California’s longest-serving death row inmate is executed
SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (AP) – Robert Lee Massie welcomed death, pumping his fist to expose a vein for his long-awaited execution. After 13 minutes, the lethal injection ended his stint as California’s longest-serving condemned inmate.
Massie, 59, had served 28 years, and he was simply tired of fighting: ”Forgiveness: giving up all hope for a better past,” were his last words. He died at 12:33 a.m. PST Tuesday in the San Quentin State Prison death chamber.
Despite a last-ditch plea from lawyers hired by a capital punishment opponent, Massie – known as the ”Dean of California’s Death Row” – said he gave up his appeals to protest the snail’s pace of California’s death penalty system.
California is home to the nation’s most clogged death row, incarcerating nearly 600 condemned prisoners. All but Massie were challenging their sentences.
”I don’t see any use in continuing this charade,” Massie said in a recent interview.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a few hours before the execution that Massie was mentally fit to decide to die.
The Supreme Court also let stand a federal judge’s order requiring the state to show more of the execution process, resolving a case joined by The Associated Press and other media organizations that asserted the public’s right to know about such details.
Since 1996, California prison officials had prevented witnesses from seeing condemned inmates being strapped down and having the needles inserted into their arms. Warden Jeanne Woodford said the point was to protect the executioners’ identity and security. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled otherwise.
The five prison staff members who strapped Massie down and inserted the needles removed their identification badges, but otherwise made no efforts to conceal themselves.
”That was probably the best we could do under the circumstances,” said prison spokesman Russ Heimrich.
Massie was the ninth inmate executed since Californians overwhelmingly voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1978. Hundreds of others still haven’t been provided an attorney for their mandatory first appeal to the California Supreme Court, the initial stop in a maze of state and federal appeals.
At a vigil outside the prison, hundreds of death penalty opponents outnumbered victims’ rights demonstrators. Many prayed and chanted, carrying white wooden crosses and signs that read ”Thou shalt not kill.” One man carried a sign protesting the lengthy appeals process.
Another death penalty opponent, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, also sided with the petition orchestrated by Michael Kroll, a freelance journalist in Oakland who is opposed to the death penalty and who befriended Massie while interviewing him.
Massie, who murdered in 1965 and again during a brief foray outside prison in 1979, spent his childhood in sometimes abusive foster homes. By 11, he was put in a boarding school for runaways. By 17, he was in adult prison for stealing a car, and was gang-raped by four men.
He shot Mildred Weiss of San Gabriel and seized her car on Jan. 7, 1965, during a Los Angeles-area crime spree that involved robberies or assaults on five people.
At one point, Massie came so close to execution for that killing that he ordered his last meal. But in 1972 – the same year the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty – his sentence was commuted to life.
He was paroled in 1978, and on Jan. 3, 1979, Massie killed San Francisco liquor store owner Bob Naumoff, shooting him three times in the chest during a robbery.
Massie’s only personal witnesses Tuesday were his lawyer and spiritual advisers. Victims’ witnesses included Mildred Weiss’ son Ron and six relatives of Naumoff.
”This event was supposed to happen in April of 1965,” Ron Weiss said. ”If that had happened, the Naumoff family would not have had to go through this.”
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