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Former Utah Attorney General Robert B. Hansen died Christmas Day at age 80, forever linked to double-murderer Gary Gilmore and the nation's return to the death penalty.

Colleagues remembered Hansen this week as an energetic lawyer and prosecutor who often took stands without weighing political consequences.

He's also remembered as a family man - he and wife Jean had five children - and a religious leader who served as bishop of his LDS ward.

But Hansen's hallmark will be that he worked overtime for the execution of Gilmore, a self-described killer who wanted to die for his crimes.

In January 1977, shortly after he was elected to the state's top law-enforcement post, Hansen made national headlines for a marathon federal court battle that culminated in Gilmore's execution.

"That will be his legacy, for better or ill," said his son William Hansen on Thursday. "I like to think of him as a guy who did the right thing no matter what the consequences."

The late attorney general also took on special interests, his son said.

"He wasn't a very good politician in the sense that he wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers."

But his former chief deputy at the A.G.'s office, Salt Lake City-based attorney Mike Deamer, said Hansen was an energetic man who had a bit of Don Quixote in him.

"I remember him as a great man who was a compassionate person," Deamer said. "He would jump into a fray without thinking too much about it. And sometimes it got him in trouble. He wouldn't pass up a chance to tilt at windmills."

Hansen had campaigned for the Attorney General's Office on capital punishment and was determined to see Gilmore's execution through. He is among the players immortalized in Norman Mailer's book The Executioner's Song, where the author described Hansen as "a well-built, good-looking right-winger, dark hair, glasses, sort of Republican cabinet material - a Clark Kent character."

Deamer remembers Gilmore's refusal to appeal his death sentence as a man "thumbing his nose at the state, essentially saying we didn't have the guts to execute him."

Hansen proved him wrong.

Gilmore died by firing squad at the Utah State Prison on Jan. 17, 1977 at 8:07 a.m., barely minutes after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rescinded a stay by Utah's U.S. District Judge Willis Ritter.

Ritter had issued the stay at 1 a.m. that morning. Hansen and his team boarded a plane for Denver at 4 a.m. and, at 6 a.m., began arguing for the execution before the 10th Circuit panel.

Gilmore was the first person to be executed after the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Furman v. Georgia that invalidated state death-penalty statutes. Prior to his execution no one had been put to death in the United States for more than a decade.

Earl Dorius, a member of the Attorney General's criminal division, recalled Hansen's 48-hour push to get Gilmore executed under Utah's new capital-punishment law.

"Bob was a very tenacious guy. He was a very hands-on kind of guy."

The prosecution team was drained following the Denver court's ruling, but Hansen kept his deputies awake on the flight home discussing upcoming issues.

"We were all just beat, but Bob wanted to talk shop," Dorius recalled. "We were all zombies, thinking, 'Won't he give us a rest?' "

Hansen also kept news reporters on their toes, providing reams of headlines.

For example, Hansen ran afoul of the Utah State Bar Association and it called for his disbarment shortly after he was elected. The flap, which started with his failure to pay bar dues, made a lot of headlines. Eventually the Utah Supreme Court refused to disbar the sitting attorney general, although it did give him a wrist-slapping.

After being ousted in 1980 by fellow Republican David L. Wilkinson, Hansen sued to get back the deputy attorney general job that he had held for eight years before being elected. The Utah Supreme Court denied him.

Hansen also unsuccessfully sued former Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon for defamation of character, and he once was cited by a 3rd District judge for interfering with a jury during an obscenity case.

But none of it seemed to slow him down.

After leaving public office, Hansen continued through the early 1990s in private practice and represented various causes.

At age 70, Hansen ran a 26-mile marathon.

"That was one of his goals," he son recalled. "That was the kind of guy he was."

Robert Hansen

1925-2005

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