GARY GILMORES EYES CLASSIC TEE SHIRT
"TITTER YE NOT"
The US state of Utah puts Ronnie Lee Gardner to death by
firing squad, the first
such execution for 14 years. Death row convicts in Utah were for decades allowed to choose their method of execution.
Why didn't he choose
"old age"? Dumb yank.
I don't think I'll be any good on the firing squad,
but I'll give it my best shot.
"I've been thinking about death quite a bit lately." I said to my mate as we were smoking a cigarette.
"Why's that then?" he asked.
"It's mainly to do with
that firing squad in front of us." I said.
'Two Australian drug smugglers executed by firing squad in Indonesia'
Even their last minute phone-call to Fosters
pair, Brad and Dan,
was in vain.
Gary Mark Gilmore (December 4, 1940 – January 17, 1977) was
an American criminal who gained international notoriety for
demanding the execution of his death sentence for two murders he
committed in Utah. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a new
series of death penalty statutes in the 1976 decision Gregg v.
Georgia, he became the first person in almost ten years to be
executed in the United States. These new statutes avoided the
problems under the 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia , which
had resulted in earlier death penalty statutes being deemed as
"cruel and unusual" punishment, and therefore unconstitutional.
(The Supreme Court had previously ordered all states to commute
death sentences to life imprisonment after Furman v. Georgia.)
Gilmore was executed by firing squad in 1977.
Gary Mark Gilmore was born in McCamey, Texas, on December 4, 1940, the second of four
sons, to Frank and Bessie Gilmore. Frank Gilmore Sr. (1890–1962), an alcoholic con man, had
numerous wives and families, none of whom he supported. On a whim he married Bessie (née
Brown) (1914 – June 1980), a Mormon outcast from Provo, Utah, in Sacramento, California.
Gary was born while they were living in Texas under the pseudonym of Coffman to avoid the law. Frank christened his son
Faye Robert Coffman , but once they left Texas, Bessie changed it to Gary Mark. This name change proved to be a sore point years later:
Gilmore's mother Faye kept the original "Faye Coffman" birth certificate. When Gary found it two decades later, he assumed he must be either illegitimate or someone else's son. Gilmore seized on this as the reason that he and his father never got along; he became very upset and walked out on his mother when she tried to explain the name change to him.
The theme of illegitimacy, real or imagined, was common in the Gilmore family. Fay Gilmore, Frank's mother, once told Bessie that Frank's father was a famous magician who had passed through Sacramento, where she was living. Bessie researched this at the library and concluded that Frank was the illegitimate son of Harry Houdini. Houdini was only sixteen years old in 1890, the year of Frank Gilmore's birth, and did not begin his career as a magician until the following year. Mikal Gilmore , Gary's youngest brother, believes the story to be false, but has stated that both his father and mother believed it. The other brothers were Frank, Jr. and Gaylen.
During Gary's childhood, the family frequently relocated throughout the Western United States, with Frank supporting them by
selling fake magazine subscriptions. Gary had a troubled relationship with his father, whom his youngest brother Mikal described as a "cruel and unreasonable man." Frank Gilmore, Sr. was strict and quick to anger, and would often whip his sons Frank, Jr., Gary and Gaylen with a razor strop, whip or a belt for little or no reason. Less often, he would beat his wife. He mellowed somewhat with age:
Mikal reported that Frank whipped him only once, and never did it again after Mikal told him, "I hate you." In addition, Frank and Bessie would argue loudly and verbally abuse each other. Frank would anger Bessie by calling her crazy, and defame
Brigham Young , the second president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as "Bring 'em Young."
Bessie would retaliate by calling him a "Cat-licker" [Catholic] and threatening to kill him some night. This abuse continued for years, and caused considerable turmoil within the Gilmore family.
In 1952, the Gilmore family settled in Portland, Oregon. As an adolescent, Gary began engaging in petty crime. Although Gilmore had an IQ test score of 133, gained high scores on both aptitude and achievement tests, and showed artistic talent, he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. He ran away from home with a
friend to Texas, returning to Portland after several months. At the
age of 14, he started a small car theft ring with friends, which
resulted in his first arrest. He was released to his father with a
warning. Two weeks later he was back in court on another car theft
charge. The court remanded him to the
MacLaren Reform School for Boys in Oregon, from which he was
released the following year. He was sent to Oregon State
Correctional Institution on another car theft charge in 1960, and was
released later that year. In 1961, Frank, Sr., was diagnosed with
terminal lung cancer; he died at the end of June 1962, while Gary
was still in prison. One of his jailers told Gary when his father died.
