Parsons' final sentence referred to racer, not gays

Published: Sunday, Oct. 17 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

UTAH STATE PRISON -- Prison officials say they erroneously read a reference to a gay killing into the final words of condemned murderer Joseph Mitchell Parsons.

Before he was put to death by lethal injection shortly after midnight Friday, Parsons said: "My love to my family and friends. And Woody, the Rainbow Warrior rules!"Initially, prison spokesman Jack Ford said Parsons was referring to himself as the Rainbow Warrior -- a warrior who killed a homosexual. The rainbow flag is a symbol of the gay community.

But on Friday, Ford said eight of Parsons' fellow death row inmates came forward to say the comments referred to auto racer Jeff Gordon, whose brightly colored car is nicknamed "Rainbow Warrior."

Parsons and his closest friend, death row inmate Doug Lovell, nicknamed "Woody," often bet candy bars on Winston Cup races. Ford said Parsons always bet on Gordon. Parsons also had a photo of Gordon in his cell, according to prison spokesman Jesse Gallegos.

Ford said that the earlier assumption was based on a letter Parsons wrote to his family, which was screened by prison guards, in which he refused to express remorse for the killing.

In the letter, Parsons also blamed the victim, Richard Ernest. Parsons claimed Ernest made a homosexual advance and he retaliated as the two were stopped at a southern Utah rest area.

Ernest had picked up Parsons while hitchhiking outside Barstow, Calif. Parsons stabbed Ernest repeatedly, stole his wallet, and pushed the body from the car along I-15.

No evidence presented at Parsons' sentencing suggested that Ernest was gay, and his family insists he was not.

Parsons' attorney, Greg Sanders, said Friday that Parsons had made comments to him about his hatred of homosexuals.

In a letter Parsons gave to the Deseret News, he wrote: "Yes, I did overreact to (Ernest's) homosexual advances, so I do take some of the responsibility but not all. If Ernest had not put his hands on me, he would be alive today and so would I."

Since Friday's execution, Sanders also said he believes he knows why Parsons chose Whoppers, fries and a milkshakes from Burger King for his final meal. He thinks Parsons was drawing on the fast food chain's slogan -- "Have it your way" -- to send a message that, with his death, Parsons was taking command of a life that had been beyond his control.

"The gist of what he told me is he'd been in prison almost all his adult life and certainly the last 11 years, and he had no control over his own life," Sanders said. "So he says, 'What can I do, as a person in my circumstances, to get control of my life?' He can be executed, and from his point of view, that's the only freedom he has."

"I know the slogan of Burger King was why he picked that meal. That's his way of saying, 'This meal is almost symbolic,' " said Sanders. "It wasn't just, 'What do I want as my last meal as I go out.' He was saying, 'I'm having it my way.' "

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