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Gary Mark Gilmore Trial: 1976

No Defense

Defendant: Gary Mark Gilmore
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Michael Esplin and Craig Snyder
Chief Prosecutor: Noall T. Wootton
Judge: J. Robert Bullock
Place: Provo, Utah
Dates of Trial: October 5-7, 1976
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death

SIGNIFICANCE: Convicted killer Gary Gilmore's craving for self-destruction fueled a re-examination of capital punishment in America and led to a best-selling book, The Executioner's Song, and a subsequent movie.

At age 35, Gary Gilmore had spent more than half his life behind bars. In April 1976 he was paroled from the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, and went to live with family members in Utah. On July 19, 1976, he robbed and killed a gas station attendant in Orem, Utah. The next day, he held up a motel in nearby Provo, forced the manager, Ben Bushnell, to lie face down on floor, then shot him through the head. Less than 24 hours later, Gilmore was in custody. Because there were eyewitnesses to the motel killing, it was decided to try Gilmore on the Bushnell murder first.

When the trial began on October 5, 1976, the evidence against Gilmore was overwhelming. Peter Arroyo, a motel guest, described seeing Gilmore in the registration office. Prosecutor Noall Wootton asked, "How far away from him were you at the time?"

"Somewhere near ten feet."

"Did you observe anything in his possession at the time?"

"In his right hand he had a pistol with a long barrel. In his left hand he had a cash box from a cash register."

Moments later Arroyo found Ben Bushnell, shot to death in the office.

Gilmore had accidentally shot himself in the hand while escaping from the motel. When detectives traced the blood spots to some bushes, they discovered a. 22-caliber pistol. Gerald F. Wilkes, an FBI ballistics expert, compared a shell casing found there with one from the murder scene. Wootton asked him, "Would you tell the jury, please, what your conclusions were?"

"Based on my examination of these two cartridges, I was able to determine that both cartridge cases were fired with this weapon and no other weapon."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980