DRAPER — Thirty years after gunshot blasts killed convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, a small group of protesters shivered outside the Utah State Prison on Saturday and called for an end to the death penalty in America.

Gilmore's execution was the first in the United States following a landmark 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision that permitted states to reinstate capital punishment after it had been banned.

Gilmore was shot to death by a firing squad Jan. 17, 1977, after being convicted of murdering two young Utah County men: motel manager Ben Bushnell and gas station attendant Max Jensen.

Amnesty International members and other protesters on Saturday braved freezing temperatures to make a public statement about the death penalty with the prison, including the building where Gilmore was executed, in the background. They read aloud the names of those who had been put to death in Utah and also the names of their victims.

Dee Rowland, government liaison director for the Salt Lake City Catholic Diocese, called the event a "teachable moment to ask people to reconsider our position on the death penalty." She said the Catholic Church and its U.S. bishops are repelled by violent crimes, and they extend sympathy and compassion to victims, to people who work in the criminal justice system and to the criminals themselves.

"Standing with the families who are victims of violence does not compel us to support the death penalty," she said.

Instead, the Catholic Church invites people to engage in dialogue and work to end capital punishment.

"We seek to build a culture of life," she said.

Rick Halperin, who chairs Amnesty International's board of directors, said other countries increasingly are abolishing the death penalty while the U.S. stands with Saudi Arabia, China and Iran in executing great numbers of people.

"It's sad company we keep," he said.

Halperin, a Texas resident, believes the death penalty does not act as a deterrent. His state executes more people than any other in the United States, but crime continues to occur.

"America has a right to be safe. America has a right to be protected from violent offenders, but executing people has never been the answer," he said.

Alan Clark, a professor at Utah Valley State College, said support for capital punishment is waning in America.

"Polls in the 1980s showed eight out of 10 people supported the death penalty," Clark said. "Now those numbers are below 50 percent where life without parole is an option."

Nancy Haanstad, associate professor of political science at Weber State University, said those who oppose the death penalty are not in favor of crime but see state-sanctioned executions as part of a continuum of brutality.

"We care deeply about the victims of crime," she said. "Our sympathy is not only for the people on death row."

Students from Juan Diego Catholic High School also took part in the protest.

Claire Cushing, 18, who heads the school's Amnesty International chapter, said the right to life is the most important right.

"Killing somebody because they killed somebody is hypocritical," Cushing said. "An eye for an eye — I just don't believe that."


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