URGENT Illinois Executes First Inmate in 28 Years
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) _ A man who murdered a young couple in a 1983 holdup that netted him $40 for beer was put to death by injection early Wednesday in Illinois’ first execution in 28 years.
Charles Walker, 50, was pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m. at Stateville Prison.
″Tell Jesse and tell Vi that I will see them later. You’re a good man,″ Walker told Warden Thomas Roth as he went to his death. He was referring to Jesse Roth, a minister, and someone whose identity was not immediately known.
The U.S. Supreme Court and Illinois’ high court had rejected last-ditch efforts by death-penalty oppopents and two Death Row inmates to block the execution on grounds the injection system did not meet Illinois law.
Walker, however, had opposed any attempt to save his life, saying he preferred death to imprisonment for the murders of a couple he tied to a tree, shot and robbed.
″I’m guilty. I can accept my punishment,″ he once said. ″I’m sorry I done it, yeah, but it’s done.″
Walker became the 139th person executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed states to resume use of the death penalty.
Illinois, which had not put an inmate to death since it sent a man to the electric chair in 1962, became the 16th state since 1976 to resume executions. Oklahoma became the 15th on Monday.
Walker watched television, saw visitors and crocheted in his cell hours before his execution. Outside the prison, about 200 people held a silent candlelight vigil on a foggy hill. Most opposed the death penalty.
″God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and I don’t think he meant ‘except when the state of Illinois says it’s OK,’ ″ said Mary Ellen Evans of Palos Park.
The case was closely watched by death penalty advocates, including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who praised Gov. James R. Thompson’s refusal Monday to commute Walker’s death sentence.
″I’m all for Walker being executed,″ Daley said Tuesday. ″Think about the people he killed, didn’t they have a right to live?″
Walker had said a thirst for alcohol and money led him to kill Kevin Paule, 21, and his fiancee, Sharon Winker, 25. They were slain while fishing near Mascoutah in southwestern Illinois.
Less than eight hours before Walker went to his death, the U.S. Supreme Court refused a stay by a vote of 6-1, with Justice Thurgood Marshall, who opposes capital punishment in all circumstances, voting to block the execution. Justice Harry Blackmun did not take part in the case.
The Illinois Supreme Court also denied a stay. That effort, filed by the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty, sought to block the state from using tax money on an execution method that opponents say fails to comply with the state’s death penalty law in the mix of drugs used to sedate and kill.
Walker quit high school in Fayetteville and went to Jacksonville, Fla., where his criminal record began with a vagrancy arrest.
He returned to Fayetteville and worked as a laborer until 1958, when he was arrested for participating in an auto-theft ring. From then until 1979, he was in prison most of the time - for burglary, for attacking a girlfriend and shooting at police, for robbing a convenience store.
In all, he has spent 24 of his 50 years in prison.
In 1983, Walker decided to visit a favorite fishing spot, where he met Winker and Paule enjoying an afternoon of fishing along Silver Creek.
Walker said he talked with the couple, then decided to rob them. He said he threatened them with a pistol and began using duct tape to tie them to trees.
He planned to leave with their fishing tackle, the $40 in Paule’s wallet and Winker’s car. But Paule changed his plans.
Paule ″said something to the effect of, ‘You can’t get away with this. I know you. You’re Walker,’ ″ said Sheriff Mearl Justus. Walker shot each once in the head with a .25-caliber pistol and left to buy beer.
That night he robbed a bar and abandoned his car, which held the couple’s fishing tackle and gave police the link between Walker and the murders. Walker fled to Colorado, but was caught and returned to Illinois, where he confessed.