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Condemned Killer Got What He Wanted, Attorney Says

May 13, 1988

OZARK, Ark. (AP) _ Convicted murderer R. Gene Simmons, who has asked to be swiftly executed, had hoped for the death penalty from the outset and mounted a defense only because it was his best chance to get it, his attorney says.

″We got what he wanted,″ defense attorney John C. Harris said. Simmons, 47, was convicted of capital murder on Thursday and sentenced to die for gunning down two people in Russellville on Dec. 28. He still faces charges of killing 14 members of his family during the Christmas holidays.

After the jury recommended lethal injection, Simmons shocked Judge John S. Patterson by publicly forsaking his right to appeal.

Patterson today set a hearing for Monday to satisfy himself that Simmons is competent to waive his appeal.

If he concludes that Simmons is competent, ″I’m going to set an execution date,″ the judge said.

″His mind was made up from the outset. For weeks and months we have had this bottled up inside of us,″ Simmons’ lawyer said Thursday night.

In a brief statement read to the court, Simmons asked that his execution ″be carried out expeditiously. I want no action that will delay, deny, defer or denounce this very correct and proper death sentence.″

Simmons said that in his case, ″anything short of death would be cruel and unusual punishment. ... I only ask for what I deserve. Let the torture and suffering in me end. Please allow me the right to be at peace.″

Simmons was found guilty of capital murder, five counts of attempted capital murder and first-degree false imprisonment in connection with the Dec. 28 shooting spree. The jury deliberated less than 1 1/2 hours before finding him guilty and another two hours before recommending the death penalty.

Patterson, following the recommendation, sentenced Simmons to die and to 147 years in prison on the other charges.

Simmons is to stand trial in July in the deaths of his wife, four daughters, three sons, two spouses of children, three grandchildren and a child officials said Simmons fathered by his oldest daughter. All had been shot or strangled. Police found their bodies when they searched Simmons’ home at Dover following his surrender in Russellville.

Killed in the Russellville shootings were Kathy Kendrick, 24, who reportedly had spurned Simmons’ advances a year before the shooting, and James Chaffin, 33, described by police as a chance victim. Miss Kendrick was shot at the law office where she worked. Chaffin was shot at an oil company.

Patterson was not sure whether he had the power to set an execution date because Arkansas law provides for an automatic appeal in death sentence cases. Attorney General Steve Clark said he thought Patterson could set the date.

As an alternative, Simmons may be required to get a state Supreme Court order defending his right not to appeal and compelling Patterson to set an execution date.

″If he can waive his appeal, I say let him waive his appeal and go on with it,″ Prosecutor John Bynum said. However, he added, ″in death-penalty cases, it may be that the interests of the state are so great that an automatic appeal will run regardless of what the defendant wants.″

Simmons didn’t plead guilty, Harris said, because ″he felt like his best chance of getting the death penalty was to vigorously defend.″ Arkansas law permits a death sentence only upon a jury’s recommendation.

Simmons’ lawyers rested his case without calling a witness.

Harris said his client ″never intended to survive this ordeal.″ Simmons intended to take his life after the Russellville shootings, Harris suggested, but then did not do so ″because of the trouble he was having killing people. ... He shot seven people - only two of them died.″

Harris said Simmons realized during the shooting spree that he was failing to kill all the people he was shooting at.

″I don’t think he knew that much about guns.″

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