There was a time in the Old West when punishment was swift and final; a noose around the neck and justice - or injustice, as the case may have been - was served.
Lengthy trials, repeated appeals and other legal gymnastics have since replaced Old West law and order. But at least one Utah family believes there is still no justice - at least not in Wyoming."He made the judicial system a joke," said Scott Hopkinson, of Murray. "When he went into that courtroom, it was not to bring about factual truth. It was to stage a play - and not necessarily a truthful play. It was not a courtroom, it was not justice. It was a stage and who was the better actor."
Hopkinson's anger is directed at tough-talking Gerry Spence - a flamboyant Wyoming trial attorney recognized around the world for his cowboy boots, fringed-leather jacket, cowboy hat and unorthodox courtroom style.
Though a high-profile defense attorney, in 1979 Spence was named special prosecutor assigned to investigate a case involving the killings of three people in Evanston and a fourth killing of the state's key witness in the case.
Scott Hopkinson's brother, Mark, is scheduled to die before sunrise Tuesday - not by a noose around his neck, but by lethal injection at the state prison in Rawlings. Unless blocked by a last-minute stay, it will be Wyoming's first execution since 1965.
Yet more than 13 years after the murders, family and friends say serious doubt remains about Mark Hopkinson's guilt - and the win-at-all-costs approach to the case by prosecutors and law officers, all of whom were under extreme political pressure to solve the high-profile killings.
"He got a fair trial in the context of what Wyoming thinks is a fair trial," said Hopkinson's Salt Lake defense attorney, Robert Van Sciver. "It did seem to be shaded in favor of the prosecution. But that sounds like sour grapes now."
Mark Hopkinson lost, most agree, because of an extremely complex, convoluted case woven together almost entirely by circumstantial evidence. And then there is the question of witnesses who were promised leniency in their own criminal trials if they would testify against Mark Hopkinson.
"If Mark dies, Mark dies," Scott Hopkinson said. "I think they all (Wyoming justice system) want to see him die - to hide the whole truth of the story. The reason it's being hidden is because of Gerry Spence. He threatened witnesses, stacked and mesmerized the jury.
"There's a lot of people who have this on their conscience because they know he is not guilty. They know this is nothing but a story Spence put together."
After years of silence, Scott Hopkinson and his wife, Chris, spoke candidly with the Deseret News about Scott's brother, whom they will visit - perhaps for the last time - in Rawlings on Monday.
If Mark Hopkinson dies, officially it will be for the 1979 torture-murder of Jeffrey Lynn Green, a 23-year-old Bridger Valley carpenter, whose beaten, burned and bullet-ridden body was found just off I-80 near the Utah border.
Mark Hopkinson was also sentenced to life in prison for ordering the 1977 deaths of Evanston attorney Vincent Vehar, his wife, Beverly, and their 18-year-old son, who were all killed when a bomb exploded in the basement of the family's home. Green had been a witness against Hopkinson as well as a suspect in the Vehar killings.
Mark Hopkinson's troubles began April 4, 1977, when Jeff Green - an employee of Hopkinson - was stopped for speeding near Coalville, Summit County. He was driving Hopkinson's car, and in the back seat was a homemade bomb.
In September of that year, federal charges were brought against Green in connection with that homemade bomb. But it was the Aug. 7, 1977, bombing of the Vehar residence that had most law officers' attention.
Vince Vehar was not just any attorney. He was either related to or close friends with just about every prominent politician and judge in Wyoming.
"The problem was they were having trouble finding enough evidence to pin the murders on anybody and they were getting a lot of flak from the community because no one had been arrested," Scott Hopkinson said. "That's why they brought Gerry Spence in, because they knew he could make a story out of anything."
Scott is convinced Mark had nothing to do with the Vehar bombings.
Yet it was no secret in Evanston in 1977 that Vehar and Mark Hopkinson had been involved in a well-publicized dispute concerning water and sewer hookup fees to a trailer park Hopkinson was developing. Vehar represented the sewer board in a lawsuit demanding that Mark Hopkinson pay not only $12,000 in hookup fees but $50,000 in exemplary damages because of threats he had made against the sewer board.
