Wootton once said he was through with the death penalty after winning
the capital-punishment case against killer Gary Mark Gilmore.
he saw the body of the 15-month-old victim of cult murderers Ron
and Dan Lafferty and changed his mind.
Tuesday, memorial services are scheduled for Wootton, 65, who died
Thursday of cancer and will be buried in the American Fork City
Cemetery, not far from the law office where he practiced for 42
Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, a former Utah County commissioner, said Wootton
“provided great public service [as county attorney] and was
also well-regarded in his private practice. He served with honor
and distinction and was respected by his peers.”
was in his first term as Utah County attorney when he was called
upon to prosecute Gilmore in two grisly murders. The case would
draw the nation’s first death penalty after a decade during which
the U.S. Supreme Court required states to change their death penalty
easy to be in favor of the death penalty when a pollster from a
newspaper or TV station calls you at home,” he once said.
“It’s something else to see a guy strapped into a chair and
a hood put over his head. It makes you reconsider.”
was executed by firing squad in January 1977 for the July 22, 1976,
murder of Provo motel clerk Bennie Bushnell. He also was charged
with capital murder for killing Brigham Young University law student
Max Jensen, a part-time Orem gas station attendant, the night before
the Bushnell murder.
was disgusted with the circuslike atmosphere surrounding Gilmore
as reporters traveled to Utah from around the world. He was offered
$25,000 to get a picture of the killer on death row but refused
it wasn’t part of my job description.”
had second thoughts when Gilmore was executed, complaining that
even condemned dogs don’t get shot.
softening changed when he walked into the American Fork home of
Brenda Lafferty, sister in-law to Ron and Dan Lafferty, who slashed
the throats of her and her baby daughter, Erica, July 24, 1984,
in ritualistic slayings.
won convictions for both men, and separate juries decided on a death
sentence for Ron Lafferty and a life sentence for his brother. Wootton
blamed the different penalties on a young woman juror who often
held eye contact with Dan Lafferty through the penalty phase of
established his law firm in 1963, where he practiced with his father,
O. Devere Wootton, until the elder Wootton’s death in 1980. The
younger Wootton had served as Utah County attorney from 1974 to
was a well-known attorney and a good man,” said American Fork
Mayor Heber Thompson. “He also was a happy person and devoted
to his family.”
is survived by his wife, Nancy Wootton; mother, Nora Prows Wootton;
three children; a stepdaughter; and two brothers.