Barring unexpected legal intervention, convicted child killer Arthur Gary Bishop will die by lethal injection shortly after 12:01 a.m. Friday, becoming the 99th inmate executed in the United States since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court ended a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment.
Before his death, flickers of light on a hillside overlooking Utah State Prison will pierce the darkness Thursday night as dozens of Utahns join in a candlelight vigil to protest the execution of the man who asked the state to take his life.The vigil, sponsored by Amnesty International USA and the Utah Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, will begin at 10:30 p.m. and continue until after the Friday execution.
"Our presence there is intended to be a visual symbol of the opposition both in this state and country of the death penalty, which we see as this nation's most costly, ineffective, discriminating, embarrassing criminal-justice policy," coalition spokesman Grady Walker said. "It has become a symbolic response to violent crime rather than an effective or appropriate policy."
Walker said this doesn't mean group members are insensitive to what Bishop has done - to the horror of his crimes, the anguish he caused society.
"But we think absolutely nothing will be accomplished by continuing the violence," he said. "One more corpse isn't going to make anything better.
"We are opposed to killing under all circumstances and are saying to the state of Utah `Don't kill for us.' "
But Bishop, 36, wants to die. He has said he hopes his death will give comfort to the parents of the five boys he sexually molested and killed during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
"He seems to be preparing himself for what will take place, as well as anyone can," Corrections Department spokesman Juan Benavidez said Thursday.
Benavidez said Bishop has met with his parents and was talking to Bishop Heber Geurts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he prepared for his execution.
Bishop said he will fast during the hours before the execution, which Benavidez said will precisely duplicate the August 1987 execution of Pierre Dale Selby.
Selby was executed after 13 years of appeals for the torture-murders of three people during a 1974 robbery of the Ogden Hi Fi Shop.
Bishop will be strapped to the gurney in a glass-partitioned room adjacent to a warehouse section of the maximum security building and a solution of sodium pentothal, Pavulon and potassium chloride will be injected into his veins. The drugs first will put Bishop to sleep, then paralyze his lungs and stop his heart.
Utah law allows the condemned to choose between death by lethal injection or firing squad. The inmate also is allowed to request the presence of up to five witnesses at the execution.
Geurts, along with author and friend Kathy Luck and Weber State College sociologist L. Kay Gillespie, have been asked by Bishop to witness the execution. Nine representatives of the media will also witness the death.
Benavidez said Bishop has requested that his worldly belongings - "some books and a television" - be given to Geurts. The $5 left in his commissary account at the prison will go to his brother, Douglas, who is serving prison terms for sexually abusing young boys in Utah and Millard counties.
Bishop asked that his body be cremated.
The convicted murderer, an Eagle Scout and once active churchgoer, initially appealed his death sentence. But after the Utah Supreme Court rejected his appeal on Feb. 3, Bishop filed a motion to fire his attorneys and replace them with counsel willing to abandon further appeals.
Following a 3rd District Court competency hearing, the high court on May 2 ruled in Bishop's favor.
His execution will be the second in Utah since that of Gary Gilmore, who died by firing squad in 1977. Gilmore, like Bishop, demanded death for his crimes.
Utah, Walker said, is practically the only state out of the deep South that is executing its citizens, and the executions "are going by without much notice." If there's another execution this year, Utah would be executing more people per capita than any other state, he said.
"It troubles me that this could become routine," Walker said. "A blood bath could happen if people become hardened to this."
Walker said their goal for staging the vigil is to focus attention on what the death penalty is - and what it isn't. "What it is," he said, "is a dismal failure at home and is increasingly becoming a focal point for the international human-rights movement. There is really no valid argument for the death penalty short of vengeance."
Bishop's willingness to die doesn't change the group's opposition to the death penalty. Nationwide, members of Amnesty International USA and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty try to intervene on every case.
In Bishop's case, they did this through personal letters to the prisoner.
"We wrote directly to Mr. Bishop and urged him to reconsider - both because we believe he is doing a disservice to others on death row who don't want to die, and secondly because we think he could do something productive with his life."
Bishop's death, Walker said, will not make restitution - bring the kids back. Neither can anything Bishop does during his life.
"But maybe he can help, maybe he can counsel, maybe he can share and communicate what led him to that (the crimes)," he said. "Maybe he can become an Amnesty International lobbyist and work for human rights.
"There's lots of things he can do."