Early this morning at the mountain prison, attended by scribes and camera crews, the state of Utah delivered Gary Mark Gilmore back to his maker.
Gilmore was judged defective as a human being in October. Last summer he murdered two Utah citizens, a service station attendant named Max Jesen and a motel clerk named Bennie Bushnell. While in prison awaiting execution, Gilmore twice tried to kill himself and insisted that the legal authorities proceed to do it for him without further delay.
This morning the government of Utah complied a last-minute legal flurry from civil liberties lawyers. It was done as tastefully as possible under the circumstances. Gilmore was taken to a cinder block shed, strapped in a chair and shot.
As easy as pouring blood into water. Gilmore, alive for 36 unsuccessful years, attained celebrity by being the subject of the first American execution in nearly a decade. His official last words to the warden, witnesses and five anonymous gunmen waiting with their 30-cal, rifles was: "Let's do it."
Many others around the country are excepted to follow in Gilmore's footsteps now that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty, only Gilmore is not quite like most of them. About 350 men and a handful owomen face death sentences in the United States; most of them do not wish to die. In time, perhaps, his case will remembered, not simply for the resumption of capital punishment, but as a stateassisted suicide.
It was an unpleasant spectacle - not the killing itself, which was done in privacy, but the swarming attention and brittle humor of the news media, which, after all, made Gilmore into a mythical creature larger than his real self, perhaps made him even enviable to others with freakish wishes for self destruction.
For those who need to know these things, Gilmore bled profusely when shot. The prison people pinned a paper target to his clothing, over his heart, and four riflemen hit it (one of the five had a blank in his gun though nobody is supposed to know which one).
The scene was then cleaned up a bit before the press was taken in to look it over. Some sort of gravel was spread around the platform to cover the blood stains under the black leather arm chair. The chair had been wiped clean but it had four bullet holes in its back, stained with blood, and there was a drying trickle of blood on the plywood board behind where Gilmore had sat. The four slugs are presumably still buried in the backstrop of sandbags and a flowered mattress - valuable souvenirs if anyone takes the trouble to retrieve them.
Gilmore, it was reported by an eye-witness, did nothing untoward at the moment of his death. He did not quiver with fear. He did no shrink from the black corduroy hood placed over his head and shoulders, did not struggle or cry out at the last moment. His head turned slightly when he was shot, his body shrugged a trifle. That's all.
The melodrama, it seems, was outside where several hundred newspeople were waiting, wired up for instant bulletins, trading minutiae, blocking out camera angles for the network specials.
"I've seen executions," said the silver-haired man from Time magazine. "It's not seeing it that's the story. The story is not seeing it. It's like the monster from the lagoon, mush more horrible if you can't see it."
The reporters prowled and mumbled rumors, like a theatrical troupe fearful that its play had been canceled. Twice before, Gilmore's death was stayed by court orders at the last minute, and this time the Utah prison officials and many members of the press seemed anxious tha t"the event," as the politely called it, would take place.
In the early morning, when U.S. District Court Judge Willis Ritter in Salt Lake City issued another stay, one local newsman cried out in mock pain: "Leave it to Ritter to spoil the climax of our story."
Warden Sam Smith, a tall, lean, stolid man trying to enforce some restraint on the melodrana, was angry, too. He had 200 prison and law enforcement people on overtime to handle the crowd. He also thought it was cruel to Gilmore, who has "psyched himself up" for his death at least three times.
"The official snuff," as a young United Press International reporter called it, did occur, but until people lose interest in this business there will doubtless be more exercises in what one editor calles "snuff journalism." For this one, the first in the nation since 1967, the news profession applied its full ingenuity.
Several agencies tried to hire helicopters to circle over the prison grounds with long-lens cameras in the hope that the shooting would occur outdoors. The federal Aviation Administration, however, ruled that the prison air space was off limits.
