I pray it's not too late for me
To purge my soul from sin,Or remove the doubt within my heart
So Heaven may let me in.
- from a poem by Arthur Gary Bishop
Heber J. Geurts lost a close friend Friday morning. But not forever.
Bishop Geurts, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believes he'll see Arthur Gary Bishop again and that they will be friends again in the hereafter.
But then Geurts, an ecclesiastic volunteer leader at the Utah State Prison for the past 33 years, knew a different Arthur Bishop from the one who killed five boys, molested dozens of others and sent fear running rampant through a vulnerable, family-oriented county.
The Arthur Bishop that Geurts knew wasn't capable of such ghoulish crimes.
"He was a very spiritual man who prayed regularly. I don't know how many thousands of times he has asked the Lord to forgive him," said Geurts, who, as on other days, knelt in prayer with Bishop during the death watch - from 6 p.m. to midnight - before the gentle patriarch left his companion's side to witness his execution Friday morning.
"He had a very strong testimony of the gospel and died having a strong belief, like I do, that everything would be all right," Geurts said, dabbing tears from his eyes. "He wasn't afraid of death at all.
"Yet he knew he will have to go through some very severe judgment for what he did. He knows he has a long way to go."
The small religious leader, who takes with him a large code to not allow race, color, creed, religion or crime prejudice him in his work at the prison, became well-acquainted with Bishop during the four years the murderer was incarcerated at the Point of the Mountain.
Undoubtedly, one of Bishop's traits that drew Geurts to him was the inmate's tremendous sense of humor.
"It was wonderful," Geurts said, recalling Bishop's regular plea for a good hamburger and Twinkies - things he missed most in prison.
"I wish you could shove a few Twinkies in your pocket and bring them out to me," Bishop frequently told the LDS Church leader. On Wednesday Bishop's request was: "This time don't only bring a couple of Twinkies; bring a whole box."
The condemned man kept that sense of humor to his death.
Bishop quipped to his companion Thursday, "You know what the latest joke is around here about me? Mark Hofmann has got me a reprieve from the governor."
Initially Geurts and Bishop visited only weekly, discussing the gospel and Bishop's desire to repent for his sins.
"All the time he has said, `I wish I could do something to make restitution. I hate what I have done; I am sorry.' "
Geurts said he knows that Bishop's regrets were sincere.
"I have never dealt with any inmate like Art Bishop as far as being a sincere, repentant individual. And I have been through thousands of inmates from Ted Bundy right on down the line," Geurts said. "I never saw anything phony about Art Bishop from the day I first met with him. Not one bit. He was sincere; he was sorry for what he had done, and in fact made contact with four of the five families."
Geurts said Bishop received a couple of favorable responses from the victims' families - responses that gave him some comfort during his last days.
But the letters weren't enough.
Bishop inquired frequently, Geurts said, about giving his life to atone for the blood he had shed. After discussions with church leaders, the prisoner realized he couldn't pay for his own sins. The Savior had already done that for him.
But Bishop knew that by dying he could get the names of the victims out of public light.
"What he felt, and I concurred with him, was that eventually, unless someone makes a film of his life like they did of (ary) Gilmore and are going to do with (ark) Hofmann, time will heal the wounds," Geurts said. "He will be forgotten by the press, and the victims' families and his own family can get on with their lives again.
"What he wanted more than anything else in the world is not to hurt the victims' families any more."
What Geurts wants for his friend, who he grew to love unconditionally, is peace.
"Art was a model inmate; he never gave anyone any trouble, never argued with the system," he said. "There was no hatred at all."
Neither, Geurts said, was there great animosity toward Bishop at the end from the other prisoners, who once condemned Bishop for child killing.
"You know, I never did get along too good with Art," convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner told Geurts. "But you know what? I just have to admire him. I wish I had the courage he did. If I had that courage, I think I would go the same way. But I can't do it."
Another maximum security prisoner, a "hard-core" inmate, told Geurts, "When you see Art, tell him I am praying for him." When the message was relayed, Bishop broke into tears.
Geurts will miss seeing his burly friend at the prison.
"I kidded him about it this week. I said something like, `Saturday I will be down below.' " (eurts meant he would be in Hinckley, Millard County, for Bishop's memorial service.)
Bishop's response was, "What do you mean; I'm the guy that's going to be down below."
But Geurts scoffed at that notion. His Christian philosophy is that he and Bishop will be reunited; will be friends again.
It's also a hope that Bishop carried to his death.
"As I sit down to write this letter, it is difficult for me to express the thankfulness I feel in my heart because of you. Your weekly visits and words of encouragement have been very valuable in helping me to nurture a willing desire to repent and return to the Lord.
"Without your support, and the support of a few other choice people, I would have simply withdrawn into an emotional shell instead of trying to repent. Without this I would have been unprepared to go on to the next phase of life's existence.
"It is my sincere hope that our friendship may be renewed in the next life. I'll miss you. . . .
With eternal love,