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Executed murderer. Born Gary Mark Gilmore on December 4, 1940. Gilmore suffered an unstable childhood and was particularly scarred by a father who was a con man and an abusive alcoholic. He was sent to Oregon's MacLaren Reform School for Boys for stealing, and by the time he was thirty-five, he'd spent more than half of his life in prison.
Extremely intelligent, Gilmore began writing poetry in prison and creating artwork. He was released to attend college, but was soon back for nine years after committing a robbery. He became violent and was kept in solitary confinement, where he attempted suicide.
Gilmore began writing to a cousin in Utah, Brenda Nicol, who felt Gilmore deserved a second chance. Three years into his sentence, he was released on parole to live with Nicol in Provo. Almost immediately, it became clear that he was unable to keep a job or function in society. He moved in with his girlfriend Nicole, but as his behavior became increasingly threatening, she left him.
Over two days in 1976, Gilmore shot two men (a gas station attendant and a motel clerk) in cold blood during robberies. He was turned in by Nicol, whom he had called after injuring his hand during the second murder. His October trial lasted only two days, and he was sentenced to death. Offered a choice as to the mode of execution, he opted to be shot. Gilmore refused to appeal, and fired his lawyers.
His refusal to appeal galvanized the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to make strenuous attempts to stop this execution, on behalf of the many prisoners on death row throughout the United States. His mother requested leniency, but he had a letter published in the press to ask her to stop.
On January 17, 1977, Gilmore was executed by a volunteer firing squad in Utah State prison. He was the first man to be executed in the United States in ten years, and the first after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. Since 1977, there have been more than seven hundred executions in the United States. His story was the subject of Norman Mailer's narrative nonfiction account The Executioner's Song.
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