It was 30 years ago today that Gary Gilmore was strapped to a chair before a firing squad and uttered his famous last words: "Let's do it."

The controversial execution that marked the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States is being revisited in protests at the Utah State Prison this weekend.

"We're mocking it," Terry McCaffrey of the global human-rights group Amnesty International said Tuesday. "It's not that we're glorifying Gary Gilmore. It's time to hopefully bring about healing."

Amnesty International plans to hold a vigil outside the prison Saturday, protesting reinstatement of the death penalty 30 years ago. The group plans to read the names of more than 1,000 people who have been executed since Gilmore — as well as their victims.

"We feel it's important because the death penalty started in 1977 at the prison in Utah and it was the first one after the Supreme Court made executions legal again," McCaffrey said. "It's an important date for us to be mocking."

Gilmore, 36, was sentenced to death after being convicted of the murder of Bennie Jenkins Bushnell, a motel manager in Provo. Gilmore also confessed to shooting and killing Max Jensen during a robbery at an Orem gas station.

Gilmore's execution — and choice to die by firing squad — generated international publicity and international debate over the death penalty.

Currently, there are nine people on death row in Utah. Four of them have elected to die by firing squad, Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Jack Ford said. Those inmates made their choices before Utah lawmakers eliminated the firing squad as an execution option in 2004.

Among those participating in Saturday's vigil will be Alan Clarke, a criminal justice professor from Utah Valley State College, and members of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. While here, the head of Amnesty International plans to request a meeting with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We want to open the dialogue with them," McCaffrey said. "I understand what the position of the LDS Church is, but there are areas of common ground."

An LDS Church spokesman declined to comment on Amnesty International's request for a meeting.

While the Catholic Church has been vocal about its opposition to the death penalty, the LDS Church has not taken a formal position.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regards the question of whether and in what circumstances the state should impose capital punishment as a matter to be decided solely by the prescribed processes of civil law," a statement on the LDS Church's Web site says. "We neither promote nor oppose capital punishment."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com