on the cover:
Since the days of “frontier justice” and “blood atonement,” Utah has struggled with issues of capital punishment. Years after the Mountain Meadows massacre, John D. Lee was shot to death seated on his coffin in a theatrical, media-conscious staging, while some fifty other perpetrators went unpunished. Despite pleas for clemency from the daughter of a Mormon church president and others, labor reformer Joe Hill was executed, due as much to corporate indignation as to the merits of the case against him. One of Utah’s death row inmates was the first to challenge the constitutionality of his sentence as “cruel and unusual”; another, Gary Gilmore, broke the ten-year, nationwide moratorium on state-supervised executions. Recently William Andrews became the second Utahn to be executed without having actually committed murder.
“Gillespie’s [book] … is undeniably haunting. This is the kind of stuff that makes you realize why we need Halloween—beause we can’t deal with real blood, real death, the ghosts of our actual past.”—PAUL SWENSON, The Salt Lake Tribune
“Chauncey Millard sold his life cheaply—swapping his body to a surgeon for a pound of sweets. He sucked the candy while the firing squad took his life … Then there was Thomas Ferguson … As he mounted the scaffold, he was asked if he had any last words. He did—plenty of them. … [He spoke for] somewhere around an hour before he was hanged. These are among the 49 men … whom Gillespie calls ‘the unforgiven.’ Reviled and condemned, … some stood defiant before their executioners as the noose was tightened or the target pinned onto their chest. Others were able only to ask for what they knew they could not have—absolution.”—MIKE CARTER, The Associated Press
“[Gillespie has had] an intimate contact with the death penalty and those men condemned to die for their crimes in Utah. The most engrossing passages of his book draw from those experiences … While he professes to be a supporter of the death penalty, he observes in his very tempting prologue that “There is no humane way to execute, but we pretend there is.”—KEN DRIGGS, Utah Historical Quarterly
about the author: L. Kay Gillespie is a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at Weber State University (Ogden, Utah) and a former chair of the WSU Department of Sociology and Anthropology. He has previously served as the director of the Idaho State Youth Training Center, director of research for the Ettie Lee Homes for Boys, director of training for the Utah Department of Corrections, and a member of the Utah State Board of Pardons.
Utah’s Executed Men
by L. Kay Gillespie
Salt Lake City
dedication: To Sheriff John Gillespie of Tooele, 1830-1915
and the Utah State Department of Corrections
© 1991, 1997 Signature Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Published 1991. Second edition 1997.
Printed on acid-free paper. Composed, printed, and bound in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gillespie, L. Kay.
The unforgiven: Utah’s executed men / by L. Kay Gillespie.—
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Capital punishment—Utah—History. 2. Executions
and executioners—Utah—History. I. Title.
Acknowledgements [see below]
Preface to the Second Edition [see below]
Prologue [see below]
01 – Blood Atonement
02 – Mountain Justice
03 – Mormons and Gentiles
04 – Domestic Strife and Law Officials
05 – Hardened Criminals
06 – Modern Executions
07 – Death Row, Commutations, and Pardons
08 – Other Expectations
09 – Epilogue
[p.vii]I did not set out to write a book about executed men. My files gradually began to bulge as bits and pieces of the stories of these men began to accumulate. It was, however, the Utah Westerners and the Utah Endowment for the Humanities that provided the incentive, and I am especially grateful to Jerry Dunton, Harold Schindler, John S. McCormick, Delmont Oswald, and Cynthia Buckingham.
I first began talking about a study of executions with Bill Vickrey, director of the Utah State Division of Corrections, and Ken Shulsen, warden at the Utah State Prison. Both were encouraging and helped arrange access to death row and other information. Later through Gary DeLand, current director of the Utah State Department of Corrections; Lynn Lund, inspector general with the department; and Dave Franchina, superintendent of institutions, I was able to continue my research, to sit with the execution committee, and to study the execution process. I am grateful to them and to Jerry Cook, warden of the prison; Tom House, director of maximum security; and their staffs for their time and [p.viii]patience.
Of course none of this could have been done without Barbara Lopez, my research assistant, who spent countless hours searching, reading, and copying thousands of pages of newsprint.
In addition, I was also able to access prison records and files through the Utah State Archives and would like to thank Terry Ellis and Val Wilson.
Finally I would like to thank Hal Egbert and Richard Holmes for their assistance in reading early versions of the manuscript; Ramona Sessions who entered it all on the computer and who helped me shift, delete, and retrieve it; Weber State University for providing assistance, time, and resources; and my family for their understanding and support.
