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Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman says he did it to get attention

This May 15, 2012 photo provided by the New York State Department of Corrections shows Mark David Chapman at the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, N.Y.
This May 15, 2012 photo provided by the New York State Department of Corrections shows Mark David Chapman at the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, N.Y.

The man who shot John Lennon to death outside his New York City apartment building on a chilly December night in 1980 told the parole board that no one could have stopped him from killing the former Beatle, according to the interview that was obtained by The Denver Post.

On Aug. 22, Mark David Chapman, now 57, on Aug. 22 was denied parole for the seventh time for the Dec. 8, 1980, murder of Lennon. The parole board said that despite Chapman’s remorse for the act, his good behavior while behind bars, letters of recommendations, his release would “trivialize” the murder.

He is serving 20 years to life for the second-degree murder charge.

The interview, released to the media Wednesday, reveals plenty about the man who killed Lennon and his motive.

Chapman, who has been in involuntary protective custody in prison, told the panel he traveled to New York from Hawaii and bought a gun and hollow-point bullets with one goal in mind: to become famous for killing Lennon.

“Why did you target this victim,” the parole board member asked.

“Because he was very famous,” Chapman replied.

“And what did you want to get out of it?” the board member asked.

“Attention, bottom line,” Chapman said.

Later, the board member asked how Chapman feels about that attention now.

“Absolutely it was not worth it. Absolutely ridiculously selfish act to take another human’s life so that I could be pumped into, you know, something that I wasn’t to begin with,” Chapman said. “I deeply regret it.”

Chapman, who has been married for decades and is deeply religious, said he would stay with a minister in New York if he were released. He served 31 years in Attica before being transferred to Wende Correctional Facility — a maximum security prison in Erie County, N.Y.

Chapman also explained the details from the night that shocked and saddened the world.

He had met Lennon, by then a solo musician, earlier in the day. The singer-songwriter cordially and patiently signed his autograph for Chapman while his wife, Yoko Ono, waited in the limousine.

“He was very kind to me. Ironically, very kind and was very patient with me,” he said. “The limousine was waiting … and he took his time with me and he got the pen going and he signed my album. He asked me if I needed anything else. I said, ‘No. No sir.’ And he walked away. Very cordial and decent man.”

Yet even that encounter didn’t change Chapman’s mind.

“There was an inner struggle for a while there, you know, ‘What am I doing here? Leave now.’ It wasn’t all totally cold-blooded, but most of it was. I did try to tell myself to leave. I’ve got the album, take it home, show my wife,” Chapman told the parole board. “Everything will be fine. But I was so compelled to commit that murder that nothing would have dragged me away from that building.”

Chapman said some of the widely conveyed details from the shooting are not accurate. He never said, “Mr. Lennon,” when the ex-Beatle emerged from the limousine to return to his apartment at around 11 p.m. after a recording session.

“When Mr. Lennon passed me I turned, pulled out my weapon and shot him in the back,” he said. “I have read in the record all through, since that time, that I said, ‘Mr. Lennon,’ but I did not say that. I just shot him. It was just me and him in the archway of the Dakota (apartment building) and I knew who he was. I met him earlier that day, and I just shot him then.”

Chapman said he heard screaming. The doorman approached him, crying, and asked him to leave. He grabbed his gun and shook it out of Chapman’s hands and kicked it away. Chapman said he removed his hat and coat, put his hands on his head and began to pace under the archway, waiting for police to arrive.

Chapman said the act was inspired by Holden Caulfield, the main character in the novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” “who seemed to be lost and troubled. And in my state of mind at that time I kind of felt I kind of was him.

“And so that book was like saying, ‘this is me.’”

Chapman said he had a list of other celebrities to kill, including talk show host Johnny Carson and actor George C. Scott. Chapman even got front-row seats to a Broadway play featuring Scott and thought about shooting him.

“It wasn’t anything personal against John Lennon, it was just simply about you and gaining notoriety?” asked the parole board member.

“Absolutely true,” Chapman said. “Nothing personal.”

Chapman said initially when he saw the opulent apartment complex that Lennon lived in, he got angry.

“I got jealous and angry and I guess I needed a way to get those emotions out,” he said.

But as the night wore on he lost his anger. And he discounted that the shooting had anything to do with Lennon’s politics or because he was in the Beatles.

Chapman said he hopes Ono understands he didn’t kill Lennon out of anger.

“It wasn’t anything against her husband as a person, only as a famous person,” he said. “If he was less famous than three or four other people on the list, he wouldn’t have been shot. And that’s the truth.”

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Jeremy Meyer is an education reporter at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.