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Tape: Gilmore Executed Moments Before Confirmation Of Ruling

March 19, 1987

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A firing squad shot murderer Gary Gilmore minutes before Utah officials confirmed that the U.S. Supreme Court had refused a final plea to stop the execution a decade ago, a tape recording shows.

The recording, recently obtained by a newspaper here, also shows that a law student stationed at the prison to represent the state attorney general’s office frantically tried to contact Warden Sam Smith to halt the execution until the high court’s decision could be learned.

″Get hold of Sam right now and tell ’em to hold it up 3/8″ cried Gordon Richards, the student intern. ″Just tell them to hold. Tell them to hold 3/8″

Then, when someone indicated Gilmore was already dead, Richards responded: ″Are you sure? Well, there’s nothing we can do about it.″

It has been known for a decade that prison officials kept an open phone line to government attorneys in Washington on Jan. 17, 1977, so they could stop the execution if the Supreme Court granted Gilmore a stay.

The tape, which The Deseret News reported Wednesday was made available by a government attorney who requested anonymity, shows what was said on that line.

In the summer of 1976, Gilmore, who had served 11 years for armed robbery, robbed and killed Orem service station attendant Max Jensen and Provo motel manager Bennie Bushnell.

He was convicted and sentenced to death for Bushnell’s murder and rebuffed attempts by his own attorneys to appeal. The American Civil Liberties Union, nevertheless, won a last-minute stay from a federal judge, but 31 minutes before the execution, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver lifted it.

The ACLU then asked the Supreme Court to hear the appeal. As prison officials ushered Gilmore into the building where the firing squad was assembled, the justices declined to hear the case. The decision came three minutes before a volley of bullets tore through Gilmore’s heart.

″There’s no question it was legal and done pursuant to a legal order,″ said David Schwendiman, an assistant Utah attorney general who participated in the Gilmore case.

The frantic pace of the final few minutes still irk Utah civil libertarians and Richards, who now practices law in Las Vegas.

″The attorney general was bound and determined that the execution was to occur, and they utterly suspended any concern for due process of law,″ said Shirley Pedler, director of the state ACLU chapter at the time.

″It is the material of scandal, or it ought to be,″ she said. ″But nothing was made of it, not even a hand slap. They got away with it.″

Richards said, ″Here you had a guy’s life in the hands of a third-year law student who wasn’t even a lawyer. I’m not saying I’m not for the death penalty. But there are ways for society to make the whole concept of death penalty procedure a little more humane.″

Earl Dorius, the assistant Utah attorney general who fought last-minute pleas to stop Gilmore’s execution, said authorities rushed to have the execution take place at sunrise to closely follow the wording of the death warrant.

Gilmore was the first person executed in the United States after the Supreme Court’s 1976 rulling allowing states to restore the death sentence.

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