Sometime before sunrise Tuesday, convicted four-time killer Mark Hopkinson will be marched from his Wyoming prison cell, strapped to a gurney, and a lethal combination of drugs will begin making its way into his blood-stream.
But the man who first convinced a Wyoming jury Hopkinson should be executed hopes it never happens."I am adamantly opposed to the death penalty," said Gerry Spence, a defense attorney who, in this case, was the special prosecutor who tried the Hopkinson case.
"The people who are punished in death-penalty cases are the survivors. It must be very hard for a mother and a brother, and I can certainly understand how his family must be in the deepest kind of anguish."
Mark Hopkinson's family have leveled harsh accusations against Spence and the Wyoming justice system, maintaining that Mark is innocent of the crimes for which he is scheduled to die.
"The truth of the matter," Spence told the Deseret News, "is that all of the issues they raise have been reviewed by the courts. I think he's been to the Wyoming Supreme Court five or six times, two or three times to the Circuit Court of Appeals, two or three times to the U.S. Supreme Court. All of the matters have been reviewed by numerous judges on numerous occasions.
"It is one thing to try to focus one's grief on the prosecutor, but it's another to lay a blanket of condemnation over the entire judicial system of Wyoming all way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have given this man due process through dozens of hearings and thousands of man-hours that have stretched over some 10 years."
Spence again finds himself in an uncomfortable position: He is one of the nation's most prominent defense attorneys, defending scores of high-profile defendants from Imelda Marcos to Adnan Khashoggi to Vickie Singer. Yet he must now defend his actions as a Wyoming prosecutor in what has become one of his home state's highest-profile homicide cases.
"I still do, and I felt uncomfortable at that time. I caught all kinds of hell from members of the defense bar," Spence recalled. "But we did it simply because it was our job under the circumstances. The prosecutor in Uinta County was unable to act, and the district judge felt someone should and we did."
And Spence remains convinced there is no doubt about Mark Hopkinson's guilt and that eventually the will of the people of Wyoming will be felt in the case. Nevertheless, Spence has also requested that Hopkinson's death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment "without hope of parole." He notes Hopkinson has spent the past 10 years in prison, during which time he has never hurt anyone.
"Based upon that record, the governor could very well, if he were of my mind, commute the death sentence. But that's a matter of private conscience with the governor."
Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan said he will treat Spence's request as he would any of the hundreds of other similar requests that have poured across his desk. The governor has made it clear he supports the judicial system and is pro-capital punishment.
Ironically, Spence told the jury originally considering Hopkinson's life or death that he was against the death penalty. But this was a kind of case unlike most traditional ones in which it can be argued that the accused can be tucked away in prison to keep society safe.
"In the Mark Hopkinson case, he showed that argument didn't apply to him. He killed the state's principal witness while he was in prison. And he proved he was perfectly capable of extending his venom beyond the walls of a penitentiary," Spence said.
"I don't believe you can punish killers by killing them. I asked the jury to consider the death penalty from the standpoint of society to protect itself."
Though Spence is credited with sending Mark Hopkinson to death row, he notes that the Wyoming Supreme Court overturned that original death sentence and ordered a new penalty phase of the trial.
"I wasn't even in the courtroom (during the second penalty phase)," Spence said.
Not that he seeks to exonerate himself in the eyes of Hopkinson family members who say Mark received an unfair trial. "There was nothing unfair about that trial," he adamantly maintained.