January 17, 1977 – Gary Gilmore becomes the first man executed in the United States since 1967. In 1972 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Furman vs. Georgia that capital punishment was cruel and unusual and thus unconstitutional. Over the next few years the states scrambled to re-write their laws and in 1976, in Gregg vs. Georgia, the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.
Gilmore had had a difficult life and began getting into trouble with the law while still a teenager. At 14 he was sent to reform school and would spend several years in and out of prison. On July 19 and July 20, 1976, Gilmore, now 35, killed two men in cold blood in Utah in separate robberies even though both had done as he had asked. He was convicted, and, under Utah law, had the choice of hanging or execution by firing squad. He chose the firing squad. He was strapped to a chair, and a wall of sandbags were placed behind him to absorb the bullets. Five local policemen stood behind a curtain with small holes cut for them to place their rifles through. A hood was placed over his head. When asked for any last words, Gilmore simply replied, “Let’s do it!” Within moments he was dead. Gilmore had willed that his organs be harvested for transplant and he was cremated the next day and his ashes scattered over Spanish Fork, Utah. Since then capital punishment has been used in 35 states and over 1200 have been executed, more than half of them black.