The stakes couldn't get any higher or the outcome more final.

It's law at its grittiest. And in Utah, it's practiced by women.Men may still reign over the legal squabbles that fill Utah courts. But when a Utah jury condemns a man to die, it falls to a woman to see that the sentence is carried out.

Sandra Sjogren saw the death penalty carried out for Gary Arthur Bishop and Pierre Dale Selby.

As the leader of the state's capital case team, Sjogren has prepared briefs and argued in court for the executions of seven other men waiting on Utah's death row.

Death has filled Sjogren's days for five years. She reviews to the point of memorization murder details so gruesome the media leaves them out when reporting the crimes.

She spends each day crafting arguments focused on one result: persuading judges that a man should die.

Sjogren skirts her own feelings about death. A determinined professional, she doesn't think them relevant to the job. When pressed, she will only say, "I'm not opposed to the death penalty. I don't think you could be opposed to it and do this job."

But the work takes a toll on her emotions. Sjogren's team staggers away exhausted from each execution. In the days before Selby's 1987 execution, the team scrambled to prepare for any last-minute appeals.

"If we missed the hour for the execution because of a last-minute appeal, it meant going back and getting a new death warrant."

The team worked 18-hour days in the weeks before Selby's execution, reviewing old appeals to see which issues might be raised again and brainstorming to prepare for any new issues that may be raised in the final hours before his death.

While candles burned outside the prison late Aug. 28, 1987, lights burned in the attorney general's office as the team waited.

"We had a direct telephone link to the prison. The warden came on the line a few minutes before the execution to make sure there were no stays in place and he could lawfully proceed with the execution. We were on the telephone link during the execution. When the medical examiner pronounced Mr. Selby dead, the warden told us over the phone."

Sjogren didn't sleep that night. "I couldn't put it away that quickly. It was very intense and very emotional."

It took days for the adrenaline to ebb and the stress to seep away.

Bishop's later execution was less frantic, because he wanted to die. But the final moments were as dramatic. The stress clung and sleep eluded her again.

After closing her arguments for Young's death Wednesday, the unique stress of a death case will seep away for the last time. Sjogren has transferred to the state's child-abuse assistance unit.

No longer living with the horrors of Utah's most heinous crimes each day, Sjogren looks forward to shaking the jitters that a five-year diet of murder bequeathed her.

"You tend to become distrustful of people," she said. She feels nervous alone in a dark parking lot. She feels a surge of panic when she found herself in a situation that reminded her of the facts of one of her cases.

"I have to battle constantly to keep that down. I wouldn't say that it made me terrified," Sjogren said. Of course not. Those who know Sjogren know that. She wouldn't have allowed her work to terrify her. Any more than she allowed herself to take her job home with her or let the somber nature of her work darken the bright water colors she enjoys painting.

When Sjogren decided to transfer to the child-abuse team, "A lot of people looked at me strangely and said, `Do you think this is going to be better?' " she said.

It will be. As grim as crimes against children are, Sjogren's work holds more hope than it has in the past five years, she said. And less death.

In prosecuting child-abuse cases, she can hope the punishment will change the abuser's behavior, she said.

She missed hope on the capital case team.

Now that Sjogren has left, her colleague, Charlene Barlow, heads up the state's capital case team. In a profession dominated by men, the grimmest job in Utah law continues to be done by a woman.