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Willis Dies In Electric Chair For Killing Police Chief

May 19, 1989

JACKSON, Ga. (AP) _ Henry Willis III, who was convicted of shooting a small-town police chief to death one day before the victim was to leave for a new job, died in the electric chair Thursday night.

Willis, 36, was pronounced dead at 11:20 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center, said Corrections Department spokesman John Siler.

He was given the death penalty for his part in the Feb. 11, 1976, killing of Ray City Police Chief Ed Giddens, 29. The victim’s son, 20-year-old Bill Giddens of Valdosta, said after the execution that he was relieved.

″It’s a burden that’s removed. It’s something I’ve waited on for years. It’s something I never thought would come true,″ Giddens said. Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Willis’ appeal but did not lift a brief stay ordered by a lower federal court.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had issued its stay about 30 minutes before Willis’ scheduled 7 p.m. EDT execution. The court, which did not find merit to Willis’ appeal, granted the delay to give Willis’ attorneys time to file the U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

About 40 minutes later, the Supreme Court denied the appeal. Justices William J. Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented, said spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.

Earlier in the day, Farmer was rebuffed in three different courtrooms. Within hours, a Superior Court judge, the state Supreme Court and U.S. District Court denied a stay. In addition, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles refused Willis clemency.

Millard Farmer, Willis’ attorney, met with the condemned man shortly after the Supreme Court ruling. He said Willis appeared resigned to his fate and deeply regretted the slaying.

″He asked me to be strong and to fight for the rights of others,″ Farmer said in a voice choked with emotion. ″If he could relive that night, he would forfeit his own life rather than take that individual’s life.″

After Willis was led into the death chamber, a prison chaplain offered a brief prayer, laying his hand on Willis’ head. The guards strapped him into the chair, and a black mask was placed over the condemned man’s head.

Seconds later, Willis’ head jerked back and his fists clenched tightly while 2,080 volts of electricity surged through his body. After six minutes, two physicians checked Willis for vital signs and Warden William Zant announced the sentence had been carried out.

In his appeal, Willis’ attorney had argued that prosecutors improperly excluded blacks from the jury.

In February, however, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Willis. The court in 1986 barred prosecutors from excluding jurors on the basis of race, but the ruling was not made retroactive.

Giddens was abducted after he stopped a car matching the description of one used in a robbery. The police chief had planned to leave his post the following day for a job managing orange groves in Florida.

According to testimony, the 29-year-old father of two was taken to a swamp, where he begged for mercy but was shot twice and thrown in.

Willis was one of three men convicted in Giddens’ death. The death sentence of another defendant has been stayed by a federal court. The third defendant was sentenced to life in prison.

Willis was the 14th person executed in Georgia and the 109th in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to be reinstated in 1976.

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