Green also was a suspect in the Vehar killings. Some claimed Vehar was going to turn Green in to police for trafficking in stolen merchandise.
It was in April 1978 that Jeff Green began "cooperating" with authorities. Green recanted his earlier story about why he was carrying a bomb in the back seat of Mark Hopkinson's car and gave investigators a new story: Hopkinson had paid him to take the bomb to Arizona to blow up a car belonging to a man who owed Hopkinson $10,000.
Green - a suspect in numerous thefts as well as in a 1976 murder of a 15-year-old girl - also told investigators that he suspected Hopkinson in the Vehar killings. However, Green changed his story many times during appearances before a Wyoming grand jury.
Explosives charges were dropped against Green, and it was Mark Hopkinson who was sent to federal prison in California. Two days before Green was to testify again to a grand jury on the Vehar bombing, he was found dead at a highway turnout near Evanston. His body was covered with approximately 140 burns from cigarettes and a hot metal object, and his left eye had been completely burned out.
Mark Hopkinson was eventually charged with ordering Green's death from his California prison cell in order to prevent Green from implicating Hopkinson in the Vehar deaths. The actual killers were never arrested.
"I'm not saying Mark is guilty of killing Jeff Green," Scott Hopkinson said. "There's a ton of people out there who wanted Green's hide. But (Spence) didn't hesitate to point the finger at Mark."
In September 1979, Mark Hopkinson was convicted of the Vehar and Green killings. He received three life sentences for the Vehar killings and the death sentence for the Green killing.
Eleven years ago in that Wyoming courtroom, Spence described Mark Hopkinson as "the Mafia man" who ordered killings over the pettiest of grievances. In his courtroom appearances, Spence was accompanied by a 300-pound football player-bodyguard and an entourage of police officers.
Mark Hopkinson's family remains outraged at the way they say Spence also tried the Hopkinson case on the pages of Wyoming newspapers long before it ever went to a jury. And, they said, he played with the minds of the judge and jury.
"He had police officers testifying against Mark come into the trial in bullet-proof vests - making the jury believe there were people threatening their lives," Scott said. "He had total control of that trial from day one. He ruled the judge, he ruled the courtroom. He did just as he pleased."
The Hopkinson family even maintains Spence repeatedly mocked Van Sciver in front of the jury.
"I don't know he mocked me," Van Sciver now says. "But he did pat me on the head and ask me to stop interrupting him. He was condescending from that sense. But isn't that part of the Gerry Spence aura? Convincing everyone he is superior to everyone else?"
And justice took a back seat to truth, Hopkinson's family says. "I don't know they ever proved the (Green) case to my satisfaction," said Van Sciver. "There was a lot of circumstantial evidence, but there was certainly no direct evidence."
Scott Hopkinson and his wife, Chris, said they want the "so-called" killers arrested, and they will continue their quest for justice regardless of whether Mark Hopkinson dies Tuesday or not.
Hopkinson's mother has made a personal plea to Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan to halt the execution. She says her son should not be put to death as long as the actual killers are on the loose.
"This will be a first for a man to be put to death as a non-trigger man, not at the scene of the crimes . . . and the known killers still running loose. Is this justice?" asked Norma Jean Ellsworth, Hopkinson's mother, who has since remarried and lives in St. George.
But Scott Hopkinson believes Mark, 40, wouldn't want the execution stopped, "not if it means that he has to stay in prison the rest of his life. He'd just as soon die."
If he dies, it is by his own choice. Van Sciver said Hopkinson was offered a plea bargain: Confess to the Vehar killings and be sentenced to life in prison and prosecutors would not pursue the Jeff Green killing (for which he is now sentenced to die). Hopkinson declined, saying he could not admit to crimes he did not commit.
"He really rolled the dice on that one. And he lost," Van Sciver said.