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Joseph Mitchell PARSONS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - Hitchhiking
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 31, 1987
Date of birth: 1964
Victim profile: Richard Ernest (male, 30)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Iron County, Utah, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Utah on October 15, 1999

Joseph Parsons, 35, was sentenced to die for the stabbing death 12 years ago Aug. 31, 1987, of Richard Ernest, a 30-year-old California man who was traveling through Utah on his way to Colorado. 

Ernest, from Loma Linda, offered a hitchhiking Parsons a ride near Barstow, Calif., unaware the man had walked away from a halfway house in Nevada, where he had been paroled for armed robbery. 

At a rest stop near Parowan in Iron County, Parsons stabbed Ernest at least 18 times and took off with his car and credit cards. 

Police caught up with him after he used the credit card to charge merchandise at a discount store. 

In July, a judge granted Parsons' motion to fire his attorneys, drop his appeals, and expedite his execution.  "I've been under a sentence of death for 11 years and I honestly don't see anything good coming out of it," Parsons told a magistrate earlier this year. "I've made my peace with myself and my family and it's time to move on." 

In August 1987, Parsons, then 23, was hitchhiking outside Barstow, Calif., when Ernest picked him up. That night, as the 2 rested outside Cedar City, Parsons stabbed Ernest at least 18 times, took his wallet and threw the body from the car. 

Parsons argued that he stabbed Ernest in self-defense after Ernest made a homosexual advance. Refuting that claim, prosecutors said the medical examiner reported that the wounds appeared to have been inflicted while Ernest was sleeping. 

On the anniversary of Ernest's death, the 2 women closest to the murder victim said Parsons' execution will help to close a painful chapter in their lives.  "For 12 years he has been able to talk to his family, see his family, and all I have are two dozen photos of my brother because we were together for a short time," Jana Salais, Ernest's sister, said Tuesday. 

Salais said both she and her brother were abandoned by their mother, and it took 15 years to find each other. "My mother left him on the doctor's desk on the day I was born," Salais said. 

Salais, who continues to live in San Antonio where her brother was from, said she plans to watch Parsons die.  "I think my brother would have been there if it had been me," Salais said. "With his death, his family will know how I have felt. I feel empathy for them, but it is still justice. There is a large part of me that will celebrate his passing because it is justice after all this time." 

Salais, who spoke through her tears, said she is not excited at the coming execution but resolved that it will bring closure and bring peace to her brother.  "It is something I have to do. Once he is executed, I will know it is over. My brother can be at peace, and I can get on with my life." 

Salais said she wrote Parsons a letter, which was to be delivered to the death row inmate at the discretion of the warden. 

In the letter, Salais said she asked Parsons a lot of questions, but she is unsure if she will ever get answers.  "I asked him, 'What happened in your life to make you do what you did?  Have you made peace with God? Do you feel remorse?' "

Ernest's widow also has questions. Beverley Thurston said she plans to watch the execution and wants to hear Parsons' last words.  "There is no question I want to be there. I want to see him go in, and I want to see him come out. I really want to hear his last words, too.  I am hoping his last words answer some questions." 

She, too, started to cry.  "And today is very hard day. It is 12 years ago today that it happened. You would think it would get easier after 12 years, but it doesn't." 



Joseph Mitchell Parsons, ?, 99-10-15, Utah

In Utah early Friday, 35-year-old Joseph Mitchell Parsons was executed by injection for fatally stabbing Richard Ernest in 1987.

He spent 4 hours Wednesday afternoon talking to his brother. Department of Corrections spokesman Jack Ford said the inmate remained in good spirits.

"He's doing real well. He's amazing actually," Ford said. "He's real set on doing this and pretty upbeat even. He's not having any problems at all and is determined to go ahead." In July, a judge granted Parsons' motion to fire his attorneys, drop his appeals, and expedite his execution.

"I've been under a sentence of death for 11 years and I honestly don't see anything good coming out of it," Parsons told a magistrate earlier this year. "I've made my peace with myself and my family and it's time to move on."

A walkthrough was held Wednesday to establish a timeframe to transport government and media witnesses and family members of the victim to the execution chamber so executioners would know when to strap Parsons to the gurney where he was eventually executed.

