Three Inmates Executed in Same Day
Undated (AP) _ Three convicted murderers, including Utah’s ″Hi-Fi killer,″ were executed today by electrocution or lethal injection, the first time since the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment legal in 1976 that three people were put to death in the U.S. on the same day.
A fourth scheduled execution was stayed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Beauford White, 41, who stood guard while six people were shot to death in a robbery in a suburban Miami home, was electrocuted pronounced dead at 7:11 a.m. EDT today at Florida State Prison near Starke.
Earlier, Wayne Eugene Ritter, 33, died in Alabama’s electric chair and Pierre Dale Selby was executed by lethal injection in Utah. Ritter had been convicted in the killing of a pawnbroker; Selby, 34, was convicted in the torture-murders of three people during a robbery at a stereo store.
Serial killer Gerald Eugene Stano, 35, who has claimed responsibility for killing 41 women, had been scheduled for execution in Florida at 1 p.m. EDT, but received an indefinite stay from a three-judge circuit court panel to review the issues in the case.
Carolyn Snurkowski, director of criminal appeals for Florida, said the state intended to ask the Supreme Court to dissolve the stay. Stano’s death warrant doesn’t expire until noon Tuesday.
Ritter, Selby and White became the 20th, 21st and 22nd inmates executed in the United States this year, passing the 21 put to death in 1984, the most since the landmark 1976 Supreme Court decision restoring capital punishment.
The last multiple-execution day in the United States came only last month, when there were two executions on July 8, one in Texas and one in Mississippi.
The last time three people were executed on the same day was August 8, 1962, when three people were executed in California, according to Watt Espy, a researcher from Headland, Ala., who keeps records on capital punishment and is often consulted by federal and state agencies.
The pace of executions worried Robyn Cassidy, director of the Florida Clearinghouse on Criminal Justice, an anti-death penalty group. She noted that new policies in Florida are speeding up the process and Gov. Bob Martinez is now signing death warrants three at a time.
″I worry because what he’s doing is flooding the courts and the defense attorneys. I don’t feel the courts will give the cases the attention they need,″ she said.
Wendy Nelson, president of the League of Victims and Empathizers, said today she believed the death penalty was the best punishment for the worst kinds of crimes when it was applied with regularity and dependability.
″There can be no hope of deterrence with the kind of time delays we have now,″ said Ms. Nelson. The man who killed her 10-year-old daughter is on death row in Florida.
At Point of the Mountain, Utah, about 150 death penalty opponents held lighted candles in silent protest as Selby was executed. Nearby, 50 supporters of capital punishment sang mock dirges.
But in Florida, only eight opponents and one death penalty supporter turned out. In Alabama, there was a vigil near the governor’s mansion but no demonstration near the prison.
When White was asked if he had any last words, he shook his head and said, faintly, ″No, sir.″ A black rubber hood was drawn over his head.
The power, 2,000 volts, was turned on at 7:07 a.m. by a black-hooded executioner paid $150. White jerked back in the chair and his hands clenched, then sagged in the chair before jerking back again.
White was condemned for his role in the 1977 shootings of eight people, six fatally, during the robbery of a small-time drug dealer’s home in the Miami suburb of Carol City. White didn’t participate in the killings, but stood guard while the victims were shot.
White’s co-defendant Marvin Francois died in the electric chair on May 29, 1985, while another convicted co-defendant John Ferguson waits on death row.
Ritter was the third Alabama inmate to be executed since 1976. His cohort in the 1977 crime spree, John Louis Evans III, was the first, executed in 1983 for shooting to death Mobile pawnbroker Eddie Nassar during a robbery.
Although Ritter did not fire the fatal shot, he threatened jurors at his trial and demanded the death penalty. Later, he voiced remorse and filed appeals.
As his head was shaved for the execution, Ritter was ″still laughing and joking ... and did shake hands with the guards,″ Prison Commissioner Morris Thigpen said. Ritter declined to make a final statement.
Ritter smiled broadly and gave a thumbs-up sign to prison chaplain Joseph Kolb after he was strapped into the garish yellow electric chair, dubbed ″Yellow Mama,″ at Holman Prison.
A 30-second jolt of 1,900 volts of electricity was passed through his body at 12:09 a.m. EDT and he was pronounced dead at 12:18 a.m, Thigpen said.
Selby, condemned to die for the torture murders of three people during a 1974 robbery at the Ogden Hi-Fi Shop, was put to death less than three hours later. He spent Thursday fasting, praying, singing hymns and reading the Bible, Utah State Prison spokesman Juan Benavidez said.
Warden Gerald Cook said the inmate asked that his remaining $29 be given to William Andrews, another death row inmate awaiting the outcome of his final appeals.
Asked if he had anything further to say, Selby told Cook, ″Thank you, I’m just going to say my prayers.″
Shortly before 1 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time, he was strapped to a gurney in the death chamber and then injected with three drugs to put him to sleep, paralyze his lungs and stop his heart. He was pronounced dead at 1:12 a.m. MDT.
The execution was Utah’s first since Gary Gilmore faced a firing squad in January 1977, ending a 10-year national moratorium on the death penalty.
Mike Spurgin, spokesman for the local chapter of Amnesty International, said state-sanctioned executions violate guarrantees of right to life contained in the U.S. Constitution and the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights.
″It’s not up to the state to take away that right, regardless of what is done,″ Spurgin said.
Advocates said death was the only just punishment for Selby’s crime. Selby had acknowledged forcing his victims to drink Drano before he shot them. One victim was raped and another had a ball-point pen kicked into his ear.
The execution of Georgia inmate William Mitchell, 35, also was set for today, but was postponed until Tuesday so that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals could hear his case.