What and Where Is Hell?

In July of 1976 Gary Gilmore walked into a gas-station and shot the attendant, a student at Brigham Young University. The next evening he forced a young motel clerk at gun-point to hand over some cash. Then Gilmore asked his victim to kneel and shot him in the back of the head.

Most Americans thought this was one man who deserved to die for his cold-blooded murders. But when a Utah judge sentenced him to death by firing squad, the whole nation plunged into controversy. Because of a Supreme Court ruling, no one had been executed in the U.S. for almost a decade. The gas chambers and electric chairs had been idle and the prospect of reactivating them bothered a lot of people.

Right-to-life lawyers tried desperately to find grounds for a stay of Gilmore’s execution, even though Gilmore said he wanted to die. Groups against the death penalty protested loudly, calling it an inhumane “paganistic ritual.” Others affirmed the value of the death penalty as a deterrent to individuals who might kill in cold blood. A few men actually phoned the Utah state prison warden, asking to join the firing squad.