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Gary Gilmore

murderer who insisted on being executed

Gary Gilmore

Gary Mark Gilmore was born in Stonewall, Texas, on December 4, 1940. His father Frank was a con man and violent alcoholic who had already abandones several wives and children before marrying his mother Bessie, an outcast Mormon who was cold and aloof toward her four sons (Mika, Gaylen, Frank Jr., and Gary). The family eventually settled in Portland, Oregon, where Gary's life of crime began.

By the time Gilmore dropped out of school (at age 14) he already had a reputation for drinking, playing hooky, being a bully, and stealing petty items. By age 15 he was running a car theft ring, and it was in this capacity that he was arrested for the first time. Frank Gilmore, Sr. got his son a lawyer, who managed to see to it that Gary faced no consequences for his actions.

Gilmore was unable to escape punishment for long, however, as his next arrest got him placed into Oregon's MacLaren Reform School for Boys, where he spent a year. In and out of jail until the age of 18, he eventually ended up in the Oregon State Correctional Institution on a car theft charge. His father's death during this incarceration left him so devastated that he attempted suicide. Already a difficult prisoner, Gilmore's failed suicide attempt led the prison to put him an anti-psychotic called Prolixin. His mother's intervention put an end to the drug regimen.

Released when he turned 21, Gilmore promptly resumed his life of crime. An assault and robbery that netted him $11 landed him in the Oregon State Penitentiary. While incarcerated this time, his brother Gaylen was stabbed in the stomach; he ultimately died of his wounds due to an inability to pay for medical care. Gary was allowed to attend the funeral, but often ended up in solitary confinement afterwards over his inability to conform to the prison routines. With an IQ of 130, Gilmore educated himself in literature and began to write poetry while in solitary, and developed an artistic talent that won contests. For that, he was granted an early release in 1972 to live in a halfway house in Eugene and attend art school at the local community college. Rather than show up to register at the college, he drank. Within a month, Gilmore had committed armed robbery and was arrested; this time he was sentenced to nine years.

Gilmore became even more violent during this incarceration and on a number of occasions tried unsuccessfully to kill himself. He was eventually transferred to a maximum-security penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. He started writing to a cousin in Utah, Brenda Nicol, who was able to secure an early release for him. He was paroled in early-1976 and allowed to move to Provo, Utah.

In Provo, Gilmore was briefly employed in his Uncle Vern Damico's shoe shop and then did insulation for a man named Spencer McGrath, but the first chance he got he went out drinking. When he couldn't afford beer, he stole it. Then he found himself a girlfriend, Nicole Baker Barrett, a 19-year-old who had already been married and divorced three times, and he moved into her rented home in Spanish Fork, near Provo. Still drinking heavily and taking Fiornal for headaches, Gilmore was often violent and almost always broke. By July Nicole had had enough and, while he was out drinking and/or stealing, moved out of the house she shared with Gary.

On July 19, 1976, Gilmore put a down payment on a white pickup truck he had been eyeing for some time and then drove to Nicole's mother's house. Nicole wasn't there, but her sister April was. April had a crush on Gary and told him she wanted to go for a ride in his new truck; Gary agreed. Around 10:30 pm, Gary stopped in Orem and told April he had to make a phone call. He then walked around the corner to a Sinclair station, where he confronted station attendant Max Jensen. After taking Jensen's money he made him lie down in the bathroom, and then shot him twice in the head. He then then took April to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, after which the two checked into a motel.

On July 20, after taking April home, Gilmore began having trouble with his new truck. After dropping it off at a garage a few blocks from his Uncle Vern's home, he walked into the lobby of the City Center Motel. When manager Ben Bushnell asked what he wanted, Gilmore robbed him at gunpoint, made him lie on the floor, and shot him in the head. He was about to fire again when Bushnell's wife came in. Caught by surprise, Gilmore grabbed the cash box (which held about $125) and ran off. After pocketing the cash and hiding the cash box under a bush he headed back toward the garage. Along the way he decided to ditch the gun under a bush, but the gun went off while he was hiding it and a bullet tore through the fleshy part of his hand. The garage owner noticed the blood when Gilmore picked up his truck, and, after hearing about the shooting down the street on a scanner, gave the truck's tag number to police.

As soon as he learned what had happened, Gilmore's Uncle Vern knew who was responsible. His wife called Brenda, who was then contacted by Gary. Gary admitted that he was in trouble and told her where he was at. Brenda told him she would help, but called the police instead. Gilmore was heading to Nicole's mother's house when he was stopped by a roadblock; he surrendered without a fight.

Although Gilmore initially denied having anything to do with the murders he ended up confessing to both of them. He went to trial on October 5th, and was found guilty on October 7th; it took the jury an hour and twenty minutes to come to a verdict. Sentenced to death, Gilmore refused to let his lawyers appeal his sentence. Death penalty opponents held up the execution, however, and Gilmore actually argued for his own execution before the Utah Supreme Court. All attempts to prevent his execution ultimately failed, and a date was finally set. Allowed to choose between hanging and firing squad, Gilmore chose the latter and was executed at 8:07 am on January 17, 1977; his last words were "Let's do it." His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered from a plane over Spanish Fork, Springville, and Provo, Utah).

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This page was last updated on November 10, 2017.