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Arkansas Executes Man

July 9, 1998

VARNER, Ark. (AP) _ A man who shot and killed a woman as she worked at a used furniture store was executed by injection Wednesday, which would have been his victim’s 68th birthday.

Willa Dean O’Neal’s children watched via closed-circuit television as Wilburn A. Henderson, 56, was put to death.

Mrs. O’Neal’s children had said they were tired of grieving every July 8.

``Today is Momma’s birthday. It’s a celebration in a way,″ Glenda Palmer, a step-daughter, said before the execution. She was selected to watch the execution with four siblings via closed circuit television at the Cummins Unit prison, 65 miles southeast of Little Rock.

Mrs. O’Neal was killed with a shot from a .22-caliber handgun in November 1980 as she worked at the used furniture store owned by her and her husband.

Prosecutors said that before her killing, Henderson retrieved a .22-caliber gun from a pawn shop and returned it to the pawn shop later. Ballistics experts couldn’t prove the same gun was used in the killing.

When asked if he had a final statement, Henderson said: ``Yes sir, I am an innocent man. God forgive you for what you do.″

Ms. Palmer said she was disappointed that Henderson wasn’t visibly in pain.

``I wanted to see him hurt. I wanted to see him fry,″ she said. ``He didn’t suffer. Everyone wants to lay down and go to sleep.″

Henderson was the 17th person executed in Arkansas since the state resumed killing death-row inmates in 1990.

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