With the death sentence, Hill was transferred to the Utah State Penitentiary to await execution.
Almost immediately his case became a cause celebre for the Industrial Workers of the World. "Big Bill" Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn spoke at rallies throughout the nation, claiming Hill's conviction was orchestrated by Big Business. I.W.W. newspapers championed Hill's case, calling on "fellow workers" to send letters to the authorities demanding a release of Joe Hill. In response, hundreds of letters, telegrams and petitions flowed to the desks of Utah Governor William Spry and President Woodrow Wilson.
When the Swedish ambassador telegraphed Wilson with his conviction that Hill had not received a fair trial, the President asked Spry to delay the execution pending a full review of the case. Seething at the unusual presidential intervention, Spry offered Hill and the ambassador opportunities to produce any compelling evidence that might change the guilty verdict. The ambassador had nothing to offer, and Hill refused to speak. In one message Hill maintained that he had been denied a fair trial, and that in a fair trial he would not have been proven guilty. He maintained that it was not his duty to prove his innocence.
Despite the calls for additional presidential intervention, including a heartfelt pleading from Helen Keller, Wilson was reluctant to do more than he already had. It was only when the convention of the American Federation of Labor telegraphed a demand for action that Wilson, facing a re-election campaign in 1916, again sought to convince Governor Spry to delay the execution. This time Spry, a Republican, adamantly refused to listen to Wilson, a Democrat.
In one of his last messages from his death row cell, Joe Hill sent a telegram to fellow Wobbly "Big Bill" Haywood. The message would emerge as a rallying cry for workers and protestors for generations to come:
"Don't waste time mourning. Organize!"
Joe Hill was shot to death by a firing squad on the morning of November 19, 1915.