"The only thing we're trying to do is make it so we don't have the condemned man brought in a half-hour before he needs to be and strapped down to the table and lay there longer than he has to be," Ford said. "We want to make it efficient as possible and hopefully painless as possible. We don't want it to have him have a heart attack on the table."

Ford said officials decided it would take a maximum of 14 minutes to transport witnesses from a waiting area, through security checks and to the execution chamber.

Officials also had to devise a way to close a gap in the curtains that screen witnesses from the execution chamber until Parsons was strapped to the gurney and the IVs carrying the lethal dose hooked to his arms.

Parsons spent his final day in a death watch cell watching science fiction movies. He also was to be allowed to shoot baskets in a small gymnasium and walk under the stars.

In August 1987, Parsons, then 23, was hitchhiking outside Barstow, Calif., when Ernest picked him up. That night, as the 2 rested outside Cedar City, Parsons stabbed Ernest at least 18 times, took his wallet and threw the body from the car.

Parsons argued that he stabbed Ernest in self-defense after Ernest made a homosexual advance. Prosecutors said the wounds appeared to have been inflicted while Ernest was sleeping.

Parsons becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be executed this year in Utah, and the 6th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on Jan. 17, 1977, when Gary Gilmore was shot to death by a firing squad in the Utah State Penitentiary.

(source: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)



Execution comes 12 years after murder at rest stop

By Amy Joi Bryson -

Thursday, Oct. 14, 1999

This is the story of the forgotten inmate and the little-known victim.

It is the story about the Nevada parolee on the run who catches a ride with a friendly California motorist and then stabs the motorist, Richard Ernest, to death at a remote rest stop in southern Utah.This is the story of how Joseph Mitchell Parsons, that Nevada parolee, is spending his time Thursday in a death watch cell, alone with a stainless steel toilet, a wooden bench, metal cot and a shower stall. A few minutes before midnight, he'll be led down a narrow hallway where he will turn the corner and slip into a room to lie on a gurney.

If he doesn't change his mind about dying, it is there that four straps will hold his body down; two will confine his arms and two will restrain his legs. He'll be asked if he has any last words, and at 12:01 a.m., he'll be left to die by lethal injection.

Beverley Ernest, the victim's widow, will watch. She says she's not looking forward to it.

"I have never watched anybody die," she said. "Not that I don't think he deserves it, but it will be hard to watch somebody else die."

Her husband, Steven Thurston, will be there to help her, as he has been the past four years whenever it has been tough for her to deal with her former husband's death.

Parsons' scheduled execution comes 12 years after he hitched a ride with Richard Ernest, then later stabbed him nine times, putting a dagger through the man's throat and his heart as the victim sat in the front seat of his Dodge Omni at a rest area near Cedar City. Within 24 hours of the slaying, Parsons was arrested and failed in his efforts to convince authorities he was Richard Ernest.

Early in his prosecution Parsons admitted to the crime, saying it was senseless to continue in the courtroom when everyone knew he did it. During the sentencing phase, medical testimony indicated the victim had no defensive wounds and more than likely was stabbed as he slept.

Iron County Attorney Scott Burns put the case before a jury to determine if Parsons would receive life in prison or a death sentence. The jury opted for death.

In another witness room late tonight, Burns will be there to watch the first man he put on death row be put to death.

For him, it's justice come full circle, and he has no regrets about the sentence handed down nearly 12 years ago by a 5th District jury of six men and six women.

"I think I was able to impress upon them that this was not only a senseless killing, but it was a very cold-hearted, selfish act. The fact that Richard Ernest befriended him and had given him a ride, the fact that they shared a meal together not too long before the murder," Burns said. "It was obvious Richard had confided in him personal things, and with all of that, he not only killed him, but within an hour of the killing, he is stuffing food down his mouth at a gas station in Beaver. I think that gives you an idea of who Joseph Mitchell Parsons is and what he is about."

Burns said he believes that idea is what led the jury to reach the sentence it did.

"I remember telling them to try to set aside the warm confines of this courtroom. We are here with carpet and wood, and we are all dressed nice and on our best behavior, but your job is to smell and to feel and to hear and see what happened on that day, and it was violent, and it was bloody, and it was heartless."

