More than 3,750,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Historic Execution of Gary Gilmore

     The execution of Gary Gilmore, carried out in 1977, marked the resurrection of the modern death penalty. The event was big news and was commemorated by a book by Norman Mailer, The Executioner's Song, later made into a movie. The title is deceptive. Like others who have explored the death penalty, Mailer tells much about the condemned man but very little about the executioners. Indeed, if we examine Mailer's account more closely, the executioner's story is not only unsung, it is also distorted.

     Gilmore's execution was quite atypical, even if his crime was not. He was sentenced to death for killing two men in cold blood, for no apparent reason. Viewed from the outside, his own death had a similar ring of nihilism. Gilmore, unrepentant and unafraid, refused to appeal his conviction--under a then untested capital statue. There is no doubt he could have contested his case for years, as many condemned prisoners have done since his death. But Gilmore, who had already served some twenty-two years of his young life behind bars, would have none of that. To him, prison was death; life in prison was a kind of living death in its own right. Death by firing squad gave him a chance to offer blood atonement for his awful crimes (a notion that resonated with his dark Mormon obsessions), as well as a kind of immortality as the man who put the executioner back to work.

Robert Johnson, Death Work, 1998

No comments:

Post a Comment