Va. executes convicted killer who sought death penalty

January 16, 2013

A convicted murderer who killed two fellow inmates while serving a life sentence and vowed to keep on killing unless he was put to death was executed Wednesday night in Virginia.

Robert Gleason Jr., 42, originally of Lowell, Mass., was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, the Associated Press reported.

He was the first death row inmate since 2010 in Virginia to choose death by the electric chair instead of lethal injection. There were no complications. He also was the first inmate to be executed in more than a year. He had one visitor Wednesday: a spiritual adviser.

Earlier Wednesday, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit denied a request by Gleason’s former attorneys to determine whether he was competent to waive his right to federal appeals.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) announced last week that he would not intervene in the execution. Gleason’s attorneys also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to block the execution.


In this Jan. 25. 2012, file photo, Robert Gleason Jr. is escorted into a Wise County courtroom in Wise, Va. (David Crigger/AP)

“This is a bizarre case where the death penalty is actually the sole motivator for the killing,” said John Sheldon, one of the attorneys.

In court documents, the attorneys wrote there was “significant evidence” of mental illness in Gleason’s history, including prolonged bouts of depression and multiple suicide attempts.

Wise County prosecutors declined to comment on the case before the execution, but they wrote in court filings that the trial court had found that Gleason voluntarily and intelligently waived his appeals and had actively sought the death penalty.

Gleason pleaded guilty to strangling his cellmate, Harvey Watson, with a bedsheet at the Wallens Ridge State Prison in 2009, saying under oath that he timed it to coincide with the anniversary of the killing for which he was sent to prison in the first place, according to court documents.

Gleason later told the court that he “already had a few [other] inmates lined up, just in case I didn’t get the death penalty, that I was gonna take out.”

In 2010, he strangled another inmate through a wire fence in a recreation pen at the Red Onion State Prison, a “supermax” facility, according to court records. Prosecutors said he mocked the prison staff as they tried to revive Aaron Cooper.

Gleason also pleaded guilty to that slaying and was sentenced to death in both killings. Gleason was given a life sentence for the slaying of Mike Jamerson in Virginia’s Amherst County in 2007. Prosecutors said he carried out that killing to cover up his involvement in a drug gang.

Virginia Department of Corrections officials said Wednesday that Gleason requested a final meal but asked that officials not tell the media what it was. As of late afternoon, officials said, he had received no visitors. Members of the victims’ families attended the execution.

Gleason was the 110th person put to death in Virginia since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 and the first since Jerry Jackson was executed in August 2011.

Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty planned to hold a vigil outside the prison for Gleason and his victims.

“Gleason’s case demonstrates the folly of capital punishment,” said Stephen Northup, the executive director of the group. “If we didn’t have a death penalty, he wouldn’t have killed these men.’’

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