The Chicago Daily News-Sun Times wire service, in connection with Australian publisher Rupert Murdoch, had offered clients at a special price an exclusive eyewitness account of the killing by a former Gilmore cellmate named Richard Gibbs. The offering was withdrawn when Gibbs was arrested last week on a rape charge in Boulder, Colo.
On the scene, reporters developed a dislike for Lawrence Schiller, the young movie producer who signed Gilmore and his relatives to a $120,000 exclusive movie contract, the drama to be shown on ABC. Schiller, a bearded man who would be darkly handsome if he were not overweight, was accused of doing out inside facts in a stingy manner, though, as it turned out, he provided the newspeople with the only solid account of the killing he watched.
Sunday night, with the reluctant cooperation of the warden, a "death watch" was organized in the prison parking lot by Tower One, where the reporters' cars and mobile vans were jammed. The drab concrete prison with high wire fences was bathed in TV floodlights, but the reporters complained that the hourly bulletins on Gilmore's activities were dull and even inaccurate.
"Events are not as they are reported there," said a chubby young man wearing a brown cowboy hat who was was representing Murdoch's International News. "Says there his room was cleared of visitors. Says there Gilmore appears calm. I mean, just glaring discrepancies."
As dawn the time set for Gilmore's death, approached, the suspense developed far away from this reporter's eye in Denver where three judges from the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were hearing arguments on Ritter's stay.
Shortly after 7 a.m. here, a long line of plainclothes police officers, a dozen or so of them, filed out of the prison, looking as though they knew something.
Perhaps among them were the five who were to serve as executors, but nobody knew. The warden came out and headed in the other direction, where Gilmore, his friends, family and lawyers waited in the maximum-secuirty section.
One CBS man squawked to another on his little walkie-talkie: "Have you heard anything from Denver yet?"
"That's a big negotory so far," the other man replied.
The darkness was displaced by a mild blue light and soon the crest of the Wasatch Mountains was glowing pink. The prison sits in the neck of the mountain valley, which stretches south from the Great Salt Lake, in the shadow of iron-gray mountains mottled with snow. It was a glorious Western sunrise except, of course, for the flume of air pollution from steel and copper mills that seems to hang permanently over this country.
Close to 8 a.m., the word circulated that the circuit court in Denver had canceled the stay of execution. Would Utah officials wait to hear from the Supreme Court? They would not. Warden Smith, his guards and Gilmore walked from the maximum security section, got into a brown van and a sedan and drove to the prison cannery, where the execution was to take place.
In Washington, a final appeal made to the Supreme Court at the initiative of the American Civil Liberties Union was turned down by Justice Byron R. White, then by Justice Thurgood Marshall, and finally by the full court a couple of minutes before Gilmore was shot. It would not have mattered in any case because Smith proceeded without waiting to hear the outcome.
The newspeople arranged their own drama to climax "the event." Scores of them rushed to a small conference room inside the prison where the warden's assistant, Ken Shulsen, was staged before the cameras to give them the signal when it was relayed to him via a beige telephone.
The phone rang a few minutes after 8 a.m. The cameras rolled. Shulsen answered the phone, then raised his hand in embarrassment. "I apologize," he said, "that was a test."
"You don't have to apologize," a cameraman hollered. "That was a good test. Could you let it ring next time, about five times before you pick it up?"
The phone rang again at eight minutes after the hour and Shulsen said solemnly: "The order of the Fourth Judicial Court of the State of Utah has been carried out."
A frenzy of bulletins went out."Convicted murderer Gary Mark Gilmore has paid for his crimes with his life . . .," a CBS radio man said in a deeply serious voice.
Gilmore's body, covered by a blanket, was taken out the main gate in the back of a blue station wagon.
The human details came next. Gilmore's uncle, Vern Damico, a cobbler from Provo who gave his nephew a home when he was paroled from an Oregon prison last summer, spoke briefly for the cameras, a gentle understatment of mourning.
"He died like he wanted to die - in dignity," Damico said. "It was very upsetting to me but he got his wish."
