[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----UTAH, ARK., FLA.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Oct 12 11:07:01 CDT 2011
The Executioner's Song ~ By Norman Mailer ~ Book Review
The Executioner’s Song
By Norman Mailer. Boston: Little, Brown. 1978.
This is an unpublished book review I wrote in 1979. 2 days to read the book and
2 days to write the review.
On January 17, 1977, a 5-man firing squad shot 4 bullets into the heart of Gary
Mark Gilmore at 8:07 a.m., in a small room of the Utah State Prison.
Assorted visitors had stood by watching the first execution since 1967 -- Utah
had broken a 10-year, U.S. Supreme Court precedent -- a contravention, which,
during those last months of 1976, had become a highly contentious issue.
The day after the execution, men in a 6-seater airplane scattered Gilmore’s
ashes from a 59-cent plastic bread bag over various towns in the Utah desert,
not far from where Gilmore was tried and convicted, not far from where he had
committed the two murders and not far from where Brigham Young and the Mormon
Pioneers had made a solemn pilgrimage across the Rockies, pushing handcarts
full of their belongings, nearly 130 years earlier.
Among these Mormon Pioneers were Gilmore’s great-great grandparents. It seemed
a fitting but bitter end that in this land of Zion near Provo, Utah -– in the
heart of the Kingdom of Deseret -- that Gilmore and everything associated with
him had found its final resting place in the bleak and eerie calm of the
There was a tidy symmetry in the morbid, ironic reality of it all.
For most of us, the desert is a metaphor that represents a proscribed choice
between extremes with no middle ground: scorching sun or chilly night air. But
for Utah residents, the desert is more than metaphor. Its reality pervades all
aspects of life.
Sand and sky meet on a fixed plane called the horizon that never alters in
shape or character and which surrounds us like a vast, limitless expanse,
confining our vision of the world to the space defined within the horizon's
On 3 sides of the Salt Lake Valley, three mountain ranges jut up from the
horizon, blocking any view beyond their peaks. On the fourth side of the Salt
Lake Valley is the Great Salt Lake that stretches near the end of our vision,
and beyond that, vast salt flats, which seem to loom forever. A vision of any
world beyond mountains and desert is not easily perceptible.
This metaphor is a literary commonplace in Western literature, but in The
Executioner’s Song, the metaphor is tinged with the macabre and woven into an
intricate web-like structure, leaving behind a bitter aftertaste, like the
smell of burning flesh.
Mailer’s novel, a 1000-page, true-life novel, is based on Gilmore's last nine
months, hours and minutes. Mailer's writing is a testimonial to the extensive
reportage that went into the making of this book and it brings to light the
network of relatives, lawyers, journalists, and exploiters -- and, Gilmore’s
complex personality in a trial fraught with legal contradictions and pathos.
Ex-convict Gary Mark Gilmore was released on parole from the maximum-security
prison in Marion, Ill., and cast into the middle-class, work-a-day world -- a
decidedly foreign milieu for this small-town boy. For a man who’d spent 18 out
of the previous 22 years in jail, the possibility of earning his freedom was a
much-cherished thought. From prison, he had written his cousin, Brenda, of his
"I don’t think there’s any way to adequately describe this sort of life to
anyone that’s never experienced it. I mean, it would be totally alien to you
and your way of thinking, Brenda. It’s like another planet...
''...Being here is like walking to the edge and looking over 24 hours a day for
more days than you care to recall...
''...Above all, it’s a matter of staying strong no matter what happens."
Brenda and her husband, Johnny, wanted Gary back home because ''It’s time Gary
came home. He’s paid his dues." But inside, they secretly worried about the
''For one thing, Gary wasn’t coming into an average community. He would be
entering a Mormon stronghold. Things were tough enough for a man just out of
prison without having to deal with people who thought drinking coffee and tea
was sinful. Think of the atmosphere. All those super clean BYU kids getting
ready to go out as missionaries. Walking on the street could make you feel you
were at a church supper. There had, said Johnny, to be tension."
And tension there was. A growing and permanent discrepancy soon erupted between
the communities’ expectations of Gilmore and his ability to perform
accordingly. He simply could not adjust.
