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After Execution, Gun Found in Inmate’s Typewriter, Lawyer Says

May 26, 1995

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ An hour after killer and escape artist Willie L. Turner was executed, a loaded gun and the handwritten message ``Smile″ were found by his lawyer inside the typewriter Turner had in his cell for years.

The lawyer, Walter Walvick, said the items might explain what Turner meant when he told prison officers before he died Thursday: ``I’m letting you do this to me.″

Corrections officials are investigating. Gov. George Allen suggested the lawyer might have planted the .32-caliber pistol.

``We first have to find out if the allegation was true. At this point, I don’t think you should accept as fact that Turner had a gun in his typewriter,″ Allen said. ``If it is true, then we certainly have a lot of questions as to how did it get in there and why it wasn’t detected.″

Turner, who had been the longest-serving inmate on Virginia’s death row at 15 years, had used the typewriter to write his memoirs. He recounted how he had come within hours of execution three times before.

The inmate got the typewriter 10 years ago, Walvick said. During Turner’s final days in the death house a short distance from the execution chamber, the typewriter had sat on the floor just outside the cell door, within his reach, so that he could type through the bars.

Death-house inmates are allowed typewriters to work on their appeals because they do not not have access to the prison library, where typewriters are available to the other inmates.

William Cimino, spokesman for the Public Safety Department, would not comment on whether the Turner’s typewriter was searched before being placed outside the cell. ``I’m sure that’s one of the things being looked at in the investigation,″ he said.

Investigators seized the typewriter and pistol.

Walvick said Turner had told him to look inside the portable typewriter after his death by injection.

Walvick said he found the pistol, loaded with six rounds, in a compartment behind the ribbon. He said he also found 12 bullets in a plastic bag, and the piece of paper with ``Smile″ in Turner’s handwriting taped to the bottom.

Walvick opened the typewriter in his hotel room with two reporters watching. The lawyer angrily denied he planted the gun.

In his final hours, Turner repeatedly told prison officers, ``I want you to know I’m letting you do this to me,″ Walvick said. With the discovery of the gun, the attorney said: ``I realize now what he meant.″

``If he was this really awful person that everybody said, he could have blown somebody away,″ Walvick said. ``All day long he kept telling me, `I could have gotten out of here if I wanted to. I just wanted you and everybody else who stuck by me to be proud of me.‴

Turner, 49, was executed for the 1978 murder of jewelry store owner W. Jack Smith Jr. during a robbery attempt.

He was involved in three escapes, but none involved his use of a gun. In 1984, he helped orchestrate the biggest death-row breakout in U.S. history at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center, but he wasn’t among the six inmates who escaped.

Last year, Turner was transferred from the Powhatan Correctional Center after officials found a hacksaw and other prison-made weapons in his cell.

Turner had come within hours of going to his death in the electric chair three times before winning last-minute reprieves.

When he began his final round of appeals this spring, he argued that his 15 years on death row amount to cruel and unusual punishment. But the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument 8-1.

In his unpublished memoir, Turner wrote that in 1985 guards took him to the death house the day after a friend, James Briley, died in the electric chair.

``I could see _ and smell _ a box holding the burned, bloodied clothes JB had worn in the chair, wet with urine and crusty with feces. ... The chemical they had used still had not eliminated the odor of JB’s burned flesh.″

The electric chair was Virgnia’s only means of execution until the law allowed lethal injection as an option this year.

Turner wrote that guards went out of their way to show him the electric chair.

``As your date gets closer, the execution squad practices more and more. They test the electric chair. Because it is in the room right next door, I could hear it crack and hum,″ he said. ``I could see the lights get dimmer while the chair was electrified.″

In a statement issued after the execution, Smith’s family said, ``Tonight, we can move on with our lives knowing that _ despite the many delays and frustrations _ justice has been determined and carried out.″

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