Monday, August 14, 2006

July 27, 2006

...the three inmates practiced an ancient Norse religion called Asatru...

Last Meal: Lenz had no final meal request.

The skinny: Lenz was executed for killing another inmate.

More skinny: Lenz was serving a 29-year sentence for burglary and weapon possession. The victim, a fellow inmate was a convicted murderer serving a 50-year sentence. Along with 3 other inmates, they held a meeting of the Ironwood Kindred, a group practicing the Asatru religion, a faith based on worship of Nordic Gods.

The guard assigned to watch the group was stationed outside the meeting room. Lenz read poetry and afterward called the victim to a pagan altar set up for the gathering. He confronted the man about their longstanding friction and pulled out a knife. Three other inmates ran out of the room saying, “They’re stabbing him.” The guard immediately entered the room to see Michael Lenz and Jeffrey Remington stabbing the victim. He died as a result of 68 stab wounds.

Both Lenz and Remington were sentenced to death after separate trials. Remington committed suicide while incarcerated in 2004. Lenz testified that he killed the victim for religious reasons. The man had been opposed to Lenz forming the Ironwood Kindred. Lenz stated that the reason that he attacked the victim the way that he did was because he had threatened to kill him twice before and that the fight broke out mutually. Jeffrey Remington had jumped in the fight unprovoked.

The reason why...Remington said in a 2001 interview that he killed the man because he was "disrespecting the gods" and because of a history of friction between them. Lenz said the man blasphemed by "saying that he was teaching Asatru but what he was teaching was not Asatru."

About Asatru...Asatru has been gaining popularity among inmates, say religious leaders and prison experts who believe its roots in Viking mythology attract prisoners seeking power, protection and unity. The gang culture in prison also contributes, said theologian Britt Minshall, a former police officer and Baltimore pastor who ministers to inmates. Some white inmates who felt threatened by black prison gangs formed their own gangs and sought out a belief system they felt would provide additional security, he said. "It's a way of grouping together for safety," he said. "And you have to have a god in the middle of that to really keep you safe."

Asatru is often referred to as Odinism, although some followers believe the two are separate religions. It is a polytheistic, pre-Christian faith native to Scandinavia whose adherents worship gods including Thor and Odin. It emphasizes a connection with one's ancestors and values honor, loyalty, generosity and truth. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people in the United States consider themselves Asatruars or Odinists, said Stephen McNallen, director of the Asatru Folk Assembly, a leading Asatru group. No national statistics are kept on how many inmates follow Asatru. But experts say its popularity enjoyed a boost from the Supreme Court, which last year sided with an Asatru inmate by upholding a federal law requiring state prisons to accommodate prisoners' religious affiliations. Asatru is often associated with white supremacy, although most Asatru leaders bristle at suggestions of such a relationship. A 1999 FBI report on domestic terrorism described Odinism as a "white supremacist ideology that lends itself to violence." "What makes Odinists dangerous is the fact that many believe in the necessity of becoming martyrs for their cause,"

"It's a theology that celebrates raw physical power and domination, and that is why I think it is so popular among prison inmates. The kind of inmate who might be attracted to this is a white man who is looking for justification for extreme violence, who is looking for an ideology which explains why he should be the boss."

The appeals: Attorneys for Lenz had argued that their client's right to a fair and impartial jury was violated because jurors consulted a Bible while considering whether Lenz should be sentenced to death. At least one juror recalled that the Bible passages referred to by the jury indicated death is the appropriate punishment for murder, the appeal said. However, during an evidentiary hearing, the jurors said the Bible did not influence them, and appeals courts had rejected the contention that it violated Lenz's rights.

Last words and such: Lenz gave no last statement.

Factoids: Lenz was the...
32nd murderer executed in U.S. in 2006

1036th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
3rd murderer executed in Virginia in 2006
97th murderer executed in Virginia since 1976

In a field outside the prison last night, four death-penalty opponents held a vigil. They carried candles, and just before 9 p.m., they began ringing a bell that they had brought. They rang it 97 times, once for each person who has been executed in the state since the death penalty resumed.

Including Lenz, Virginia has executed 333 inmates since 1908.