Gilmore was an ex-con whose boyhood idol had been Gary Cooper and whose
earliest ambitions were to be a mobster. His social chit-chat consisted of
crude prison stories and his table-side poker manners were power-tripping,
straight-from-the-cell-block maneuvers, and his code of social conduct was the
same as generations of other prison inmates. Life on the outside was not going
well for him.
Clearly, problems would abound.
The only code of honor Gilmore knew was a language few outside the prison
understood, and so his attempt to live a conventional life, complete with the
normal accoutrements of car, house and family – soured. His mistakes amplified
the rift, and, in the end, his few friends turned against him.
And as his trial for the murders of the two Utah men would prove, Utah was a
place where contrasts – polarities between barren desert and fertile mountain,
between hot days and brisk nights or between oppressive social codes and
defiant, lawless behavior – left little middle ground for Gilmore.
Mailer’s book is a work of severe ironic distance, spoken in the voice of an
omniscient narrator in the flat, indigenous Western twang of each speaking
Although there was little question of Gilmore’s guilt, the trial left many
other questions unanswered: that a man had been convicted of first-degree
murder and sentenced to death at a time when the precedent was not to do so by
a trail that was short, ill prepared and for which the two public defenders
provided virtually no defense and little cross-examination of the witnesses,
was surprising enough.
That this same men then turned around to say he wanted the death penalty was
even more surprising.
And that there was little outcry in Utah until new attorneys were hired and the
U.S. Supreme Court was in on the act was more surprising still.
And embarrassing for Utah – so much so that it soon became a searing political
issue across the nation.
Journalists poured forth like rain from every corner of the land, hoping to
cash in on quick blood money; civil rights lawyers waged a frantic, last minute
war between state and prisoner in a futile attempt to get Gilmore to change his
During the last few weeks of his life, 36-year-old Gary Gilmore had become a
national media figure, a hero, an anti-hero, and a homicidal psychopath who
loved a woman with a suicidal intensity that was in equal measure fierce,
palpable and pathetic.
This is how the public remembers Gilmore – although the view is a distortion,
tempered by the excitement of that moment.
But how the public will remember Gilmore after reading The Executioner’s Song
That once there was a man who was profoundly disturbed, homicidal and suicidal,
but who also was self-educated, artistic, loving, and – ultimately, remorseful.
By choosing to die, Gilmore achieved a measure of control over his own destiny
– something he had been unable to achieve in life. For the first time, he
controlled the power of not only his own life but also of those above him.
For during those last few weeks, Gilmore ran the entire show, single-handedly,
from the prison.
He was the one to whom journalists, attorneys and even prison officials turned
for legal permission: Gilmore decided who would be allowed to see him and which
stories would be printed – more so than any other man involved.
It was an irony made all the more bitter by the inevitable end.
Even though Mailer’s hard-working labor and talent is easily recognizable in a
book of such magnitude, The Executioner’s Song falls short of one’s
expectations – not because of what Mailer has done but because of what he has
failed to do.
The months spent interviewing, taping and editing the transcripts into a
manageable length certainly yielded a product worthy of the attention it has
received, but Mailer also sacrificed depth of character and vision.
That Mailer wrote a very good book is not remarkable, since he wrote only what
was expected of him.
Disappointment remains after exhilaration pales, because even though currently
in vogue, The Executioner’s Song is a curious example of ephemera that will
disappear from the horizon like ashes over a desert landscape, because it falls
short of the power and tragedy of the story it tells.
Interesting biographical information and other information on Gilmore in
Wikipedia. His father beat him repeatedly with a whip. Gilmore had a reported
IQ of 133. This says a lot about parenting and how important good parenting is.
(source: Kathryn Esplin, gather.com)
Supreme Court Says Death Penalty Still in Play for New Osburn Trial
The Arkansas Supreme Court denied a motion to exclude the death penalty in the
2nd trial of Kenneth Ray Osburn, 49, in an opinion delivered Thursday, Oct. 6.
An Ashley County Jury on January 18, 2008, convicted Osburn of capital murder
and kidnaping involving the abduction and subsequent murder of Casey Crowder, a
Watson Chapel high school senior. Crowder's abandoned vehicle was found in
August, 2006, along Highway 65 south of Dumas with her body found a week later
in an area west of Back Gate.
