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First Execution Since 1946 Goes Ahead in Delaware

March 14, 1992

SMYRNA, Del. (AP) _ Serial killer Steven Brian Pennell was executed by injection today for the torture murders of two women, the first time a death sentence has been carried out in Delaware since 1946.

Pennell, 34, was pronounced dead at 9:49 a.m. at the Delaware Correctional Center near Smyrna after being injected with a lethal mix of three chemicals, said James Hitchens, a corrections department official.

He had maintained his innocence in the murders, but said he wanted to die to spare his family further anguish. His wife, Kathy, made a last-minute attempt to block the execution by arguing that her husband was mentally incompetent.

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously denied a motion to stay the execution at 9 a.m. today, said spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. Similar motions were turned down by state and federal courts.

Pennell, his arms outstretched, was strapped down on a vinyl-covered gurney in a trailer on the prison grounds. Asked by acting warden Robert Snyder if he had any last words, Pennell briefly opened his eyes and shook his head.

Unnamed volunteer technicians began injecting the drugs. Pennell’s chest heaved and the color began to drain from his face.

Snyder then closed a curtain to the death chamber and pronounced Pennell dead. He reopened the curtain and a Catholic priest standing next to Pennell’s body was administering last rights.

Marlene Simm, the mother of one of Pennell’s victims, was among a crowd of 40 protesters gathered on the prison grounds. ″We got the bastard,″ said Ms. Simm, whose 22-year-old daughter, Michelle Gordon, was killed in 1988.

Prosecutors said Pennell lured his victims into a van with the promise of money for sex. They were bound with duct tape and tortured and mutilated.

He was sentenced to death after pleading no contest in October to killing Ms. Gordon, whose body was found Sept. 20, 1988, and Kathleen Meyer, 26, who disappeared 10 days earlier but whose body was never found.

Pennell already was serving two life terms for his convictions in the torture and mutilation deaths of two other women, Shirley Ellis, 23, and Catherine DiMauro, 31.

Pennell was a suspect in the death of Margaret Lynn Finner, 26, but was never charged because her body was so decomposed police could not retrieve any evidence. Police and her parents said they believe Pennell killed her.

The death sentence automatically was appealed to the state Supreme Court and upheld in February.

Pennell represented himself, urging the court to expedite his execution.

In denying a motion for a stay in New Castle County Superior Court on Friday, Judge Richard Gebelein said Mrs. Pennell didn’t prove her husband was incompetent.

The state Supreme Court agreed. ″There is not a scintilla of evidence to support any claim that Pennell is incompetent,″ the state’s highest court said.

The motion for a stay was filed by W. Michael Jacobs of the Death Penalty Litigation Project of the American Bar Association.

Jacobs argued Pennell was committing ″a foolish suicide″ and an ″irrational act and one which Mrs. Pennell wishes to do everything in her power to stop.″

In June 1986, the state changed its method of capital punishment from hanging to lethal injection. Inmates already sentenced to hang are allowed to choose their method of execution.

Five other people await execution in Delaware. The state does not have a ″death row.″ Instead, inmates are housed at different prisons under various security levels.

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