Saturday, July 14, 2007

July 11, 2007

...It was South Dakota's first execution in 60 years...

Last Meal: Page had a final meal request of steak with A-1 sauce, jalapeno poppers with cream sauce, onion rings, and a salad with cherry tomatoes, ham chunks, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and blue cheese and ranch dressing. He wanted lemon iced tea and coffee to drink and ice cream for dessert.

The skinny: Page, 25, was executed for the torturing and killing a 19-year-old man following a robbery.

It was South Dakota's first execution in 60 years.

More skinny: Page and two other young men were convicted of killing a 19-year old "friend," near the town of Spearfish in the rural west of South Dakota.

The victim was kidnapped at gunpoint, then tortured for almost 3 hours before his death. He was forced to drink acid, repeatedly kicked and beaten, stabbed in the head and torso, and forced to remove his clothing in an icy creek.

His body was not found until a month later.

Upon his arrest in Texas, Page admitted his involvement in the murder. Page later pled guilty, received a death sentence, and waived appeals.

Accomplice Briley Piper, age 19, also pled guilty and was sentenced to death. Accomplice Darrell Hoadley, age 20, is serving a sentence of life without parole.

Last words and such: Asked if he had any last words, Page replied, "No." Asked if he understood the question Page responded, "Yes, no last words."

Factoids: Page was the...

30th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1087th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in South Dakota in 2007
1st murderer executed in South Dakota since 1976

It was the first execution in South Dakota since 1947 when another convicted murderer died in the electric chair. Before Wednesday, there had been only 15 executions in the state, the first occurring in 1877 when Jack McCall was hanged for shooting Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head as he played poker at a saloon in Deadwood when the state was still a territory. Hickok was said to have been holding eights and aces -- poker's "dead man's hand."

Executions are rare in South Dakota because of its sparse population. At about 780,000, it ranks 46th among the 50 states.

Besides Page, there were only three other men on South Dakota's death row, including one of his co-defendants.

Several demonstrators -- both for and against the death penalty -- were set up in a grassy area at the penitentiary.

In the hour before the execution, as the sun went down and the sky got pink behind the razor wire of the penitentiary, the demonstrators and media members grew quiet for a few moments in anticipation.

Near 9:30 p.m., a young woman played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. Groups huddled in prayer, a rosary chorus of “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” piercing the din as the sun set hazy on the horizon. A car whizzed past and its passenger interjected, “I’ll pay for the electric bill!”

By 10 p.m., there were 100 people opposing the death penalty and 10 supporting it.

Of the 38 states that have death penalty statutes since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, only four now have not executed anybody, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Those states are Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York.

June 26, 2007

Last Meal: Hightower, 63, had a final meal request of four fried pork chops, collard greens with boiled okra and "boiling meat", fried corn, fried fatback, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, lemonade, one pint of strawberry ice cream and three glazed donuts.

The skinny: Hightower was executed for killing his wife and two stepdaughters.

More skinny: Hightower shot to death his wife and her two daughters (19 and 22) in their home.

Hightower admitted he had been having marital problems, drinking and snorting cocaine hours before he entered the home. He placed a gun under a pillow in the room he shared with his wife and waited for everyone to go to sleep. At about 3 a.m., he retrieved the gun and shot each of the three victims in the head.

A 3-year-old girl in the house, his wife's niece, was found unharmed.

He was arrested about 90 minutes after the shootings while driving his wife's car.

Last words and such: When given the opportunity to speak his final words, Hightower thanked his family and friends. "I want to say that I'm sorry for the grief I brought to the [victim's family." He also thanked his family and friends for their support over the years. "Last but not least, I thank my mother who stood by me for so long."

He declined an opportunity for a minister to pray for him.

Factoids: Hightower was the...

29th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1086th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Georgia in 2007
40th murderer executed in Georgia since 1976

Dozens of protesters stood outside the prison grounds Tuesday evening.

The execution was Georgia's first in nearly two years.

June 26, 2007

...No joke...

Last Meal: Knight had a final meal request of fried pork chops and chicken, garlic toast and ice cream.

The skinny: Knight was executed for abducting and killing an Amarillo-area couple almost 16 years ago.

More skinny: When the doomed couple returned from work to their Amarillo home, they were met by Knight and accomplice Robert Bradfield, who locked them in the basement. The next day, the criminals drove around in the the couple's vehicles attempting to obtain money.

