Gary Gilmore was an impulsive, violent, greedy, impatient man. Combine these aspects together and you get the man who went down in history as the first person to be executed
in the United States after the Supreme Court reinstated the Death Penalty in 1976.
A young criminal.
Born in 1940, Gary got off to a bad start. Dropping out of school at the age of 14, Gary
had started his own car theft ring by the next year. He was doing this when he was
arrested for the first time. His father Frank, a con man by profession, hired a good lawyer
and bailed Gary out. He could not, however, keep Gary out of trouble. Gary spent a year
in Oregon's MacLaren Reform School for Boys, and was in and out of jail until he was 18.
He ended up in Oregon State Correctional Institution for car theft.
While he was there, his
father died. This was quite a blow to young Gary, who went wild, and attempted suicide.
He became quite violent to the guards and the other inmates. For a time he was put on an
anti-psychotic drug called Prolixin. It took his mother's intervention to get him off of the
mind numbing drug.
He got out of jail at the age of 21, and promptly landed back in jail for robbery and
assault. He was deemed to be a violent criminal with little chance of rehabilitation, and
was sent to Oregon State Penitentiary. While there his younger brother Gaylen was
stabbed in the stomach, and died because he could not afford medical care. Gary was
allowed to attend the funeral this time, but the death still had an adverse affect upon him,
and he spent much time in solitary because of his inability to deal with his emotions or to
conform to prison life.
A new start?
However, the time in solitary seemed to be helping him. He was quite an intelligent man,
and was able to educate himself in literature and start writing poetry. He developed his
artistic talent, and actually won a few contests. This was a factor in his early release from
prison in 1972 to attend art school in Eugene Oregon.
As might have been expected from his record, his new found freedom did not last very
long. He started drinking, within a month was re-arrested for armed robbery. He was
sentenced to 9 years of prison. He became even more violent, and tried to kill himself a
few more times. He was eventually transferred to a maximum security prison in Marion,
He began corresponding with his cousin Brenda in Utah, who hadn't seen him since he was
a child. Not knowing that he had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorder,
she organized a parole plan after only three years, thinking that he could work things out if
he was surrounded by a loving community and got himself a steady job. In 1976, he
arrived in Provo, thinking he was ready for freedom.
Gary out on the town
It didn't quite work out as well as planned. He was lazy and couldn't hold down a job. He
started drinking as much as possible, stealing when he couldn't afford to drink on his own.
He did go out and found himself a lovely girlfriend by the name of Nicole Barrett. But he
was returning to his life of compulsive theft, taking what he wanted because he wanted it
He had moved into the house Nicole rented, and gotten himself deeply into debt, after
buying himself a nice used truck. He was starting to scare Nicole, and she eventually
moved out of her house into an apartment, to get herself and her two children away from
When sociopaths attack!
One night, July 19th, he went looking for Nicole at her mother's house. She wasn't there,
but her younger sister was. April had a crush on Gary, and said that she wanted him to
take her for a ride. He obliged. They went out, and Gary stopped at a gas station, parking
the truck around the corner.
He went into the gas station, and pulled out his gun, brandishing it at the attendant, Max
Jensen. He ordered Max to empty his pockets, and then lie down on the bathroom floor
with his arms under his body. Gary then placed the gun against Max's head and fired
twice, once "for him" and once "for Nicole."
He headed back to the truck and took April out to see "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
Nest." After a quick visit to Brenda's, they went and stayed the night at a Holiday Inn.
Then next day he was in Provo getting some work done on his truck. The mechanic told
him it would take about 20 minutes, so Gary decided to run a quick errand.
He went over
to the City Center Motel, and ordered Ben Bushnell, the manager of the hotel, to give him
the cashbox and lay down on the ground. He did as he was told, but once again, Gary shot
him in the head anyways. He fled the scene as Debbie, Ben's wife, walked in. He ditched
the box, and the gun, but the gun caught on something and he accidentally shot himself in
He went back to pick up his truck and the manager of the gas station wrote down the
license plate and phoned the police after Gary had left.
He tried phoning Brenda, to get some help from her with his hand, but she had heard
about what was happening, and figuring out who was behind it, told the cops where he
was. He waited a bit, and afraid Brenda wasn't going to come, left. He had to bust through
a police roadblock, and they pursued him. He gave up without a fight just outside of
Nicole's mother's house.
His court appointed attorneys had their work cut out for them. With several eye witnesses,
and a confession to Brenda and to a police officer later, they didn't have much to work
with. The prosecutor was seeking the newly reinstated death penalty, seeing Gary as an
embodiment of the system's utter failure to rehabilitate. With mounds of evidence pointing
to his guilt and almost nothing presented by the defense, the jury was quick to convict, he
was sentenced to death.
Gary then did something surprising, and decided not to appeal the decision. He wished to
go through with the execution. He did not wish to spend the rest of his natural life in
prison, especially not on death row. He told this to the Utah Supreme Court, and they
agreed with him, 4 to 1.
Despite his objections, people fought the decision on his behalf. His former lawyers, who
he had fired because they did not support his decision, filed an appeal on his behalf, with
the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People. A stay of execution was granted, despite the fact that
Gary was ready to die.
To get around this, Gary and Nicole made a pact. Nicole went around to various doctors,
getting her hands on as many barbiturates as she could. Collecting 50 pills, and smuggling
them into prison, she gave half of them to Gary. They planned to take them all at the same
time, midnight, and thus die together. However, they both survived, but all contact
between them was cut off. Nicole was committed to a psychiatric facility for observation.
His mother requested another stay of execution on behalf of her son. In response he wrote
an open letter to her, through the media, the gist of which was that she should butt out
and let him go through with it. Ten days later the stay was overturned.
Finally, on January 17, 1977, after his last meal and a phone call from Johnny Cash, Gary
was executed by a firing squad. His last words were "Let's do it."
Sasha Gabba Hey! says re Gary Gilmore: You might like to put in something about the adverts song 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'. Obviously, I'm only saying that 'cause I wrote the node.