When his defence team prepared to appeal the sentence on his behalf, Gilmore fired them: he wanted to die. There was huge media interest in what was to be the first U.S. execution in 10 years. Although only outlawed for 4 years, there were no executions for a considerable period before the 1972 ruling, when all US states were ordered to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.
Despite Gilmore resigning himself to his fate, and accepting his punishment, protestors were determined to prevent the return of capital punishment, and a stay of execution was granted despite Gilmore’s protests; the civil liberties lobbies in the United States simply had too much political power to be ignored.
The media interest enabled Gilmore to sell the rights to his story for $50,000, which was distributed amongst his relatives. He also tried to commit suicide on 16th November, in collusion with his girlfriend, Nicole, but was unsuccessful.
His execution date was rescheduled for 6th December 1976, but was again delayed, this time by the intervention of his mother, who insisted that he was incapable of acting in his own best interests: he had been on hunger strike since the foiled suicide attempt had separated him from Nicole.
Gilmore wrote his mother a letter, which was published widely in the press, urging her to allow the law to takes its course, and he ended his hunger strike when the stay of execution was overturned. When he found out that it would be at least another month before the sentence could be carried out, he again tried to commit suicide, failing again.
Finally, his execution was scheduled for 17th January 1977, and the media interest was heightened even further. The night before his execution, Gilmore was even contacted by Johnny Cash, who sang to him over the phone, while friends and family, who had been allowed special access, surrounded him.
The likelihood of the execution proceeding seemed uncertain right up until the morning of the 17th January, when the U.S. Supreme Court finally decided that it would proceed as planned.
At 8:00 a.m. Gilmore was strapped into a chair in front of a wall of sand bags, with a black hood over his head. A paper target was placed over his heart to help the volunteer firing squad hit their target. Gilmore’s last words were “Let’s do it”, and the shots marked the instant when capital punishment was reinstated in the United States.
At Gilmore’s request his corneas were harvested for organ donation, and his remains were then cremated, and distributed in three designated areas of Utah.