That night, they bound, gagged, and blindfolded the couple, forced them into their own van, and drove them to a location in the country. Knight made them get out of the van and kneel, and then he shot he shot each of them in the back of the head. He dragged their bodies into a ditch on the side of the road and returned to his trailer house, next door to the victims, and went to sleep.

During an investigation into the couple's disappearance, law enforcement officers questioned Knight, who confessed and led the officers to the location of the victims’ bodies.

Accomplice Bradfield is serving a pair of life sentences.

Knight said he was young and immature, drunk and high on drugs and didn't remember much about the slayings. The victims had complained to him about loud music and loud cars. "I regret so much because they were such good people," said Knight, who grew up in Slidell, La., and was known in prison as the "Insane Cajun."

The joke contest: Knight's told prison officials Tuesday when he arrived at the death house he received as many as 1,300 jokes by mail and from a friend who had set up an Internet site for him that was dubbed "Dead Man Laughing." The effort was intended to boost the morale on Texas' death row, he said.

"I don't think his point was to trivialize it," said his attorney, Paul Mansur, who met with Knight last week. "They've had 17 executions and we're in the 25th week of the year. They see these people go and these are people they know and communicate with. They have a camaraderie together. So it's really just for them."

Up until the final hours before his execution, Knight told prison officials he still planned to deliver a joke, but would not tell them what he planned to say. He said he narrowed the list down and ran a few finalists past his death row buddies to pick which one they liked the best and would deliver during his final statement.

He said his humor effort was intended to boost the spirits of his fellow condemned inmates. “A little bit of levity is needed,” Knight said of the mood on death row. “And it seems to be working. I just want to go out laughing. I’m not trying to disrespect anyone. I know I’m not innocent.”

Although Knight insisted the Dead Man Laughing campaign should not be interpreted as a lack of remorse, some people disagreed. They said his actions are as indefensible as his crime. "It's not a funny occasion," said victim's rights advocate Andy Kahan. "I don't think he'd find it funny if the state decided to pump in 'Another One Bites the Dust' or 'Hit the Road, Jack.' I don't think he'd find that funny either."

Last words and such: "I said I was going to tell a joke. Death has set me free. That's the biggest joke. I deserve this." His voice wavering and appearing to hold back tears, he thanked God for his friends and made a plea on behalf of fellow inmates he said were innocent. "And the other joke is that I am not Patrick Bryan Knight and y'all can't stop this execution now. Go ahead. I'm finished."

Texas prison officials disputed Knight's identity claim, insisting they used fingerprints to ensure the inmate was Knight. "This evening's execution brought an end to an almost 16-year nightmare for a family," Randall County Sheriff Joel W. Richardson, said. "Patrick Knight started that nightmare. "[The victims] will not be brought back because of anything that happened here tonight, but Patrick Knight certainly won't be able to do this to anybody else again... And despite all the hype about his joke, it turns out he's not much of a comedian. He's simply an executed cold-blooded killer."

Factoids: Knight was the...

28th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1085th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
18th murderer executed in Texas in 2007
397th murderer executed in Texas since 1976

June 26, 2007

...Bland was terminally ill and had less than a year to live when he was executed....

Last Meal: Bland had a final meal request of hot and spicy chicken breast, two slices of sausage pizza with extra cheese, a slice of German chocolate cake, a pint of French vanilla ice cream and a Dr. Pepper.

The skinny: Bland, a two-time killer, was executed for shooting his 62-year-old employer in the back of the head.

Bland was terminally ill and had less than a year to live when he was executed.

More skinny: The victim, the former mayor of Manitou, was a compassionate, friendly man who was always willing to help. He hired Bland, who had been out of prison for less than a year, to help him do construction work. He let Bland borrow his Cadillac to visit his girlfriend in Oklahoma City.

When Bland returned to the man's home in Manitou, the two men began arguing, and Bland shot the victim in the back of the head with a .22-caliber rifle. He then took the body to a creek and left it there under some logs. After Bland was arrested for driving under the influence in the man's car two days later, he confessed.

Bland had killed before. In 1975, he was convicted of manslaughter for killing a soldier and kidnapping the soldier's family. He served 20 years of a 60-year sentence.

He had been out of prison less than a year when he was accused of the killing.