Jonathan Woods, the victim's brother-in-law, will not argue against Parsons' death, but he doesn't believe it accomplishes anything.

"This will never be done, this will never be over because he will never be back," Woods told the Deseret News from his home in Nevada. "The world is less for having lost Richard. I hope, for Parsons' sake, the world will be less for having lost him, but that is not how I feel."

In Washington state, hundreds of miles away, Don Rafuse will listen for word that the execution is over and that Parsons is dead.

"I am not anxious to see people die," he said. "I will not feel happy, but it will be a relief to know the system did persist and prevail."

Twelve years ago, he remembers making the long drive from Washington to California as soon as he heard his son-in-law was missing. He stopped at pay phones in a half dozen cities along the way. Each time, there was nothing new to add to the story.

At Salem, Ore., the call home resulted in a sickening blow and the painful realization Richard Ernest was never coming home.

"At the time it was incomprehensible. We could not understand why anyone would kill Richard, who would be a friend to anyone. In our hearts, we knew whatever happened, Richard didn't instigate the confrontation."

But Joseph Mitchell Parsons did insist it was Ernest who started it all, Ernest who put his hand on his leg and made a sexual pass at him. In a rage and panic, Parsons lashed out with a 5-inch double-edged dagger.

The Ernest family scoffs at Parsons' version of the slaying. "Everybody who knew Richard knew that was the biggest lie in the world," Rafuse said.

Twelve years later, Parsons isn't talking about the crime or himself. He refused to grant interviews to all but one reporter -- a Deseret News correspondent -- and insisted the details couldn't be released until after his death.

There's very little to know about the man.

When he was arrested in Las Vegas at 18 for pulling a robbery, he told Nevada authorities he was an orphan. When he was arrested five years later for murdering Ernest, he repeated the same story.

It's not true. His mother is alive and well in Florida. He has a sister. At Parsons' request, his brother and his cousin will share his last meal with him at the Utah State Prison Thursday evening.

The trio will dine on three Burger King Whoppers and two large orders of fries. Parsons has also ordered in a chocolate shake, chocolate chip ice cream and a package of grape Hubba Bubba bubblegum as part of his last meal.

It's hard to guess why Parsons lied about his family, but prison authorities say the inmate, through his low-key nature, has been intent on shielding his relatives from the notoriety of his crime.

His former attorney, Greg Sanders, said Parsons once called himself the forgotten inmate. A Nevada Parole Board official described Parsons as an "unremarkable" inmate until he fled from a halfway house in Reno the summer he killed Ernest.

Sanders said he doesn't believe anyone is looking forward to Parsons' death.

"There's not a lot of enthusiasm over this. I get the sense that is the system rolling forward, and he gets rolled over."

During his years in Utah, Parsons' mother has visited him infrequently. Prison, plus the years, changed him.

"When I first met him, as a much younger man, he was cocky," Sanders said. "Over time, he has definitely matured."

So has his victim's widow.

Beverley Ernest admits her husband was leaving California because of their troubled marriage. She wonders now if they could have repaired the damage, and it hurts to realize she'll never have answers.

But she also knows she's grown up a lot in the past 12 years, and she likes to think Richard Ernest would have liked the change.

"I think we could have been good friends. I know Brian, our son, would have had a better life. There isn't a time that goes by that I don't think about what my son missed. When Brian graduated from high school, you can't share that pride with anybody but the other parent. Brian doesn't get to see that in Richard's eyes, that he would have been proud of him."

By 12:05 a.m., if Parsons doesn't back out and the procedure goes as planned, Parsons will be dead. At the completion of the three-minute procedure, Utah will have executed its sixth man since 1977.

And Beverley Ernest says she will be able to present a gift to her husband, even though his body is buried in a little town cemetery in California.

"This is the last thing I can do for Richard, it is our last gift to him, to see it right through to the end."


