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
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.
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
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
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 - DeseretNews.com
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
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
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
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
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
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
"When I first met him, as a much
younger man, he was cocky," Sanders said. "Over time, he has
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
Complete text of Parsons' letter to the Deseret
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
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
Joseph M. Parsons