The debate: Bland had a fatal case of lung cancer that had spread to his brain, and had undergone radiation treatment and chemotherapy according to his lawyer, David Autry. Bland would have died in six months, Autry said. "It's pointless to execute this guy. He was going to be dead in a few short months anyway."

Though there are no reliable statistics on how many terminally ill inmates are currently on death row in the nation's prisons, Bland appears to be one of the few inmates this close to dying of natural causes to be executed..

His case has outraged death penalty opponents, who argue that the justice system should show mercy to death row inmates who are already dying--an issue that is likely to appear before courts and clemency boards more frequently as the death-row population ages.

The victim's family, victims advocates and the state of Oklahoma have little sympathy for Bland and say his illness should not excuse his crimes. "If Jimmy Bland wanted to die of natural causes he shouldn't have shot [the victim] in the back of the head," said Assistant Oklahoma Attorney General Seth Branham. "He's in the same position as any other inmate from the state's perspective," Branham said. "Capital punishment prevents death by natural causes."

Several other older inmates had tried to avoid their executions based on their old age or infirmities--with little success in the courts. While the Supreme Court -- in some instances -- has been willing to rein in the death penalty as applied to juveniles or the mentally retarded, it has not been sympathetic to claims that executing the elderly or the ill violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Last words and such: “I’m sorry for what happened. I love you all. I love you all,” Bland said looking toward his family members. He then turned to prison officials in the death chamber and said: “I’m ready.”

Much of what Bland said to his family was inaudible because of a defect in the death chamber’s public address system. “

Factoids: Bland was the...

27th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1084th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
2nd murderer executed in Oklahoma in 2007
85th murderer executed in Oklahoma since 1976

June 22, 2007

...Shuler dumped the armored car on a back road without any money to show for his actions -- all of it was either ripped to shreds by gunfire or soaked in blood....

Last Meal: Shuler, 40, had a final meal request of t-bone steak, well done with A-1 Steak sauce, baked potato, french fries, grape drink and chocolate cake.

The skinny: Shuler was executed by lethal injection for the killing of an armored car guard 10 years ago.

More skinny: Shuler had been an employee of Anderson Armored Car Service and had briefly worked with his victims. Shuler quietly and patiently waited under a house for the armored car to make its routine stop at a bank in Harleyville. When it did, he made his way from under the house, pointed a gun at the driver and shouted for the driver to get out of the truck.

Shuler exchanged gunfire with two of the guards before driving off in the van with the victim, who was locked in the back of the van.

The victim apparently did his best to defend himself from inside the truck with only a five-shot revolver versus the SKS assault rifle Shuler was toting. Investigators on the scene said the man fired every shot in his gun prior to his death.

Following the robbery and gun battle, Shuler dumped the armored car on a back road without any money to show for his actions -- all of it was either ripped to shreds by gunfire or soaked in blood. The victim's body was found in the armored car.

Shuler was wounded in the neck before he got into another vehicle and fled.

Shuler confessed to the robbery and murder when questioned by police officers and FBI agents. Following his confession, Shuler's home was searched and physical evidence was found in abundance, including items containing traces of Shuler's DNA, which matched DNA found in blood inside the armored car.

Last words and such: Just after 6 p.m., prison officials pulled back a burgundy curtain, revealing the glass-encased death chamber to the 10 witnesses. Shuler, clad in a bright green jumpsuit, had already been strapped to a gurney,

Shuler made no final statement. On the gurney, he kept his eyes locked on a man Corrections Department officials said was his spiritual adviser. "Amen, amen, my brother," the adviser said to Shuler, then hummed softly as the execution was carried out.

Factoids: Shuler was the...

26th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1083rd murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in South Carolina in 2007
37th murderer executed in South Carolina since 1976

Monday, July 09, 2007

June 21, 2007

Last Meal: Reyes had a final meal request of BBQ turkey legs and BBQ brisket, a bowl of cheddar cheese and avocados.

The skinny: Reyes was executed for killing a ex-girlfriend he stalked before raping, strangling and using a claw hammer to beat her to death.

More skinny: The victim was reported missing after she failed to come home the night before from her waitress job at a restaurant in Muleshoe, Texas.

Authorities investigating the disappearance wanted to question Reyes but couldn't find him, adding to suspicion he was involved. Reyes already was known to local police. A month earlier, he chased the woman around town, took a shot at her with a rifle, wound up getting arrested and was free on bond.

