Execution nets little attention
Few news crews seek to witness Parsons' death

Published: Monday, Oct. 11 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

When John Albert Taylor died before a firing squad in 1996, 168 news crews from around the world chronicled the execution.

So far, 12 news organizations have asked to witness the Oct. 15 lethal injection of Joseph Mitchell Parsons. Three had to be turned away by the Department of Corrections since state law only allows nine representatives from the media to watch an execution in Utah.The lack of attention directed at Parsons' impending death is not much of a surprise to anyone.

Taylor's death by firing squad was only the second time in the United States a prisoner had been executed in that fashion since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted its 10-year-ban on the death penalty in 1976.

The first also happened in Utah in 1977 when Gary Gilmore was executed.

"Taylor generated the kind of interest he did because his was the first firing squad in years and years. Parsons, with lethal injection, is similar to what is being done around the country quite a bit," said Reed Richards, chief criminal deputy with the Attorney General's Office. "The interest in Taylor was not in the crime itself but the manner of execution."

In fact, Reed noted few reporters from outside the state even knew what Taylor had done to earn a place on death row, never bothering to learn he had strangled and raped an 11-year-old Washington Terrace girl in 1989.

Their attention, he said, hinged on Taylor's willingness to face five men armed with .30-caliber rifles.

Corrections spokesman Jack Ford called the interest in Parsons' execution minimal and essentially "nonexistent" compared to the four pages of media organizations from as far away as Japan and Italy jostling for news about Taylor.

Like Taylor, Gary Gilmore attracted worldwide attention because his was a firing squad death and because his execution was the first in the United States in 10 years.

Other Utah executions followed Gilmore's. Pierre Dale Selby and William Andrews were executed for their roles in the infamous torture slaying of three people in an Ogden stereo shop. They fought their appeals to the last minute, with Andrews spending 18 years on death row before he was killed by lethal injection.

Arthur Gary Bishop, like Taylor and Parsons, also elected to drop his appeals but generated a lot of media attention because he was a serial killer who preyed on young boys to satisfy his sexual desires. Five Utah boys who were lured by Bishop's friendly nature ended up tragically murdered.

Then along came Parsons, an out-of-town killer who stabbed an out-of-town man in rural Utah. The slaying grabbed few headlines 12 years ago and only recently drew reporters' attention because Parsons dropped his appeals in July.

"It just doesn't have the local flavor," Reed noted.

Greg Sanders, Parsons' court-appointed attorney for eight years, agreed.

"He called himself years ago Utah's forgotten inmate. He is not from the area, he killed someone not from the area, and as a result, there's been very little media attention in the case."

Sanders said that when Parsons made the comment, it wasn't made with any sense of a killer feeling cheated out of the limelight. In fact, Sanders said Parsons has not wanted to draw attention to himself.

"He doesn't want the publicity," Sanders said. "And he is not looking to go out with a big show."

Beverley Ernest, the victim's widow, said she isn't offended at the lack of attention her husband's death has received over the years.

"I don't think the lack of fanfare makes Richard any less of a person or his death any less important," she said. "It just wasn't close to home to anybody in Utah."

She said she has been grateful she hasn't been thrust into the news over and over again because of her husband's murder.

"I am not ready for the limelight either. It brings too many painful memories back. I am glad that if it had to happen, it happened in Utah because Utah has stood by me and his prosecution all the way."

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