Despite his dysfunctional relationship with his father, Gary was
devastated and tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists.
In 1962, Gilmore was arrested again and sent to the Oregon State Penitentiary for armed robbery and assault. He faced assault and
armed robbery charges again in 1964, and was given a 15-year prison sentence as a habitual offender . A prison psychiatrist diagnosed him with antisocial personality disorder with intermittent psychotic decompensation. He was granted conditional release
in 1972 to live weekdays in a halfway house in Eugene, Oregon, and study art at a community college. Gilmore never registered and, within a month, he was arrested and convicted of armed robbery. Because of his violent behavior in prison, Gilmore was transferred in 1975 from Oregon to the maximum security federal prison in Marion, Illinois.
Gilmore was conditionally paroled in April 1976 and went to Provo, Utah, to live with a distant cousin, Brenda Nicol, who tried to help him find work. Gilmore worked briefly at his uncle Vern Damico's shoe repair store and then for an insulation company, but he soon returned to his previous lifestyle of stealing, drinking, and getting into fights. Gilmore, then 35, had a relationship with Nicole Baker, a 19-year-old widow and divorcee who had two young children. The relationship was at first casual, but soon became intense and strained due to Gilmore's aggressive behavior and pressure from Baker's family to stop her seeing him.
On the evening of July 19, 1976, Gilmore robbed and murdered Max Jensen, a gas station employee in Orem, Utah. The next evening, he robbed and murdered Bennie Bushnell, a motel manager in Provo. Although both men had complied with his demands, he murdered each of them. While disposing of the .22 caliber pistol used in both killings, Gilmore accidentally shot himself in his right hand, leaving a trail of blood to the service garage, where he had left his truck to be repaired prior to murdering Bushnell. Garage mechanic Michael Simpson witnessed Gilmore hiding the gun in the bushes. Seeing the blood on Gilmore's crudely bandaged right hand when he approached to pay for the repairs to his truck, and hearing on a police scanner of the shooting at the nearby motel, Simpson wrote down Gilmore's license number and called the police. Gilmore's cousin, Brenda, turned him in to police shortly after he phoned her asking for bandages and painkillers for the injury to his hand. The Utah State Police apprehended Gilmore as he tried to drive out of Provo, and he gave up without attempting to flee. He was charged with the murders of Jensen and Bushnell , although the first case was never brought to trial, apparently because there were no eyewitnesses.
Gilmore's murder trial began at the Provo courthouse on October 5, 1976 and lasted two days. Peter Arroyo, a motel guest, testified that he saw Gilmore in the motel registration office that night. After taking the money, Gilmore allegedly ordered Bushnell 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 killed Bushnell to the gun hidden in the bush, and a patrolman
testified that he had traced Gilmore's trail of blood to that same bush. Gilmore's two court-
appointed lawyers, Michael Esplin and Craig Snyder, made no attempt to cross-examine the
majority of the state's witnesses, and rested without calling any witnesses for the defense.
Gilmore protested, and the following day asked the judge if he could take the stand in his own
defense, perhaps arguing that due to the dissociation and lack of control he felt at the time, he
had a good case for insanity. His attorneys presented the findings of four separate
psychiatrists, all of whom had said that Gilmore was aware of what he was doing and that he
knew it was wrong at the time. While he did have an antisocial personality disorder , which
may have been aggravated by drinking and drugs, he did not meet the legal criteria for insanity.
Gilmore withdrew his request. On October 7, the jury retired to deliberate and by mid-day, they
had returned with a guilty verdict. Later that day, the jury unanimously recommended the death
penalty due to the special circumstances of the crime.
Against his express wishes, Gilmore received several stays of execution through the efforts of
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The last of these occurred just hours before the re-
scheduled execution date of January 17. That stay was overturned at 7:30 AM, and the
execution was allowed to proceed as planned. At a Board of Pardons hearing in November
1976, Gilmore said of the efforts by the ACLU and others to prevent his execution:
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."
During the time Gilmore was on death row awaiting his execution, he attempted suicide twice; the first time on November 16 after
the first stay was issued, and again one month later on December 16. Gilmore was executed on January 17,1977, at 8:07 a.m. by
firing squad at Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. The night before, Gilmore had requested an all-night gathering of friends and family at the prison 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 which Gilmore supposedly consumed.
In the morning at the time of execution, Gilmore was transported to an abandoned cannery behind the prison, which served as its death house. He was strapped to a chair, with a wall of sandbags placed behind him to trap the bullets. Five gunmen, local police
officers, stood concealed behind a curtain with five small holes, through which they aimed their rifles. When asked for any last words, Gilmore simply replied, " Let's do it " The Rev. Thomas Meersman, the Roman
Catholic prison chaplain, administered the last rites to Gilmore. After the prison
physician cloaked him in a black hood, Gilmore uttered his last words to
"Dominus vobiscum" (Latin, translation:
"The Lord be with you.")
Meersman replied, "Et cum spiritu tuo" ("And with your spirit.").
In Utah, firing squads consist of five volunteer law enforcement officers from the
county in which the conviction of the offender took place. The five executioners
were equipped with .30-30-caliber rifles and off-the-shelf Winchester 150-grain
(9.7 g) Silver Tip ammunition . The condemned was restrained and hooded, and
the shots were fired at a distance of 20 feet (6 m), aiming at the chest. According to
his brother Mikal Gilmore's memoir Shot in the Heart, Utah's tradition dictated that
a firing squad comprise four men with live rounds, and one with a blank round, so
that the shooters could not be certain as to who fired the fatal shots. However,
upon inspecting the clothes worn by his brother Gary at his execution, Mikal noted
five holes in the shirt—indicating, he wrote, that "the state of Utah, apparently, had
taken no chances on the morning that it put my brother to death. "Gilmore had
requested that his organs be donated for transplant purposes. Within hours of the
execution, two people received his corneas. His body was sent for autopsy andwas cremated later that day. The following day, his ashes were scattered from an airplane over Spanish Fork, Utah.
As Gilmore was the first person in the United States executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, his story had immense cultural resonance at the time. It continues to influence the works of writers, artists and advertisers in the early 21st century. Before his execution, the December 11, 1976, episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live (Season 2, Episode 10) featured guest host Candice Bergen and the cast singing a Christmas themed medley entitled " Let's Kill Gary Gilmore For
Christmas ." Dressed in winter attire and surrounded by fake snow, the performers sang the medley of familiar Christmas carols with altered lyrics. Lyrics set to "Winter Wonderland" included this line:
"In the meadow we can build a snowman / One with Gary Gilmore packed inside / We'll ask him, 'Are you dead yet?' He'll say, 'No, man' / But we'll wait out the frostbite till he dies." A later episode of Saturday Night Live, on October 20, 1979, featured guest host Eric Idle performing impersonations while strapped to a stretcher, assisted by orderlies. With the stretcher standing on end, Idle covered his eyes with a black blindfold and announced it as an impersonation of Gary Gilary more.
Television comedies have referred to the Gilmore execution, specifically his final words, "Let's do this."
The Seinfeld episode, "The Jacket," originally included a reference to Gary Gilmore's final words, but the scene was changed during the final shoot. In the deleted scene, Jerry is trying to decide upon buying the titular jacket, when he remarks to Elaine:
"Well, in the immortal words of Gary Gilmore 'Let's do this." On the Roseanne episode, "The Wedding," Roseanne's daughter Darlene is asked if she is ready to get married. Darlene responds with a similar punchline, "Well in the words of Gary Gilmore, 'Let's do this. '"On NYPD Blue, Andy Sipowicz cracks "Let's do this," as his wedding is about to begin, then explains further, "That's what that guy in Utah said...'Let's do this.' He said that to the firing squad just before they whacked him."
The founder of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, Dan Wieden credits the inspiration for his "Just Do It" Nike slogan to Gilmore's last words.
Norman Mailer wrote a novel, The Executioner's Song , based on Gilmore's life; it won the Pulitzer Prize. Notable for its portrayal of Gilmore and the anguish surrounding the murders he committed, the book expressed Mailer's thinking about the national debate over the revival of capital punishment. Another writer to blend fact with fiction was Colombian writer Rafael Chaparro Madiedo, who featured Gilmore as one of the main characters of his 1992 novel Opio en las Nubes, which won the National Prize.
In 1982, The Executioner's Song was adapted by Mailer for a television movie of the same name starring Tommy Lee Jones as Gilmore, and co-starring Christine Lahti, Eli Wallach and Rosanna Arquette. Jones won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Gilmore. Gilmore's brother's memoir Shot in the Heart was adapted as an HBO movie. Artist Matthew Barney's film Cremaster 2 (1999), featured Gilmore as the main character; it was the second of five films in the series The Cremaster Cycle. Played by an actress, the metamorphosed character corresponding to Gilmore appears in the beginning of Cremaster 3.