Two days after she was last seen, the woman's battered body was found stuffed under clothing in the hatchback area of her stolen car some 450 miles to the south in Presidio, along the Rio Grande across from Mexico. Her pants and underwear were pulled down to her knees. She had multiple head wounds and a laceration on her hand. Officials recovered a knife and a claw hammer from the car. Authorities found bloodstains in and on the car. An autopsy determined that she had been struck in the head six times by a claw hammer.

Blood evidence found outside the restaurant where she worked led police to believe she was attacked there. Before dawn the next morning, border police questioned Reyes as he was walking across border but had no reason to detain him. Acting on a tip, police arrested him three months later in New Mexico. At his trial, witnesses told of Reyes and the woman having a stormy relationship. A police officer testified the victim had complained about Reyes stalking her two weeks before she disappeared. DNA evidence from Reyes was found on the victim's clothing.

Last words and such: With a big grin on his face, Reyes, 33, had a brief final statement, "I love y'all and I'm going to miss y'all," he said, smiling, but never looking at the parents and other relatives of his victim watching through a window.

Factoids: Reyes was the...

25th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1082nd murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
17th murderer executed in Texas in 2007
396th murderer executed in Texas since 1976

June 20. 2007 after serving less than five months of a seven-year prison term...

Last Meal: Rodriguez had no final request.

The skinny: Rodriguez was executed for the fatal shooting of a woman during a carjacking just three weeks after he had been paroled from prison.

More skinny: Rodriguez was 19 and free after serving less than five months of a seven-year prison term for burglary and cocaine possession when he and a cousin decided to prowl Houston to act out fantasies they'd seen in the movies.

With a shotgun and automatic rifle he had stolen from his stepfather the day before, Rodriguez joined his cousin, James Gonzales, in driving around town looking for a place to rob.

At a stop light at an intersection in Houston, Rodriguez noticed a young woman sitting alone at the wheel of a car next to them. Rodriguez aimed the rifle at the woman and fired one time, striking her in the temple. Rodriguez jumped out of the vehicle and ran over, dumped the woman’s body on the street and drove off in her car, with Gonzalez following. The young woman was a 22-year old who had been working a double shift that night, covering for her sister who was pregnant.

Gonzales, still driving his own car, soon after tried to flee from an officer who was pulling him over for a broken taillight. Fearing he was being stopped for the shooting, he told officers Rodriguez was the gunman. Police then tracked down Rodriguez near his home. The interior of the car and Rodriguez’s pants were soaked in the victim's blood, and her bone, blood and brain matter was clotted throughout his hair.

Gonzales received a 40-year prison term.

Death Twice: A jury convicted Rodriguez of capital murder in May 1991 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction in December 1993 because the jury cards - which determine the order in which potential jurors are considered for the panel - were shuffled twice. Rodriguez was tried again and in September 1994 was again found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death.

He confessed to the killing.

Last words and such: "You have every right to hate me. You have every right to want to see this. To you and my family, you all don't deserve to see this," Rodriguez told the relatives of the victim, as he looked directly at them as they watched through a window nearby. He said he did not write them a letter to apologize because he wanted to do it "face-to-face." "It is the right thing to do. None of this should have happened. I've got a good family just like you're a good family," he continued.

Rodriguez said he hoped that the woman's family could put aside any bitterness because of what he did. "I'm responsible. I'm responsible," he repeated. "I'm sorry to you all. This should have never happened." He thanked his relatives who watched through another window, adding, "We'll see each other again." He muttered a brief prayer, mouthed them a kiss and closed his eyes as the lethal drugs began to take effect.

Factoids: Rodriguez was the...

24th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1081st murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
16th murderer executed in Texas in 2007
395th murderer executed in Texas since 1976

Sunday, July 08, 2007

June 15, 2007

...they held blue glowsticks given to them by the widow of the officer to represent the “thin blue line” he was on the night he was killed...

Last Meal: Lambert had no final request.

The skinny: Lambert, 36, was executed for shooting a police officer.

More skinny: Muncie police officers were dispatched to a traffic accident and observed an abandoned utility truck. The truck was towed and Lambert was found nearby crawling under a vehicle.

Lambert had spent most of the night getting drunk and after telling officers he was trying to sleep, was arrested for public intoxication. He was patted down and placed into the back of a police car driven by an officer for transport to jail. A few minutes later, the police vehicle was observed sliding off the road into a ditch. Lambert was still handcuffed in the backseat and the officer had been shot 5 times in the back of the head and neck. A .25 handgun was found laying on the floorboard. It was later learned that Lambert had stolen the .25 pistol from his employer.

The officer died 11 days later.

A demonstration/re-enactment video was introduced into evidence showing the manner in which a gun could be retrieved and fired while handcuffed. A statement by the defendant was admitted despite his .18 BAC.

A change in policy...When Michael Lambert was set to be executed two years ago, he agreed to let the brother of the police officer he fatally shot watch him die. That execution was stayed.

Since then, a change in Indiana law means he has no say over can watch his execution. It’s a change Lambert doesn’t like. “I don’t think anyone should be given that choice,” he said during an interview last week. “It’s not natural just to come in and watch someone die — not just die, but watch someone be killed. It’s not natural.”

The victim's brother, deputy chief of the Muncie Police Department, thought it was unfair he needed to ask Lambert for permission two years ago. “My brother is the victim here and it shouldn’t be up to him (Lambert).”

Lambert is the second person to be executed under the new law that gives up to eight spots to immediate family members of murder victims.

Last words and such: Lambert was cooperative with prison employees and did not offer any final statement.

Lambert had been given a kitten while on death row, which he left to his son. The kitten was three months old.

Factoids: Lambert was the...

23rd murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1080th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
2nd murderer executed in Indiana in 2007
19th murderer executed in Indiana since 1976

Some 25 anti-death penalty protesters carried signs and banged drums outside the prison’s main gate in the hours before the execution. The Rev. Tricia Teater, a Buddhist priest from Chicago, said she spent Thursday afternoon with Lambert, praying, mediating and chanting. “It is a very sad thing for this society to keep spinning the cycle of violence and creating more victims and more pain,” she told the protesters.

What had largely been a demonstration against capital punishment changed around 10 p.m. Sirens north of the prison interrupted the calm, signaling the arrival of those wishing to show their support for the victim. A caravan of about 30 sport-utility vehicles and marked and unmarked police cars, some with lights flashing, ushered in at least 70 people.

Most were either off-duty officers belonging to Indiana's Fraternal Order of Police or surviving family members of other officers killed in the line of duty. About a dozen were Muncie police officers in uniform.

As they awaited word of the execution, they held blue glowsticks given to them by the widow of the officer to represent the “thin blue line” he was on the night he was killed. As the execution neared, the crowd formed a line along the prison's wrought iron fence, holding the glow sticks in outstretched arms toward the prison.

June 6, 2006

...Griffith was the first ex-officer to be executed since the state resumed carrying out executions in 1982...

Last Meal: For his last meal, Griffith, 56, requested breakfast food including fried eggs.

Note: We know that "breakfast food" is a little vague, but that is the menu the prison released to us.

The skinny: Griffith, a former deputy sheriff, was executed for the murder of a woman during the robbery of a wedding chapel and flower shop.

More skinny: Griffith was a regular customer of the Always and Forever Flower Shop in Houston, operated by the 44-year old victim and her mother. Griffith entered and after placing an order, pulled a pistol and robbed the woman of $400 and credit cards. He then forced her into the back room, made her perform sex acts, then stabbed her repeatedly with a butcher knife.

Griffith used one of the stolen credit cards only minutes after the murder. He used other over the next three weeks to entertain his girlfriends.

Griffith was arrested a month after the murder in a hotel room. Upon his arrest, he was in possession of the credit cards and the murder weapon.DNA testing showed that the knife had on it the blood of both Griffith and the victim.

Griffith also was convicted of two violent robberies involving women — one at a savings and loan office and another at a bridal shop — the same month as the slaying. Both women survived their attacks and testified against him.

Griffith was a 10-year veteran officer of the Harris County Sheriff's Department before his termination in 1993 due to domestic abuse. According to Prison officials, Griffith was the first ex-officer to be executed since the state resumed carrying out executions in 1982.

Leading up to: Griffith never admitted to the crime, but in the days leading up to the execution he asked his lawyers to stop appealing his sentence.

Last words and such: Griffith made no final statement from the death chamber gurney, replying to the warden with a "No, sir" when asked if he had anything to say. But as the lethal drugs began flowing, he whispered, "Please take my spirit to the Lord."

Factoids: Griffith was the...

22nd murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1079th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
15th murderer executed in Texas in 2007
394th murderer executed in Texas since 1976