UTAH STATE PRISON -- There are witnesses to gather, rehearsals to conduct and an appropriate executioner to find in anticipation of Utah's first scheduled execution in four years.
The countdown began Monday after a judge in Cedar City set Oct. 15 as the day Joseph Mitchell Parsons will be put to death by lethal injection.The planned execution -- the state's sixth since Gary Gilmore was executed in 1977 -- was scheduled after state prosecutors filed an application for a death warrant last month.
Fifth District Judge Philip Eves set the new date after approving the warrant.
Parsons, 34, pleaded guilty in 1988 to stabbing Richard L. Ernest in August 1987 more than 10 times at a rest stop off I-15 near Cedar City. Ernest picked up the hitchhiking Parsons near Barstow, Calif. Parsons had been recently paroled from a Nevada prison.
He was arrested the day after Ernest's body was discovered dumped along the freeway. Parsons was found sleeping in Ernest's car and had used Ernest's credit card to pay for a motel room in Beaver.
Parsons claimed the killing was in self-defense as he tried to get away from Ernest's sexual advances. However, no evidence ever surfaced supporting his claim that Ernest was homosexual.
After more than a decade on death row, Parsons decided last month to end his appeal process when he asked U.S. District Magistrate Ronald Boyce to dismiss his petition for habeas corpus. Boyce granted Parsons' request. If he chooses, he still has appeal options to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. Supreme Court and Utah Board of Pardons.
Parsons' attorney said his client, who has been in prison most of his adult life, no longer wishes to live on death row and believes his appeal process would be lengthy.
"He views himself as having no future in the legal sense and personal sense," said attorney Gregory Sanders. "He believes he's facing an extended time on death row and he doesn't want to live like that anymore."
Department of Corrections spokesman Jack Ford said now that prison officials have a firm date to work with, a general 30-day timeline kicks in for officials to start crossing off a checklist the things that need to be done.
One aspect of an execution via lethal injection that poses problems for the department is finding a qualified person to administer the sodium pentothal, a drug that stops the heart.
Ford said the American Medical Association's rules preclude physicians from participating in an execution, so prison officials must find someone else such as a paramedic or nurse who is trained to administer an IV.
The last person executed in Utah by lethal injection was William Andrews, who was put to death in July 1992 for his role in the April 1974 torture slayings of three people in an Ogden stereo store.
Utah's last execution was in 1996, when John Albert Taylor was killed by firing squad. Taylor raped and killed an 11-year-old girl in Washington Terrace.
When Parsons was originally sentenced, he chose to die by lethal injection. That execution method will still be imposed.
Twelve inmates reside on Utah's death row. The longest resident of death row is Elroy V. Tillman, who has been there since January 1983.
Fellow death-row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner asked to drop his appeal last year but later changed his mind and is continuing with his appeals process.
Those who have spoken to Parsons said he is sincere and they don't expect he'll change his mind. One of his former attorneys, Ron Yengich, said Parsons is adamant that no outside parties attempt to stop or delay his execution by filing appeals on his behalf.