Robyn Blumner, executive director of the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, feels strongly that the execution of Arthur Gary Bishop simply wasn't the case to make a goal-line stand against the death penalty.
But she acknowledges there were national representatives in her own organization who were concerned that the state of Utah was preparing to execute a man without even token opposition from the group that devotes a large portion of its resources to fighting the death penalty."There have been some concerns voiced," Blumner said. "I understand and sympathize with the organization's position that we are philosophically opposed to the death penalty in any form and under any circumstance. But we also had to respect the individual wishes of Mr. Bishop."
Blumner is used to disagreement. In one of the most conservative states in the union - a state where polls show more than 90 percent of the people favor the death penalty - Blumner frequently finds herself expressing minority opinions.
She is less accustomed to criticism from within her own organization. Nonetheless, Blumner believes it's not her role or the role of her organization to be acting against the wishes of a client. She said the ACLU acts in the capacity of legal counsel and, as such, should not be in the position of opposing a client - even if that client wants to die for his crimes.
"To act contrary to the express desires of one's client could feasibly be unethical," Blumner said.
The problem is money. When resources are scarce, it doesn't make sense to squander them attempting to save someone who doesn't want your help.
But the ACLU might feel inclined to intervene in a voluntary execution if the execution is expected to trigger a domino effect on other death row cases around the country. It was that consideration that convinced the ACLU to intervene to defend Gary Gilmore in 1976, even though he wanted to end appeals and his life.
"I don't think (Bishop's) death will have a snowball effect," Blumner "Of course, every execution creates additional callouses in the community. I don't know how many it takes, but eventually people get immune to the horror that's actually occurring."
Would the organization have helped Bishop if he'd changed his mind? Blumner did not answer that question directly, but said only that those who want help in fighting a death penalty imposed against them should contact the ACLU.
But how does the organization decide where to allocate its scarce resources? Blumner said it's based purely on the legal merits of the case. She said the appeal of the death penalty in the case of Douglas Carter, convicted of killing the elderly aunt of Provo's police chief, presents the kind of constitutional questions that have attracted the assistance of the ACLU.
She categorically denies that the ACLU is more likely to help members of minority groups - such as Carter and Hi-Fi Shop killers William Andrews and Pierre Dale Selby, who are black - than non-minorities, such as Bishop.
"Absolutely not," she said. "We're blind to that. We will help those people who have the most compelling constitutional claims."
She said she is "absolutely horrified" at the prospect that there could be another two executions before the year is out.
Andrews recently completed his final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and will likely receive a new execution date in the coming weeks. Killer James Louis Holland, who pleaded guilty to killing a Florida man in October 1987, has said he'd rather die than spend his life in prison, and he may also get his wish before the end of the year.
"It means we're getting used to it," she said. "It means we can do it as a matter of course."