UTAH STATE PRISON -- Strapped to a gurney and just minutes from being executed, a flippant Joseph Mitchell Parsons called himself a "warrior," boasting of murdering his victim 12 years ago.
"Love to my family and friends. And Woody, the rainbow warrior rules. Thank you."With that, Utah State Prison warden Hank Galetka gave the signal for two paramedics to inject the lethal chemicals that dripped through an IV into Parsons' body. Galetka backed away, standing at Parsons' left side as the death quietly unfolded. Parsons never flinched, lying there quietly, peacefully, as his breathing slowed.
A white paper sheet that covered a portion of his body moved slightly as he inhaled, and then stopped.
Within eight minutes and after a stethoscope detected no heart beat, the convicted killer was pronounced dead. The sheet was lifted over his face. The curtains in the witness rooms were closed and Utah's first execution in three years was concluded.
Parsons' last words, which came at 12:08 a.m. today, were a final communication to fellow death row inmate Doug Lovell, nicknamed "Woody." The two were close friends.
The word "rainbow," in the context Parsons used, was referring to the gay community.
"He views himself as a rainbow warrior," prison spokesman Jack Ford said. "He was referring to the victim."
Parsons long maintained he stabbed Richard Ernest on Aug. 31, 1987, at least nine times because the California motorist made a sexual pass at him. Ernest's widow, Beverley, said her husband wasn't a homosexual.
In a letter Parsons wrote to the Deseret News to be released only after his death, the 35-year-old man detailed his feelings about the crime and his time on death row (see related story).
"It is said I 'murdered' Richard Ernest, but the truth is I 'killed' Richard Ernest. . . . I do regret the anguish I've caused to all those who cared about Richard Ernest. But, know this, I feel no remorse toward Ernest himself as I am dead, in part, because of his actions." Parsons rejected being described as "cold-blooded" and said his own death was pointless.
"If you ask those who know me, the idea of me being a cold-blooded murderer is utterly ridiculous. The evidence used to kill me does have inconsistencies, and the truth was clouded by indifference. . . . My death served only one purpose, to quench the thirst of vengeance."
Nearly 12 years ago, and five months into his prosecution, Parsons surprised Iron County Attorney Scott Burns by asserting the stabbing happened after Ernest put "hands" on him in the close confines of a car.
Medical evidence contradicted Parsons' story, indicating Ernest, who offered the hitchhiking Parsons a ride, was more than likely stabbed as he slept, suffering a six-inch wound to the heart and four-inch wound to his throat. His body was found dumped alongside I-15 near Cedar City.
"It wasn't fair. The way he died, it was not fair," Janet Salais, Ernest's sister, said after viewing the execution. "He took the easy way. He just laid there and went to sleep."
Parsons became the fourth man in Utah to die by lethal injection since the U.S. Supreme Court's ban on executions was lifted in 1976.
His death came quickly, not only as he lay strapped to a tan gurney in front of about 25 witnesses but because he cut short his appeals, telling a U.S. magistrate this summer he wanted to die.
Today he got his death wish, and Beverley Ernest says she believes she will be able to close this ugly chapter in her life.
"I think our life as a family is solidifying," she said afterward. "I think this brings a sense of feeling it is over, of not having to worry about Parsons anymore."
Ernest said she was not surprised at Parsons' last disparaging remark directed at her former husband, adding she never expected to witness any remorse by the killer.
"It wouldn't have made it any easier; he still did it. I'm sorry doesn't bring anything back," she said. "And I don't feel sorry for him. I get very angry when other people judge. I think Joseph Parsons decided his fate when he stabbed Richard the very first time."
Although she was reluctant to come to Utah, she said she was less fearful about viewing the execution than reliving the memories rekindled by her return here.
"It brings all of it back. You rehearse and go over and over it again. It opens the wound every time."
She, like Salais, was dismayed at what she described as Parsons' sterile, painless death.
"Richard was brutally murdered. Parsons was just anesthetized, put to sleep, it is not the same."
Parsons' death, she says, brings her peace, but not in the way it happened.
"You don't want to sound cold-blooded," she said, "but Parsons went in for a medical procedure, and Richard got murdered."