In the penalty portion of trial, jurors failed to reach a sentence on the death
penalty after the capital murder conviction. Tenth Judicial District Circuit
Judge Sam Pope then imposed the mandatory life without the possibility of
parole for murder and life in prison for kidnaping. Pope moved the highly
publicized case from Desha to Ashley County on a defense motion prior to trial.
Osburn later appealed his convictions and sentences on grounds that statements
used to convict him were improperly submitted and was granted a 2nd trial in
the case which was remanded to Ashley County.
In the most recent appeal, Osburn argued he was being placed in double jeopardy
and motioned that the death penalty be barred as a possible sentence in the
The opinion states that the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment does
not allow a defendant previously acquitted of the death penalty to be sentenced
to death in the event of a second trial. However, the opinion further states
when the jury deadlocked in the penalty portion of the trial, it became a
requirement of law that Osburn be sentenced to life without the possibility of
parole and that Osburn was not acquitted by a jury of the death penalty.
In his second argument, Osburn referenced the case of Sneed Vs. State. Sneed
was sentenced to life without parole by a jury in his first trial. Upon retrial
in the Sneed case, jurors were informed that they must return with a sentence
of life and could not impose a sentence of death.
The Supreme Court ruled that Osburn misunderstood the findings of Sneed vs.
State, and stated, "The rule stated in Sneed and adhered to by this court in a
number of cases over the years is that where a jury has decided guilt in a
capital case and then imposed a life sentence, there is an implied rejection of
the death penalty, and upon retrial, the death penalty is unavailable to the
However, if the jurors fail to reach a verdict in the penalty portion, it does
not qualify as an acquittal of the death penalty. "It does not trigger a
double-jeopardy bar on retrial," the court ruled. "Upon remand, the state may
seek the death penalty.
(source: Ashley County Ledger)
Hal Rogers unsure if he will witness Oba Chandler execution
Time has calmed Hal Rogers. It has not healed him. The Ohio farmer no longer
feels the need to watch the man who wiped out his family die. He doesn't talk
anymore about seeing Oba Chandler strapped into the electric chair and flipping
the switch himself.
Instead, the 59-year-old Rogers thinks of those Chandler took from him: his
wife, Joan, and their daughters, Michelle and Christe. ¶ The mother and her
girls were on vacation when they met Chandler on June 1, 1989. He coaxed them
onto his boat, bound them, sexually assaulted them, weighed them down and
tossed them into the waters of Tampa Bay. Sometimes, Rogers thinks, at least
they were together at the end. Then he imagines the unfathomable horror they
must have felt. "Some days, that will make perfect sense," he said. "Other days
it makes no sense." It has been 22 years, and this is how Rogers copes. He is
open and philosophical and lost and withdrawn all at the same time.
"Some days you get insight into yourself and other days you just can't get it
back," he said. "That's me. I don't know. Everybody's different. I don't wish
for anybody to go through that. Nobody."
Most of the time, Rogers said he masks his true feelings with sharp, black
humor. It's his "defense mechanism." He is often sarcastic and always blunt.
When told that Florida no longer uses the electric chair — Chandler, 65, will
die by the needle on Nov. 15 — a surprised Rogers cursed.
"Son of a b----," he said. "I'll be doggone."
• • •
Gov. Rick Scott signed Chandler's death warrant on Monday. It is set to be
Florida's second execution since Scott took office in January.
Scott told reporters on Tuesday that there was no specific reason he picked
Chandler. The facts of the case, he said, spoke for themselves.
Joan "Jo" Rogers, 36, and daughters Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14, were found
floating a few miles off the Pier on June 4, 1989. 3 years later, after a long
search, St. Petersburg police finally zeroed in on Chandler.
"(He) killed 3 women, so I looked through different cases, and it made sense to
do that one," Scott said. "There's never one thing. It was the right case."
Attorney Baya Harrison III said his client has exhausted all his state and
"We're at the end," he said. "We have 1 more shot, but it's a long shot."
Next week, Harrison will ask a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge to set aside the
death sentence because a federal judge in Miami declared that Florida's death
penalty statute is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez ruled that Florida law runs counter to the
U.S. Supreme Court's decisions. In this state, juries recommend death sentences
but judges actually impose the death penalty. The nation's high court has ruled
that juries alone should have that power.
