Reflections on the Daily News

By Lewis Willis

Gary Gilmore and The Bleeding Hearts

Gary Mark Gilmore is dead! By order of the 4th District Court in the State of Utah, he was executed by a firing squad on January 17, 1977, and was pronounced dead at 8:06 a.m. Thus ended another life in an overgrowing company of violent men. The action of the Utah government was a landmark, in that it reversed a non-execution practice dating back to 1967 when the Colorado gas chamber was used to execute a criminal. The U.S. Supreme Court had declared a moratorium of almost 10 years, trying to determine the constitutionality of capital punishment. The question was: “Is capital punishment cruel and unusual punishment?” A decision of only a few months ago stated that it was not. Dates of execution were being set in those states where the death penalty for certain crimes was a law. Appeals were and are pending before almost every magistrate on behalf of those who are condemned to die.

Gilmore created a sensational news item when he asked that no more appeals be filed on his behalf. He had been sentenced to death and he had accepted the decision of the courts. When his mother and the American Civil Liberties Union filed appeals over his protest, he sought to take his own life and very nearly succeeded. But the courts would not reverse their decision. So, on that Monday morning in January, Gilmore was executed.

A Lifetime Of Crime

The State of Utah ended a violent life. Half of his 36 years had been spent in prison for crimes he had done. At age 14, he broke some school windows and was put in jail. In the years to come he would be convicted of crimes including vagrancy, auto theft and grand larceny. ABC News said he was guilty of rape and many cases of robbery. On the night of July 20, 1976, having had a fight with his girlfriend, he went to the City Center Motel in Provo, Utah, robbed the clerk, 26-year-old Bennie Bushnell, ordered him to lie on the floor, placed a pistol against his head and pulled the trigger twice. For this crime he was executed. Prior to his execution he had also admitted that the night before he had murdered Max David Jensen, 24, an Orem service station attendant, while committing a robbery. In two days Gilmore brutally murdered two young men in their mid-twenties, and each victim left a young widow and child.

Outside the prison, there were prayers that he not be executed. An all night vigil was kept in spite of the cold Utah weather. Inside the prison, Gilmore seemed to feel no compulsions of conscience for the evil he had done. There was no evident consideration of what was before him as he entered eternity. Throughout the night he tried to calm his relatives and lawyers who visited him. He danced with his cousin and gave pointers on boxing to those who were there. He refused the traditional final meal, took a nap, and prepared for the next day. After 11th hour appeals failed, he was taken to the place of execution, heard the decree and was asked if he had anything to say. After a few moments, his caustic reply was, “Let’s do it.” The five man squad fired, striking his heart, and the murderer died.

The American Conscience?

Now, what shall we make of Gary Mark Gilmore? Will the American people immortalize him in ballads extolling his bravery? Will he be thought of as a martyr in an unjust cause? Will he become] a national hero? Or, will he be recorded in history as a hardened criminal who paid the supreme price for his crimes? What is the American conscience? Is the American conscience that of those who kept that all-night vigil, many of them religious leaders from various parts of the country? Is it represented by the lawyers for the ACLU? Are the bleeding hearts of this nation’s “do-gooders” representative of the thinking and conviction of the American people?

Where have all these pious, religious leaders (?) been during the past decade as hundreds have been brutally slain at the hands of lawless men? When have they led a public outcry against the criminal who perpetrates such horrible deeds? Whose voice is raised in behalf of those murdered, their parents, their husbands or wives, and their orphaned children? Who lobbies for their rights? Who cries out against the inhumane treatment viciously imposed on them by the greedy, godless criminal who prefers to rob and kill instead of work like other decent people? The voices of these civil libertarians have been silent for the most part. No television camera for the national news broadcasts buzzes for the victims of the crime-just for the criminal. So, this nation’s religious leaders fall on their knees in the ice and snow to pray that the murderer might live. For what? So that he can kill again?

What are the rights of a murderer? About two weeks ago, a couple entered an Amarillo Pizza Hut. They put the employees in a large, walk-in cooler, forced the woman-manager into a back room where she was killed. But, she was not killed in the same manner as Gary Gilmore. They crammed her head into a commercial dough-mixing machine used to mix the heavy dough of which pizza crust is made, and absolutely mangled her head! Her husband was discouraged from viewing her body after she was killed. Now, what are the rights of those who would do such a thing?

A Divine Law

God’s law legislates that they have no rights! By their crimes they have forfeited the rights of citizens in a civilized society. In every age, God has declared the same punishment for such a crime. In the Patriarchal Age, He said, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood. by man shall his blood be shed . . .” (Gen. 9:6). In the Mosiac Age, He said. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death” (Exod. 21:12). Some seem to think, however, that with the Age of the Gospel now ushered in, this law of God has changed. But the fact is, it has not.

Today we are taught of God, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Many have concluded that this means that God shall execute wrath upon the criminal in the Judgment. Such is only partially true. The murderer shall be punished in Hell (Rev. 21:8). But, God has made provision for his punishment in this life as well. That provision is civil government. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” and this civil power “beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:1,4). The wrath of God is meted out to the murderer through civil government as the instrument of God. The State of Utah was just such an instrument in Gilmore’s case. Gilmore got what God and the State said he should have gotten. He was no martyr! He was a common criminal who was executed in keeping with the severity of his crime. I have no tears to shed for him except those which would be shed for any man who defies the law of God unto his own ruin. It should be our prayer that God’s will might be executed by government in the many other cases pending before the courts. When the death-rows of this nation have been emptied, and when justice is speedily executed, then shall sanity be restored to our society. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11).


Our society is so corrupt that one is fearful for his life when he hears an unexplained noise in the night. For almost ten years the lawless element in our social system could do almost anything without fear of any life-endangering consequence. They seem to have thought that if they were caught they would go to jail for awhile, the State would pay all their expenses, they would be put on parole and be back on the streets again. If, however, the criminal knows that he will be quickly executed if caught, he has to think twice before taking an innocent life. Let the preachers go into the ice and snow to pray that God’s will might be executed, instead of praying that it not be done!

God’s way has always worked to man’s good before. It will be so again if we have the courage to implement it in American society. “And when civil government fails to carry out the penalty, this supreme penalty, . . . after a while the blood of those that were murdered is going to be washed out in the blood of the citizens of the society that tolerated the failure. I believe this to be a divine principle” (Homer Hailey, God And Capital Punishment, p. 15).

Truth Magazine XXI: 14, pp. 218-219
April 7, 1977