Robert Moody, a Provo lawyer hired to protect Gilmore's posthumos literary rights, denounced the cruelty of "people with their causes" who tried to interfere. Still, Moody had just come from seeing his client shot and he added with reverence: "It's a very brutal, vruel kind of thing and I would only hope we can take a look at ourselves and our system."
Ronald Sanger, the criminal lawyer who represented Gilmore's right to die, said the convict tried throught the night to cheer up his friends as they waited out the hours with him. He played around at boxing and dancing lessons, Sanger said, and expressed thanks for many things and also "sorrow for the deeds that he did."
He always said, Sanger finished, having trouble with his lawyerly voice, that "he looked forward to the time he could have quiet, when he could meditate, and today Gary Gilmore has quiet. He has quiet through eternity."
The shooting itself was described, minus some emotional highlights, by Schiller who took notes along the way. The witnesses, family friends and prison officials, as many as 40 persons in all, Schiller thought, were driven to a small warehouse and led to a spectator area behind a line taped on the cement floor. The group included several women and two persons from the mortuary. Prison officials passed out cotton for their ears.
Gilmore was already in the execution chair, wearing a black T-shirt, white pants and red-white-and-blue tennis shoes. He was loosely tied in place at the neck, chest and arms by padded nylon straps. A green, shaded overhigh light was centered on the victim.
Neither Gilmore nor the others could see who was behind the gray muslin booth about 25 feet away, like a fancy hunting blind, with five small openings for rifles and a sixth peep-hole for the squad leader.
The warden and the prison priest were at Gilmore's side and his four friends were called over to shake hands and say a private goodbye. Stanger hugged him around the neck. The witnesses returned to the sideline and Smith read the court's execution order.
"Gary looked at him, holding his own, not quivering," Schiller related. "At one point he looked around the warden like this and into the black blind . . . I did not see anything protruding from the slits.
The warden asked if Gilmore has any final words and, as Schiller recounted, "Gary looked up for an extended period of time, then looked directly and I believes his words were . . . 'Let's do it."
Two prison aides came forward, with the priest and the doctor, and placed the black corduroy hood over Gilmore's head. "He did not quiver with the hood placed over him . . . He did not move and try to deny it," Schiller said.
A black paper target with a white circle was pinned to his clothing. Everyone stepped back. The warden made a gesture to the firing squad. "Band, bang, bang, like that," Schiller said. He heard three shots but the damaged chair confirms that four bullets went through Gilmore's body.
"Gary's body moved," the movie producer said. "His head turned there to the left, it stayed erect, there was a slight movement in the hands . . . and slowly red blood emerged from under the black T-shirt and onto the white pants. It seemed to me that his body still had a movement in it for approximately 15 to 20 seconds."
Later, the state medical examiner said Gilmore lived two full minutes after the bullets passed through his heart.
After the doctor checked Gilmore with a stethoscope, Schiller and the other witnesses filed out as a stretcher was brought in. Schiller shared all the details.
But warden Smith was less forthcoming. He refused to discuss personal feelings. "It's one thing to believe in" capital punishment, he said the other day. "It's another thing to be put in the position of having to carry it out . . . I'm personally opposed to killing and violence, and having to do that is a difficult responsibility."
Smith has seven other men in his prison who are sentenced to die but he knows the national news media will not be back to watch those executions, if they occur.
He refused any details about who served on Gilmore's firing squad except to say they were not prison staff members. They were volunteers, presumably law enforcement officers, who were paid for their services.
An hour later, the trampled parking lot was clearing. Technicians were gathering up their cables.
Inmates were standing at the prison windows watching their fame depart. The next execution had been scheduled for Wednesday in Texas but was postponed today when the Supreme Court ruled that Jerry Lane Jurek was entitled to a two-month stay so he could appeal his murder conviction.
Gary Mark Gilmore, like a media character invented for a mass audience, not only died, he vanished, perhaps into another world that he liked to talk about.
Gilmore was taken to the University of Utah Medical Center where doctors dissected his body for scientific purposes or use in transplant operations.