Whenever any attempt is made to document historical events and to provide the social context of such events, there is the possibility of misinterpretation. I accept full responsibility for such problems. I have attempted to stay within the bounds of what can actually be documented and to limit conjecture—or at least identify it as such when used. This study, building on the work of others, will no doubt be extended and improved upon by future discussions. I hope this book will bring us as a society one step closer toward understanding the terrible truth of capital punishment.
Preface to the Updated Edition
[p.ix]Two more executions have taken place in Utah since the first edition of The Unforgiven appeared in 1991. William Andrews, the last of the “Hi-Fi killers,” died by lethal injection on 30 July 1992, and John Albert Taylor died by firing squad on 26 January 1996. I was present at both executions and have used that experience in updating this second edition.
Since 1991 I have also been contacted by readers with additional information regarding the history and events surrounding Utah’s executed men. These include:
- a letter from the Lund family with a hand-drawn map showing the location of J. J. Morris’s bones;
- a visit from Gary Gilmore’s younger brother, Mikal, while he was writing his book about the Gilmore family, Shot in the Heart (New York: Doubleday, 1994);
- a brief visit with the babysitter who placed the ad that lead to Shirley Gretzinger’s death at the hands of [p.x]Ray Dempsey Gardner and who, she told me, never babysat again;
- letters from the families of Enoch Davis and Frank Rose trying to learn more about their ancestors;
- a letter from the family that took in Enoch Davis’s two sons and raised them;
- a conversation with former Utah governor J. Bracken Lee regarding the Braasch and Sullivan execution; and
- a conversation with the grandson of Officer Thomas Stagg, whose wife (his grandmother) told him she always believed the other officers shot Stagg, not Patrick Coughlin.
I have attempted to update and revise the text where new information has become available. I hope this knowledge will continue to surface. I remain committed to the continued study of Utah’s executions and the execution process. Many things have changed since the first edition was published. Some people are gone, their memories and experiences with them. Some sites no longer exist, while important documents and records have disappeared. Many questions are still unanswered and inconsistencies unresolved.
It is not possible to predict the future of capital punishment in Utah, but is seems safe to say that Utah will continue to execute at about the same rate as it does today. I do not look for much change in the execution of juveniles or adult women, and there undoubtedly will continue to be those who call for the shedding of blood to atone for the sin or murder, in spite of what is present in this book.
[p.1]It was a sob. Quiet at first, then louder. The silence of the small room became uncomfortable as this sound broke through my shell of “objectivity” and brought me to the realization of where I was: present at an execution. The man lying before me was being put to death.
No one else sobbed—or even shed a tear—as far as I knew. I had attended the meetings as the “execution committee” planned every detail of the lethal injection execution of Arthur Gary Bishop. I had interviewed Bishop shortly after his arrival on death row at the Utah state prison and throughout the next four years. I was with him during much of his time on the “death watch”—the last twenty-four hours prior to his execution. I had entered with the “tie-down team” as he was strapped to the gurney awaiting the lethal injection. His quiet resolve of the previous few weeks was then betrayed on that gurney by the uncontrollable shaking of his knees and thighs.
Now at thirty minutes past midnight on 10 June 1988, three of us stood less than three feet from the gurney waiting [p.2]for the curtain to be opened. We were his witnesses. The condemned inmate is allowed to “invite” up to five witnesses, but there were only three of us—each there for a different reason. There were others present as well: nine media representatives in a separate room next to ours and government or official witnesses in another area across the execution chamber. As the curtains opened, we could see Art Bishop. He had been convicted and sentenced to die as a child molester and torture-killer of five young boys. He lay on a gurney that looked like a cross. His feet were towards us and the rest of his body to the left at a forty-five degree angle. He was calm, not sedated, as he awaited death; his legs had stopped shaking.
There was no last meal; he chose to fast. Nor were there any last words. His final statement was prepared a few days before. With care and precision he wrote a page and a half of what he wanted to say. During my last visit with him in his maximum security cell, he asked me to read it to see if it “sounded all right.” With minor changes, this was the statement that was handed to the press after he was pronounced dead:
As I prepare to die, there are a few last words I wish to leave with you. With great sadness and remorse I realize that I allowed myself to be misled by Satan, and as a result my life has been marked by wicked, perverse and depraved actions. Now the mistakes of my life are being rehashed by the news media, sometimes with sensationalism and exaggerations. There are two especially pernicious rumors I wish to squelch right now. First, I have been convicted and sentenced for all murders for which I’m responsible—there are no others. And Second, I have never been sexually abused by anyone.
