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'Remember me, but let me go - that's it'

Death Row: Utah execution by firing squad goes 'like clockwork' as the condemned man and the executioners had wanted it
  • @dusborne
It had been denounced worldwide as inhumane and barbaric. And so, maybe, it was. But the execution by firing squad of John Albert Taylor, convicted child killer, was swift and surprisingly clinical. It was not a messy death - as with Gary Gilmore 19 years ago - but precision-perfect. It passed, in fact, exactly as both the victim and executioners had wanted.

When their triggers were pulled at 12.04am, the five .30 hunting rifles delivered one clean report - an abrupt "boom", said one of the witnesses. Strapped into the specially designed execution chair just 20 feet (6 metres) away, Taylor probably never heard the explosion. The bullets that entered his heart travelled faster than the speed of sound. It was what remained afterwards that best described an execution that had been so painstakingly orchestrated. In the plywood that had been behind the convict, the bullets had made a single hole, about a third of an inch deep and so narrow a small coin would have covered it.

Thus, Utah, which in 2002 will be host to the Winter Olympics, was a state experiencing relief yesterday. For many among its majority Mormon population who still believe in the teachings of their church's earliest leaders, the required "blood atonement" had been duly achieved. But while blood had been spilled - a slowly spreading patch of dampness on Taylor's dark prison jumpsuit where a small white target had been placed, indicating his heart - there had been no ghastly gushing and no gore. "It was like clockwork," the prison warden, Hank Galetka, declared. "It went as rehearsed."

When Gilmore was shot for the killing of a motel clerk, he was strapped to a simple office chair. Whisky had been smuggled in to the chamber, and money changed hands as reporters bought the accounts of witnesses. And there was no metal pan under the chair to catch his blood.

But Taylor's passing was like Gilmore's in one respect. He never once wavered from his determination to go through with it. Even at the last moment, he could have asked to resume his appeals process. But he did not. And it was he who, one month earlier, had opted for death by firing squad rather than by lethal injection.

Beverly DeVoy, a freelance journalist who was one of Taylor's three invited witnesses, said health problems - an enlarged heart, bleeding ulcers and swollen legs and feet - bound him to his death wish. He did not want to die alone in his cell, she said.

Taylor's mood in his final hours in a "death watch" cell adjacent to the execution chamber was depicted in pithy progress reports typed out hourly from mid-afternoon and distributed to the media.

For example: 22.00 - Inmate Taylor seems to be in good spirits. Visiting with his attorneys. 22.10 - Constant conversation, sprinkled with frequent laughter. Only occasionally were there hints of anguish. 22.48 - Taylor is crying, sitting very still with his head bowed.

Even in his death chair, when given the opportunity to make a last statement, Taylor was sanguine. "I would just like to say to my family, my friends, as the poem was written: 'Remember me, but let me go'." In a whisper, he added: "That's it". The warden then retreated to the back of the chamber, counted out loud to three and ordered, "Fire!''

Taylor never confessed to the murder for which he was executed. In an interview last Monday with two high-school reporters, he said again that he had not murdered Charla King, 11. The girl was discovered dead on her bed by her mother, Sherron King, on 23 June 1989 - naked, a telephone cord around her neck and her underwear stuffed in her mouth. Of Mrs King, Taylor said: "There's really not much I can say to her. I'm sorry for her loss ... I didn't do it.''

Is Taylor's destined to be the last execution by the bullet in America? Perhaps. But recent attempts to introduce legislation to end the practice have stirred little support among state politicians. Nor was there much sign of sympathy for Taylor among the citizenry as he perished. How many were there in the congregation at a vigil in St Ann's Episcopal church in central Salt Lake City, for example? Only five.

Prison log of Taylor's last night

Extracts from the official record kept by warders

19.44 Taylor asked if he could have his antacid liquid. Warden Galetka stated he would take care of this.

19.46 Inmate Taylor received his antacid.

20.01 Deputy Warden offers Inmate Taylor more soda, pizza, coffee. Taylor declines.

20.15 Chaplin Rodriguez and John Taylor are discussing prayers and the "After Life".

21.41 Taylor's mood appears positive.

21.56 Inmate Taylor still talking to his Attorneys. Seems to be in good spirits and adamant to proceed.

22.10 Constant conversation, sprinkled with frequent laughter. Taylor seems relaxed and almost happy.

22.45 Inmate Taylor is visiting Attorneys Rogers and Brass and Father Rodriguez. They are singing hymns at this time.

22.48 Father Rodriguez reading scriptures. Taylor is

crying, sitting very still with head bowed.

23.35 Warden Galetka asks Taylor if he wants to wear his glasses for the execution. Taylor says, "There is no need for them."

23.50 Taylor taken out of death watch area. Area secured.