At 8.07am the marks­men’s bul­lets pierced his heart within a few cen­time­tres of one an­other. It took two min­utes for his vi­tal signs to cease. Ly­ing in a hos­pi­tal bed re­cov­er­ing from her re­cent sui­cide bid, Ni­cole re­called how that same morn­ing she had been wo­ken by a vi­sion of Gil­more’s face con­torted in pain. Mo­ments later, she claimed, the news had reached her that Gil­more had been put to death that morn­ing. Gil­more had fi­nally been granted his wish to die, and his tur­moil, as well as that of his vic­tims, could fi­nally rest in peace.

When they met in Ma love y 1976, theof Gil­more’ s lif e, Ni­coleBaker, w as Bar­retta sin­gle mother of tw chil­dren who had ore­centl y div orced for the sec­ond time

above The first of Gil­more’s vic­tims, Max Jensen, was a fa­ther, hus­band and de­vout Mor­mon who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Gil­more’s anger bub­bled overop­po­site Gil­more pleaded with the Board of Par­dons dur­ing a hear­ing in Novem­ber 1976 to be al­lowed to die. To his left are his at­tor­neys, Bob Moody and Robert Stanger

While in pr ison Gil­more ta pped into his artis­tic tal­ents and even earned him­self a place at a com­mu­nity colle ge art course, but Gil­more used his re­lease from pr ison to dr ink and com­mit cr ime

above Gil­more’s un­cle claimed that dur­ing his fi­nal hours, he smug­gled in three minia­ture bot­tles of whiskey, which his soon- to- be ex­e­cuted nephew downed one by one

Right Gil­more had wanted to be ex­e­cuted stand­ing, but his ap­peal was de­nied and he was in­stead or­dered to be seated in the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber when he was put to death

above- left Af­ter his death Gil­more’s body was re­moved from the cham­ber and his or­gans har­vested for medicine. He was cre­mated, his ashes sprin­kled across Span­ish Fork, Utah, where he’d lived with Ni­coleabove- Right Only Gil­more’s fam­ily and the fam­i­lies of his vic­tims were per­mit­ted in­side the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber at the time of his death, but af­ter he was re­moved the me­dia were quick to swoop in on the scene

Nu­mer­ous groups and in­di­vid­u­als at­tempted to sta y Gil­more’ s ex­e­cu­tion, but Gil­more firmlya t ex­pressed his dissa tis­fac­tion their in­terf er­ence

above- Right Nor­man Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize- win­ning novelThe Ex­e­cu­tioner’s Song was a nar­ra­tive, non­fic­tion ac­count of Gil­more’s life, writ­ten us­ing let­ters and in­ter­views Gil­more gave to the press

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