Jack Nicholson's performance in The Postman Always Rings Twice was reportedly inspired in part by Gilmore.
Many musicians have explored the Gilmore case. In 1976, The Adverts had a top 20 hit in the UK with the song "Gary Gilmore's Eyes". The lyrics describe an eye donor recipient realising his new eyes came from the executed murderer. The song was later covered by German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen and a country version of the song was recorded by Dean Schlabowske. Also
in 1976, New York City experimental punk band Chain Gang released the song "Gary Gilmore and the Island of Dr. Moreau" as the B-side to their single "Son of Sam" about a contemporary serial killer who was still at large. The Police's song "Bring on the Night", from their 1979 album Reggatta de Blanc, speculated on Gary Gilmore's possible feelings on the evening before the execution took place. In 1980, The Judy's released the song "How's Gary?" on their album Wonderful World of Appliances. The song presumably asks Gary Gilmore's mother what's wrong with him, saying that he never comes out to play anymore. The song also inquires about the holes in his vest and why he is wearing a blindfold.
Several playwrights have integrated the Gilmore story into their work in one way or another. The Oakland-based performance artist Monte Cazazza sent out photos of himself in an electric chair on the day of the execution. One of these was mistakenly printed in a Hong Kong newspaper as the real execution. Cazazza was also photographed alongside COUM Transmissions/Throbbing Gristle members Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti for the " Gary Gilmore Memorial Society " postcard, in which the three artists posed blindfolded and tied to chairs with loaded guns pointed at them to depict Gilmore's execution. In Christopher Durang's play Beyond Therapy (1983), the character Bruce claims that he "wanted to see Gary Gilmore executed on television."
Execution by firing squad , sometimes called fusillading (from the French fusil, rifle), is
a method of capital punishment, particularly common in the military and in times of war.
Execution by shooting is a fairly old practice. Some reasons for its use are that
firearms are usually readily available and a gunshot to a vital organ usually kills
relatively quickly. Before the introduction of firearms, bows or crossbows were often
used — Saint Sebastian is usually depicted as executed by a squad of Roman
auxiliary archers in around 288 AD; King Edmund the Martyr of East Anglia, by some
accounts, was tied to a tree and executed by Viking archers on 20 November 869 or
A firing squad is normally composed of several military personnel or law enforcement
officers. Usually, all members of the group are instructed to fire simultaneously, thus
preventing both disruption of the process by a single member and identification of the
member who fired the lethal shot. To avoid the disfigurement of multiple shots to the
head, the shooters are typically instructed to aim at the heart, sometimes aided by a
paper target. The prisoner is typically blindfolded or hooded, as well as restrained,
although in some cases prisoners have asked to be allowed to face the firing squad
without their eyes covered. Executions can be carried out with the condemned either
standing or sitting. There is a tradition in some jurisdictions that such executions are
carried out at first light, or at sunrise, which is usually up to half an hour later. This
gave rise to the phrase " shot at dawn ."
Execution by firing squad is distinct from other forms of execution by firearms, such as
an execution by a single firearm to the back of the head or neck. However, the single
shot by the squad's officer with a pistol ( coup de grâce ) is sometimes incorporated in
a firing squad execution, particularly if the initial volley turns out not to be immediately
Since 1608, about 142 men have been judicially shot in the United States and its English-speaking predecessor territories, excluding executions related to the American Civil War. John Albert Taylor chose firing squad for his 1996 execution, in the words of the New York Times, "to make a statement that Utah was sanctioning murder." However, a 2010 article for the British newspaper The Times
quotes Taylor justifying his choice because he did not want to " flop around like a dying fish " during a lethal injection.
Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in 2010, having said he preferred this method of execution because of his "Mormon heritage." Gardner also felt that lawmakers were trying to eliminate the firing squad, in opposition to popular opinion in Utah, because of concern over the state's image in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Execution by firing squad was banned in Utah in 2004, but as the ban was not retroactive, three inmates on Utah's death row will be executed by firing squad. Idaho banned execution by firing squad in 2009, temporarily leaving Oklahoma as the only state in the union utilizing this method of execution (and only as a secondary method). In March 2015, Utah enacted legislation allowing for execution by firing squad if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.
I want freedom and I realise that the only way to get it is to quit breaking the law.
It's my life and my death.
See you in the darkness.