Parsons' time running out
But killer can opt to appeal up until injection Friday

Published: Sunday, Oct. 10 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

If Joseph Mitchell Parsons changes his mind just minutes or even seconds before his execution by lethal injection, what happens?

Because the convicted killer has dropped his appeals, the process is clear.The outcome isn't.

What is unquestionable is Parsons has the right to say he has changed his mind. If the 35-year-old former Florida man hadn't dropped his right to appeal, it would easily be years and years before he'd be led into the execution chamber against his will.

Parsons, if he goes through with it early Friday, will be the sixth person to be executed in Utah since the 10-year moratorium on executions was lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1976.

Of those six, four voluntarily met their deaths, shortening the appeals process by saying they no longer wanted to live on death row.

Parsons expressed that sentiment this spring when he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce. At that point, Parsons said he was determined to die.

"It's not fair to my family or the state of Utah or anyone else to continue the petition any further," Parsons said. "I've made peace with myself and my family, and it's time to move on."

A death warrant was issued by the district court in Iron County, the jurisdiction where the Aug. 31, 1987, slaying of Richard Ernest occurred.

Ernest, 30, was headed to Colorado for a new job in construction when he picked up Parsons, who was hitchhiking near Barstow, Calif.

When the pair stopped to sleep at a rest stop near Cedar City, Parsons stabbed Ernest at least nine times, plunging the knife 6 inches into Ernest's chest, slashing his face and sticking the knife in Ernest's throat.

Later, Parsons testified the killing came in response to a homosexual advance made by Ernest, although no evidence supporting that claim ever surfaced during the prosecution. A jury of six men and six women declared Parsons deserved the death penalty.

Now, 12 years later, it appears the jury's sentence will be carried out in a small room in a maximum security facility at Utah State Prison.

If Parsons does back down, a number of things must happen for the execution to not be carried out on Oct. 15.

The state intentionally sets the time of execution as early as possible on the day it is to happen -- in this case, 12:01 a.m.

Reed Richards, the state attorney general's chief criminal deputy, said that gives everyone time to react if necessary on execution day. "If there is a delay, they want to have the maximum amount of time to take care of whatever problems there are," he said.

In this case, Parsons has not exhausted his appeals process and has decided to go ahead with the execution. Any last-minute second thoughts, however, could send an attorney scrambling on behalf of the condemned man to find a judge who will sign the required order to override the death warrant.

"Technically, he has lost his right of appeals -- those time frames have passed based on court rule and law," Reed said. "Having said that, he certainly has the right to go to the trial court judge to set the execution aside."

That takes an attorney, however, and Parsons has fired his.

Greg Sanders, who was Parsons' court-appointed attorney for eight years, said he's tried to get into the prison to see his former client but has been turned away at the main gate.

"He does not want anybody trying to talk him out of this. He does not want to see preachers, he does not want to see lawyers, he does not want to see the ACLU," Sanders said.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere