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Outing with Parsons a nightmare for Oklahoman
He spent 13 years in prison for Parsons' holdup, he says

Published: Thursday, Oct. 14 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

Joseph Mitchell Parsons was just 18 when he put a .22-caliber revolver to the neck of a taxi cab driver in Las Vegas and threatened to kill him.

When he was 23, he plunged a 5-inch dagger into a California man at a remote southern Utah rest stop.Now, at 35, Parsons is facing a death of his own, having elected to drop his appeals and face his executioners on Oct. 15 in an 18-by-16 room at the Utah State Prison.

It was the Aug. 31, 1987, stabbing death of Richard Ernest in Utah that propelled Parsons to a cell on death row. But it wasn't what landed him in prison in the first place.

It was just starting to get dark on Oct. 16, 1982, in Las Vegas, where a man named David Poe Wood was waiting on a street corner for a friend.

Instead, he met Parsons, a chance encounter he says led to the worst day of his life.

"I was just standing there and he kind of casually walked up to me and asked me how I was doing, you know, and what I was up to," Wood told the Deseret News.

The meeting led to an armed robbery that would send Wood to prison for 13 years, a conviction he fought, later appealed and lost.

Parsons, because he was younger, because he pleaded guilty and because he appeared to have no criminal record, received a lesser sentence. He wound up serving four years before he was released to a halfway house in Reno in June 1987. In two weeks, he walked away. By the end of eight weeks, he had killed a man while on the run through Utah.

The events that sent a fresh-faced, clean-cut, well-dressed Florida boy such as Parsons to prison differ according to who relays the story.

Wood, an Oklahoma farm boy drawn to the glamour of Las Vegas, said he had no idea the robbery was going down. To him, Parsons is the pariah who stole half of his life, dragging him along as an unwitting partner in crime.

But credibility is everything in the courtroom.

Wood was portrayed by the prosecutor as an ex-con who had served time on a burglary conviction, the older of the two who orchestrated the entire event, the one who had the most reason to lie because he didn't want to go back to the pen.

Parsons, who testified against his partner, was painted as the 18-year-old orphan who had worked steadily at a job and never been in trouble, according to court testimony.

Wood got the maximum sentence. Parsons got off lighter.

The curious twist in this story is that it was Parsons who had the gun, Parsons who changed his story three times and Parsons who has parents in Florida. It was also Parsons who had three burglary convictions as a juvenile that apparently went undetected by authorities and, finally, it was Parsons who later admitted he lied on the stand to implicate David Wood.

The robbery was simple enough. No one questions the two met on the street on Oct. 16, and by 1 a.m., they were inside a taxi cab, where a robbery took place.

From there, everything becomes a matter of interpretation.

Wood said Parsons wanted to score a couple of joints of marijuana. He struck up a conversation and offered to buy the dope if they could find it. Wood said that sounded fine to him.

Parsons said they ought to catch a free bus to the Strip. There, they could look for some drugs. Wood agreed, but said he couldn't be gone long. In their brief time together, they ended up in a taxicab.

Parsons got in the back seat. Wood got in the front seat.

Wood was chatty, exchanging comments with the taxicab driver about the NFL strike happening at the time. He told the cab driver where to drop them off. As they neared the location, Wood said he heard a click.

Parsons had a gun on the driver.

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