Timing of execution sparks vigil
CARSON CITY (AP) – Death penalty foes say the execution of a South African national for the murder of his wife’s lover reveals a flawed Nevada court system and shows the state ”celebrates death.”
Screaming ”I killed nobody, nobody,” Sebastian Stephanus Bridges, 37, was executed late Saturday for shooting Hunter Blatchford once in the stomach and letting him bleed to death in the desert outside Las Vegas.
Bridges, who refused to seek an available court appeal, had claimed his estranged wife Laurie shot Blatchford – but he took the blame out of ”fatal, unconditional love and loyalty to her.”
Bridges’ death by injection for the 1997 killing amounted to a state-assisted suicide, said the Rev. Chuck Durante, who led a protest vigil outside Nevada State Prison.
”For Christians this day is in the octave of Easter,” the Catholic priest said. ”From Easter Day until a week later we celebrate life and hope. And tonight the state celebrates death.”
”This man didn’t seem to be able to represent himself properly and he won’t stop the execution, said Lindsay Dorio of Carson City, who joined in the protest. ”It seems so wrong. The judicial system has failed.”
Bridges appeared calm as he was strapped to a gurney 10 minutes before his scheduled 9 p.m. Saturday execution. But then he broke down, sobbing and yelling, ”You want to kill me like a dog.”
Bridges screamed that prison officials should halt the execution, but finally said, ”I will not stop it.” Had he said he wanted to appeal, even at the last minute, the execution would have been called off.
As prison staffers began the three lethal injections at about 9:15 p.m., Bridges raised his head, looked wildly at the murder victim’s father, who was one of the witnesses, and screamed, ”This is murder.”
Walt Blatchford, who traveled from Tennessee to view the execution of the man who killed his son, stared back at Bridges through a glass viewing window, saying nothing.
Later, outside the prison, Blatchford said, ”I feel no grief over what has happened here tonight. I feel very little emotion over that, very little emotion.”
”There is a somewhat twisted man there,” he said when asked about Bridges’ last-minute remarks to him. ”I didn’t take any of that seriously. I didn’t take it personally.”
Bridges, wearing his brown double-breasted Pierre Cardin suit and shiny, new black shoes, was consoled by his minister and a prison chaplain as the injections rapidly took effect.
Bridges’ minister had often counseled him and his ex-wife Laurie Bridges when their marriage was breaking up.
Bridges asked the minister, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., where the condemned man once lived, to witness his death.
Prison Director Jackie Crawford said Bridges’ last words were, ”You have no justification to kill me. It’s just wrong. It’s just wrong.” He was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m.
”He said I could stop it,” Crawford added. ”But he was the only one who could stop it.”
Bridges spent his final day with his minister. He dined on a final meal of crab salad, shrimp, lobster, mangoes, strawberry cheesecake and vanilla ice cream.
He also met with Michael Pescetta, an assistant federal defender who had tried repeatedly to get him to appeal.
Pescetta was brought from the witness room into the execution chamber twice to try to get Bridges to change his mind minutes before the lethal injections began.
Later, outside the prison, Pescetta – gripping a manila envelope containing Bridges’ unsigned appeal forms – said, ”He died protesting his innocence and the unfairness of the process – yet he was unwilling to stop it.”
Earlier in the week, Gov. Kenny Guinn said he wouldn’t block the execution, Nevada’s ninth since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in the 1970s and the first since 1999.
Insisting in a final, typed statement released Friday that he wasn’t suicidal, Bridges complained of a corrupt criminal justice system. He termed his execution, ”an act of illegal state murder.”
Bridges, who changed his name from Carl Coetzer, even sent word to the South African government to keep out of the case.
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