At this time I want to offer again my most profound and heartfelt apologies to my victims’ [p.3]families. I am truly sorry. I have tried my best to empathize with their grief and devastation, and I hope they come to know of my concerns and prayers for them.
I wish to offer a word of thanks to the fine people who, by their selfless acts, have provided so much comfort and succor to my family at this difficult time. I also thank the numerous people who have sent me letters of encouragement and concern; your kindness and thoughtfulness have touched my heart. I have been unable to respond to all of your letters, but I will never forget them.
By accepting my execution I do not consider myself a courageous hero or a noble martyr, or that I’m “giving up,” or that I’m “going out in a blaze of glory,” as some people have suggested. I am merely accepting my just punishment as my conscience dictates I must. I do have hope that my death may help others to find relief and forgiveness; even if it doesn’t, it is still a necessary requirement because of my past heinous crimes. Though perhaps too little too late, I am doing the right thing now.
I leave this life with no ill feelings towards anyone, and I pray that the peace of God may rest upon each and every one of you. I know of God’s love, patience and compassion, and have found comfort in that knowledge. When I kneel before Christ in the next life, having a perfect recollection of all my guilt, with a broken heart I will humbly plead: “Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on my soul.”
There were no “throes of death,” no twitching or last gasps. In our small cubicle there was no talking. In the next room, where the media representatives were gathered, I could hear them as they watched the gurney with one eye, the clock with the other. “He’s stopped breathing.” “What [p.4]time is it?” “It’s 00:14 a.m.” “He’s dead.”
The white-faced clock on the wall measured time by twenty-four-hour military standards. It was 00:14 a.m. as the medical examiner entered the execution chamber. Official time of death: 00:16 a.m.
I am often asked how I felt watching someone be put to death—as though I could distill my feelings, conflicting and contradictory as they were, into a simple statement. And yet that was one of the reasons I chose to be involved in the execution process, not only to understand and explore my own feelings but to share with others what the process is like and how it affects those involved.
I felt nothing. As I review my notes they are objective and removed. I was an observer, there to document the process. But as I reflect on that night and on the night of Pierre Dale Selby’s execution (Utah’s first by lethal injection), in which I also participated, I am only now beginning to allow myself to feel. I remember my palms getting sweaty as I tried to hold my pen and take notes of Bishop’s final minutes. I am told by family and friends that I seemed withdrawn after each execution and that I was short-tempered and less patient with my children. I also remember a tensing throughout my whole body, and some indigestion. I was not conscious of this until a few days after each execution when I felt a gradual relaxing. Only then did I realize how tense I had been.
I know that others involved in the execution process experience similar feelings. Some require psychological counseling afterward. Others experience depression and uncontrollable crying spells. Some are still employed at the prison; others are not. This does not surprise me. During the hours I spent on the “death watch,” when the condemned is isolated from the rest of the prison and under constant visual supervision just steps from the room in which he will die, several of the men selected for this watch made a point of talking to me to express their feelings about their part in [p.5]the process. One man told me he had always favored the death penalty, but now watching the condemned man prepare to die and being an actual participant in that death, he wondered if “we” as a society were doing the right thing. Another told me how his attitude had changed. He had guarded the condemned on a daily basis in his maximum security death-row cell. Now as a participant on the death watch he felt uncomfortable. “It would be different if he were a ‘crud’ but he is a nice, gentle person. I’m not sure we are doing the right thing.” Another explained how he used to be “gung-ho” for capital punishment, but since this experience he wasn’t so sure anymore.
I have read statements by the public and seen news articles reporting the great number of “average” citizens who volunteer to conduct executions—particularly after highly publicized or heinous crimes. “Pulling the plug,” “pulling the trigger,” “arranging the noose,” “releasing the pellets,” “inserting the needles”—all sound so simple and are so easily said with reference to people we do not know and who are portrayed as cold-blooded monsters. If it were only so, it would be easy. What happens, however, is that our own humanity becomes meshed with that of the condemned. In those last moments we see another human being, who is perhaps too human, being prepared to die. I say this with full awareness of the victim and the victim’s family. There is no excuse for this kind of crime. I intend no defense of the capital offender, only to suggest that in any person’s death we all share our own helplessness and uncertainty. Perhaps today we should follow the old “Halifax Gibbet Law” which required as a condemned person was brought forth for public execution that “every man there doth either take hold of the rope or putteth forth his arm so near to the same as he can get, in token that he is willing to see justice executed” (in Frank A. King, “Thirteenpence—Halfpenny for the Hangman,” Justice of the Peace and Local Government Review [5 April 1958]: 216).
