"Gary Gilmore's Eyes" is an unusual song even for a punk record. Gary Mark Gilmore was born at Waco, Texas, in 1940, and graduated from delinquent teenager to small-time career criminal. In 1964, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released in 1972 only to be re-arrested for armed robbery within a month. In spite of his appalling criminal record and violent behavior in prison he was paroled in April 1976 and moved to Utah, where the following July he augmented two armed robberies with senseless murders, killing first a gas station employee and then a motel manager in quick succession.
As well as being extremely violent and totally ruthless, Gilmore was dumb, and managed to shoot himself in the hand as he disposed of the murder weapon. This led to a speedy arrest, and after an equally speedy trial in what was essentially an open and shut case, he was convicted of the murder of the gas station employee, Max Jensen. In spite of compelling evidence, he was not tried for the second murder, but this was not really in dispute. Gilmore appears to have realized he was an essentially worthless human being, and although pleading not guilty, put up only a very token defense. He was sentenced to death, and while some convicted murderers in the United States spend years or even decades on Death Row appealing their convictions and/or sentences, Gilmore had made up his mind that he wanted to die. He was executed, unusually, by firing squad, on January 17, 1977; his last words were "Let's do it", which is of course a different song entirely
Gilmore's final act, and conceivably the only noble thing he ever did in his life, certainly the
most noble, was to donate his corneas for transplant. Two people received them within hours of his execution; some of his other organs were also used for transplants, and what was left of his body was cremated.
"Gary Gilmore's Eyes" is written from the viewpoint of one of the recipient's of his posthumous largesse; credited to T.V. Smith (ie guitarist Tim Smith), it was released originally on the Anchor label backed by "Bored Teenagers" on August 19, 1977, the band's second release. The song was also covered by the German punk band Die Toten Hosen.