But there are many issues to sort out, Harrison said. He isn't even sure
Chandler will sign the appeal. He has given up fighting his fate, his lawyer
Several months ago, Chandler was given the chance to personally appeal for
"He wouldn't even come out of his cell," Harrison said.
• • •
When Chandler was convicted in 1994, he was defiant, unapologetic. He
proclaimed his innocence and cursed his pursuers.
He sent letters to the St. Petersburg Times dotted with smiley faces. In a 1995
prison interview with a Times reporter, he revealed what his last words will be
before his death: "Kiss my rosy red a--!"
And Chandler now?
"He's a broken man," Harrison said. "His health has deteriorated. He's resigned
to his fate. He's stoic about it."
Chandler suffers from high-blood pressure and coronary artery disease and has
problems with his kidneys and with arthritis, his lawyer said.
But some things have not changed. Chandler still has not accepted
responsibility for his crimes, or expressed remorse. He avoids the issue
"He doesn't even discuss the issue of guilt," Harrison said. "But he's not
saying he was wronged anymore. He's past that."
• • •
Hal Rogers no longer runs a dairy. He raises hogs and grows corn on his farm
He remarried a decade ago. He decided he was tired of being alone. He put an ad
in the paper. That's how he met Jolene.
She is a widow.
"I miss them all," he said. "That makes it rough on Jolene. How do you fight a
"But her 1st husband died too. She understands."
Rogers got the call from the governor's office around 6 p.m. Monday. The state
keeps him in the loop, he said. He looked up Chandler online. The death row mug
shot amused him.
"I'm looking at this picture of old Obie, and he just looks like a harmless old
Charlie Brown, don't he?" Rogers said. "Look at that picture. He looks just
like someone's grandpa."
Then Rogers thinks back to the trial. He is a student of the case.
Chandler testified that he was fishing alone the night of the murders when a
gas leak disabled his boat. He said he fixed the leak with duct tape.
But then an expert witness, boat mechanic James Hensley, shattered Chandler's
"Never had much luck with any kind of tape around gasoline," Hensley told the
jury in 1994. "The fuel itself dissolves the tape."
Rogers watched the testimony on closed-circuit TV in another room that day. He
wishes he could have seen Chandler's face.
"He might have gotten away with it, to put it bluntly in my opinion," Rogers
said. "He might have created reasonable doubt if he just shut up and took the
stand and said he never done anything.
"Instead he shot himself in the foot as far as he could."
There is one bit of business left: the Nov. 15 execution. Rogers can attend it
if he wishes. It is his right. He can sit in the death chamber and watch
Chandler die, just like he always said he would.
But does he still want too?
"I ain't made up my mind yet," he said. "I personally doubt it. I don't need
any closure, I don't think."
Then he added: "I might do it at the last minute."
(source: St. Petersburg Times)
State Rep. files bill to add firing squad to death penalty laws
State Rep. Brad Drake filed a bill Tuesday that would eliminate lethal
injection as a method for execution in Florida. Instead, people facing the
death penalty would be allowed to choose execution by firing squad.
Electrocution still would be allowed under the bill.
Drake, R-Eucheeanna, said in a news release issued Tuesday night that he filed
the bill in response to debate over the effectiveness of certain drugs used in
lethal injection executions.
“So, I say let’s end the debate,” he said in the release. “We still have Old
Sparky. And if that doesn’t suit the criminal, then we will provide them a .45
caliber lead cocktail instead.”
In the release, Drake said the bill was in reaction to a group of doctors and
legal experts who had been asking Gov. Rick Scott for a stay of execution for
Manuel Valle, a 61-year-old man convicted of murder in the death of a law
enforcement officer in Miami in 1978.
Valle was executed late last month after 33 years on death row. He was the
first Florida inmate executed using pentobarbital as the first of three drugs
in the injection.
His lawyers questioned the drug, saying it had not been tested for use to
render an inmate unconscious.
“I am sick and tired of this sensitivity movement for criminals,” Drake said.
“Every time there is a warranted execution that is about to take place, some
man or woman is standing on a corner holding a sign, yelling and screaming for
“I have no desire to humanely respect those that are inhumane,” he said in the
(source: Panama City New-Herald)
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