[p.6]Of course Pierre Dale Selby deserved to die for the torture-killing of three innocent people. Of course Arthur Gary Bishop deserved to die, as he himself believed, for the brutal deaths of five innocent boys. But to execute with pleasure and to celebrate it from a distance is far different from being an actual participant in the process of taking life.
There are various reactions among those who participate. Some are, on the outside, professional, aloof, removed. Some seem to derive a certain satisfaction from their involvement. As Selby was being led from his cell to the execution chamber, two men at one of the doors were talking. One said, loud enough for Selby to hear, “This is the payoff that makes it all worth it.” He was quickly quieted by a supervisor as we passed by.
I did not participate in the execution of Gary Gilmore, Utah’s last execution by firing squad. It seems to me, however, that the innovation of execution by lethal injection has brought a new distance to the execution process. Earlier executions in Utah and other states were not such sterile events. The warden was often invited to share the condemned man’s last meal. The condemned’s last words expressed gratitude to the guards and other prison personnel, and his last hours were often spent in conversation with his keepers. Some of this is still present and the degree differs perhaps from state to state, but for the most part, the process has become clinical, distant, sterile, medicalized. Even the terminology—gurney, solution, I.V.—sounds more like an operation than an execution, more like a surgical procedure than a sentence of the justice system. There is no humane way to execute, but we pretend there is. In the words of one minister after he witnessed an execution by lethal injection: “I’m angry and I’m just every bit as angry about the way it was done. Just very clinical. I would almost rather have seen some pain to indicate that we wanted to see death as it really is” (Father Ron Cloutier, on the Phil Donahue television talk show, Dec. 1983).
[p.7]As a general rule the condemned is first put into a chemically-induced sleep and then the lethal drugs enter his body—to stop respiration, to stop brain function, and to stop the heart. In some states other drugs are also included. Early lethal-injection executions caused the legs of the condemned to jerk spasmodically. This was distressing to the witnesses, so a substance was included that would eliminate this. More recently, after the condemned was put to sleep, he sometimes snored. Again this offended the witnesses and so more substances were included. It is as though we have tried to totally camouflage the procedure to avoid any semblance of death. The fact may be that in many subtle ways, lethal injection is more cruel than previous methods.
The process of execution is long and tedious. Thousands of trivial details must be arranged and planned for. As I attended the Utah planning committee’s meetings, I was constantly amazed at all the contingencies that arose. No dramatic production was ever staged with more care and deliberation. The actors, the stage, the rehearsals, the publicity—even the potential deus ex machina—allpart of this “gala.” (The word gala, by the way, comes from “gallows,” the celebration and events that took place as a part of public hangings.) I do not mean to imply by any of this that the process is artificial. My notes from these meetings indicate sincerity and concern for the condemned as well as for his and his victims’ families.
For those who wonder, “How much planning does it take to arrange five rifles or to insert a needle?” consider the following, while bearing in mind that the object is to conduct an execution that will be as efficient as possible and that will be under constant public scrutiny and criticism at every step:
Who will be allowed to attend and how will they be selected?
[p.8]When is the best time to conduct an execution and how will the time affect protestors, supporters, and the other prison inmates?
Who will actually inject the lethal dose and how will this person(s) be selected, brought to the executionsite, paid, and protected?
How will the prescription be obtained for drugs to kill when the medical profession refuses to participate in the process?
How can the inmate be secured in such a way as to insure humane and caring treatment while at the same time preventing him from taking his own life or injuring those around him?
At what point in the process is it too late to turn back? When can a stay of execution no longer stay the process and who is to make that decision?
How can a circus atmosphere be avoided in order to separate the wheels of justice from personal vendettas and public revenge?
There are manyother issues. These merely give a sense of the complexity that needs to be addressed. The overall policies and procedures resulted in a technical manual of over 600 pages.
Why bother with all of this? Why have I researched and written these stories? I am not opposed to capital punishment. I believe a democratic society has the right to inflict such punishment. I have some reservations about what I see as the capriciousness of our present justice system and the inherent biases of law enforcement and zealous prosecutors. Yet my intention is not to right any wrongs—only to [p.9]assure that those lives taken through the penalty of death are remembered. After all, the purpose of any social sanction is to assure future compliance with and respect for law. This cannot be accomplished if those who are the objects of societal punishment are forgotten and their crimes and deaths never reviewed.
Perhaps through the stories of Utah’s executed men, each of us will have the chance as did those in Halifax to vicariously put our hands on the rope and announce our willingness to be a part of justice dispensed. And if it occasionally feels uncomfortable, we can then review our own commitment and responsibility to see that society does not carelessly toy with those lives it chooses to forfeit.