The toughest person to please with Friday morning's execution - Arthur Gary Bishop himself - apparently thought the whole operation went remarkably well.
"About the only thing he had on his mind in his discussion with me was he wanted to compliment us on how well we handled it for him," Corrections Director Gary DeLand said immediately after Bishop's execution. "He said he never expected things to be that easy. Considering the circumstances, we figure if we can please him in this matter, we can please anybody."That assessment was shared by the majority of those who witnessed the execution and spoke with reporters afterward. The execution went exactly according to plan - even more smoothly, officials said, than the execution of Hi-Fi killer Pierre Dale Selby last August.
A total of 300 security guards kept roads to and from the prison blocked at several junctures. Reporters were kept at bay in the training center east of the prison and placated with sweets and soft drinks. Protest groups were methodically herded into a lighted area just below the training center where officers kept vigil.
"Everybody knew what to expect" after the last execution, DeLand said. "I'm reluctant to say it was boring this time, but there was a real lack of anticipation."
To the execution itself, Utah's second by lethal injection, reaction was solemn, but positive, from public officials who commented. Death penalty opponents and some religious leaders, however, decried the use of such methods in the name of justice.
"I take no joy or satisfaction in the death of another human being," said Gov. Norm Bangerter. "However, justice has been served. I hope and pray this will allow all those involved to put the events of this tragedy behind them."
"It was very peaceful," said Attorney General David L. Wilkinson, who personally represented his office as a witness. "I thought it was handled in a very dignified way."
"My personal feeling," he said, "is it wasn't an act of great tragedy that his life was taken. But it was a great tragedy that his life was wasted."
Heber Geurts, the LDS Church bishop assigned to the prison, comforted Bishop during his final hours. He, too, was awed by Bishop's calm.
"It was absolutely amazing," Geurts said. "He joked and we talked about everything under the sun - from Twinkies to burgers to fishing to whatever . . . where he went to school. We just talked. Never seen anybody so calm, and this is my second one in 10 months."
In fact, Bishop, though visibly frightened moments before the needles were inserted, remained remarkably calm. Geurts, on the other hand, seemed tired and somewhat dazed as he stared into a battery of TV cameras. And Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Tom Vuyk, who helped prosecute Bishop, seemed unable to even express his feelings.
"Really, I can't express (my feelings) at this time," Vuyk said as he strode past a group of reporters. "I think it's just over, and I'm glad to see it's over."
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church Diocese of Salt Lake City reiterated the church's longstanding opposition to the death penalty. The Most Rev. William Weigand said in a press release, "there is a gradual deteriorating effect that any form of violence has on society, that it unconsciously erodes society and the sacredness of all human life."
A candlelight vigil, held on a hill overlooking the prison from the east and called by Amnesty International and the Utah Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, attracted about 70 anti-death penalty activists. Some wept and prayed as Arthur Gary Bishop's life flickered to a close.
A handful of people favoring Bishop's death stood nearby; some counted down the seconds to midnight and welcomed the 12:15 a.m. execution by shouting, "Justice has been served."
Coalition spokesman Grady Walker said he wasn't bothered by the sparse attendance.
"I think all of us here are here for many people," he said. "And we're here to say that what's happening tonight is wrong. It's fairly important that this not happen tonight without those of us who oppose it expressing our opposition."
Walker called capital punishment the nation's "most costly, ineffective, discriminatory and brutal justice policy," and said Bishop's death was little more than state-sanctioned murder.
"I don't know how to justify it. Let's hope it doesn't become routine," he said.
Though it may not become routine, the death penalty could very well be utilized more in the future, Utah's attorney general said following the execution. A recent poll revealed that Utahns overwhelming support capital punishment.
"I just can't believe that in Utah there's any movement to do away with it (the death penalty)," Wilkinson said.
Jim Sunderland, head of the Colorado Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said he empathized with those who felt Bishop should die or his crimes. "But the way I look at it is violence begets violence. I just wish the state wasn't in the business of killing," he said. "I think it feeds into the revenge mood that is prevalent in this country."
"The only reason I'm here is because I'm supporting the judicial system," Lyle Heap said during an argument with Dedi Larsen, whose son, Ronnie Lee Gardner, sits on death row. "If you want to do something to stop it (the execution), then you'd better do something more than light candles."
Larsen said the state should rehabilitate rather than execute murderers. "I think there's good in everybody. If we search for it, we'll find it," she said.
Robyn Blumner, director of the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the state's execution of Bishop would do nothing but put "another notch on its gun, another scalp on its belt." She and religious leaders attending the vigil said Bishop's death would accomplish nothing.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," countered one man. "Bishop won't commit another crime tomorrow."