Complete text of Parsons' letter to the Deseret News

Friday, Oct. 15, 1999

My name is Joseph Mitchell Parsons and I am dead. On October 15, 1999 I was executed by the State of Utah. My crime was killing a man who put me in a position in which my reactions overwhelmed my good sense. It is said I "murdered" Richard Ernest but the truth is I "killed" Richard Ernest. Yes, I did overreact to his homosexual advances so I do take some of the responsibility, but not all. If Ernest had not put his hands on me, he would be alive today and so would I . . . then again, fate can be a harsh destiny. A lot has been written about how I never expressed any remorse. The media has portrayed me in numerous articles as cold-blooded. Many false statements and made up facts have been reported by sensationalists. I haven't read one single article that was accurate. The fact is, in retrospect, I do wish I could turn the clock back and change my reaction, and I do regret the anguish I've caused to all those who cared about Richard Ernest. But, know this, I feel no remorse towards Ernest himself as I am dead, in part, because of his actions.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. Does a person deserve to die because of a reflex overruling reason? I guess in my case that's a moot point. My death served only one purpose, to quench the thirst of vengeance. To those who rejoice in my demise, I say be careful, bad karma can rebound ten-fold.

There are many who are asking, "why did he drop his appeals and allow himself to be executed?" The answer to that question is simple, "frustration," in the court system and specifically the judges who are so egotistical they blind themselves to the truth. Magistrate Ronald Boyce delayed making a ruling on one phase of my appeals for over "3 1/2" years. My case is not the exception, in Elroy Tillman's death penalty case, Boyce took over "3" years to make his ruling. The majority of society believe the delays in death penalty cases are the fault of those who have the death sentences, but, in reality, it's the judges who are at fault. It's baffling how incompetent some of these judges are. When the realization hit me that no judge was going to rule in my favor I decided to take matters into my own hands. I'm not like some guys who can sit on Death Row for 15 or 20 years living on false hope. I'm also not someone who would play childish games by dropping his appeals to get attention. In other words, I am not Ronnie Lee Gardner. After being here, in the Utah State Prison, for over "11 1/2" years, I decided to see what's next.

Negative quotes written or said about those with death sentences are by enlarge exaggerated. I wish to say something about the tarnished image of Death Row inmates. Here at the Utah State Prison, for a long time, because of the stupid antics of Ronnie Lee Gardner the rest of Death Row suffered the negative attitude of prison officials. That attitude has changed in the last couple of years. Why, because the fact is the majority of Death Row are model inmates. Yes, our crimes resulted in death sentences but if we act accordingly, following prison rules and regulations then we should be allowed the same justified privileges as other model inmates. Some might say, we should be treated as miserable as possible, even go as far as torture, in that our crimes deserve harsh treatment. Our deaths are not enough for some but that's because those people are not much different than what they perceive us to be. We might be killers or murderers but we are still human beings. To treat us as animals will result in losing ones humanity. Is it worth it? The truth is there are those of us who are not monsters, we do have honor, integrity, and compassion. The problem is most people believe what they read or are told. I'm glad there are open-minded individuals, at the Utah State Prison, who see through the ignorant babble.

I would like to thank Clint Friel, Jerry Pope, Carl Jacobson, Kent DeMill, Eugene Bartell, Don Carpenter, Ron Ortis, Alan Zimmerman, Jason Allison, Aaron Horsely, Darren Ringel, Robert Miller, Roland Senior, Peter Vogl, Louis Poleate, Jeff Hardman, Kevin Arledge, Kirk Moncrief, Curtis McKee, Kim Johnson, Aaron Burdge, Monty Strand, Ron Kelly and the others who's names I've forgotten to mention. Thank you for seeing me as a human being and treating me as such.

Thanks to Greg Sanders for his efforts. I would say thanks to Ron Yengich but I felt it was not earned. To visit me but once, and that was court ordered, in the eight years you were my lawyer is sad.

I am "extremely" grateful to my family who stood by me with unconditional love and support, I've come to learn that family is everything. My mistake was, I learned that lesson too late. All of you, Mom, Eric, Jen, Tony, Dinah, Karen, Johnny, Esther, Olga, Ada, and yes even you Lou helped me in different ways. We missed out on a lot of good times and I'm sorry about that. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives. I love you all and am hopeful you will live long, fulfilling lives.

And to Doug Lovell, whom I consider family, your friendship kept me sane. If not for your constant humor I would have dried up and withered away long ago. Take care and good luck. Goodbye for now, for I'm sure our friendship will transcend our recent parting.

To Beverly DeVoy, thank you for letting me voice my final thoughts. I hope I expressed myself in a dignified manner.


Joseph M. Parsons




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