Child killer John Albert Taylor, strapped to a black metal chair with a white target over his heart, became the nation's first convict in 19 years to die before a firing squad early Friday.
Taylor, 36, was executed at approximately 12:04 a.m. MST at Utah State Prison with a four-bullet volley fired by anonymous marksmen using .30-.30 caliber deer rifles - the type used to execute Gary Gilmore at the same prison in 1977."The execution was carried out without any incident of any kind," said Attorney General Jan Graham.
Utah is alone among the states in offering the condemned a choice of lethal injection or firing squad.
Taylor said he chose the firing squad because it would be costly and embarrassing to the state and because he feared "flipping around like a fish out of water" if given an injection. He also hoped the method would more dramatically underscore his claim that his death would be state-sanctioned murder.
Wearing a dark blue jumpsuit, he was strapped into a steel chair 23 feet from five executioners, a white cloth target pinned over his heart and a pile of sandbags behind him. A black hood was placed over his head.
The executioners - all law enforcement volunteers paid $300 each - fired through rectangular openings. One gun is traditionally loaded with a blank round; none of the shooters knows which.
Prison spokesman Ray Wahl said Taylor was pronounced dead at 12:07 a.m.
At first, Taylor had waited calmly in the deathwatch cell Thursday, downing antacid when he complained his stomach was "doing flip-flops." He ate pizza with an uncle, wrote up his last will and testament and discussed the afterlife with the Catholic priest, Reverend Reyes Rodriquez, who baptized him last week.
Just over an hour before he was executed, Taylor, after singing hymns with two attorneys and Rodriquez, bowed his head and wept as the priest read scriptures. Rodriquez accompanied Taylor to the death chamber.
Like Gilmore, Taylor could have demanded to halt the execution right up until the moment he was strapped into the chair. In fact, a federal magistrate was standing by Thursday night to issue a stay if needed.
But Beverly DeVoy, a freelance journalist who was one of Taylor's three invited witnesses and had corresponded with him for years, said it was the inmate's health problems - an enlarged heart, bleeding ulcers and swollen legs and feet - that bound him to his death wish.
With his deteriorating health, he was afraid would die alone in his cell, said DeVoy, and the only alternative was execution. He made her promise to keep his health a secret until he was dead.
Taylor, diagnosed at 17 as "a remorseless pedophile," was convicted of raping 11-year-old Charla Nicole King and strangling the girl with a telephone cord in 1989.
"They say executing him is so barbaric," said the victim's mother, Sherron King. "Tell me what's barbaric. My daughter was alive (while being raped and choked). He won't even hear the sound of the bullets."
Taylor had insisted he was wrongly convicted. But he abruptly dropped all appeals and fired his lawyer in December, determined to die now rather than spend years confined to a death-row cell for 23 hours a day.
Gov. Mike Leavitt said Thursday the state had an obligation to make the execution dignified and orderly.
"There is nothing but sadness in this event," Leavitt said. "This is the highest penalty that society can exact and the most difficult task government could be delegated."
In Delaware, a killer went to the gallows early Thursday in the nation's third hanging since 1965. Billy Bailey, 49, was executed for the shotgun slayings of an elderly couple at their farmhouse in 1979.
Gilmore was the first person put to death in the United States after the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. His execution ended a 10-year moratorium on the death penalty.
It was during a visit to his sister in Washington Terrace that Taylor entered a neighbor's apartment and attacked Charla Nicole King. The girl's nude body, underpants stuffed in her mouth, was found on a bed by her mother.
Taylor's own sister, Laura Galli, who testified at his sentencing that he had raped her three times when she was 12, tipped off police that he may have murdered the child.
Taylor's fingerprints were found on the bedroom telephone. He claimed he had merely burglarized the apartment, taking $3 from under the phone.
His strategy of requesting a non-jury trial backfired when Judge David Roth found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
Over his final dinner of pizza and Coke, Taylor told his uncle, Gordon Lee, that he was comfortable with his decision to die, but "he said he had butterflies and he didn't know why.
"I said I had butterflies and Johnny said, `It must be the pizza,"' Lee said.
Lee said he tried to talk Taylor into appealing to get a stay of the execution, but, "It's like he told me, he couldn't live my life for me and I couldn't live his."