Gary Gilmore, convicted in the double murder of an elderly couple, is shot to death by a firing squad in Utah, becoming the first person to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, in violation of the eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the death penalty qualified as “cruel and unusual punishment,” primarily because states used capital punishment in “arbitrary and capricious ways,” especially in regard to race. However, in 1976, with 66 percent of Americans supporting the death penalty, the court ended the constitutional ban on capital punishment, provided that states create specific guidelines for imposing death sentences. In 1977, Gary Gilmore, a career criminal who had murdered the elderly couple because they would not lend him their car, was the first person to be executed since the end of the ban. Defiantly facing a firing squad, Gilmore’s last words to his executioners before they shot him through the heart were “Let’s do it.”