James Briley Dies In Electric Chair

By Tom Sherwood and Sharon LaFraniere
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 19, 1985; 12:00 AM

RICHMOND, April 18, 1985 -- James D. Briley, who was a member of a gang responsible for 12 killings and who helped mastermind the largest death-row escape in U.S. history last year, was electrocuted in the Virginia Penitentiary here tonight after his last legal appeals were turned aside.

He was pronounced dead at 11:07 p.m. after being subjected to two 55-second bursts of 2,300 volts of electricity. Prison officials said he "just smiled" instead of making a final statement.

A crowd estimated at about 600 had gathered behind barricades a half block from the prison's death row block. At 11:20 p.m., police announced that "the court order has been carried out" and there was cheering and a few racial taunts from the faction -- about 350 strong -- supporting the execution.

About 250 anti-death penalty demonstraters holding a candlelight vigil sang hymns.

Police said there were no major incidents, and fewer than a dozen disorderly conduct arrests.

Seventeen maximum-security prisoners at the penitentiary were involved in a melee early today that prison officials said was an attempt to disrupt the execution. Nine guards and one inmate were injured in the fighting, which broke out about 7:45 a.m. as four inmates, wearing pillowcases over their heads and armed with clubs and screwdrivers, tried to drag a guard into a cell.

"All hell broke loose," said Assistant Warden Rufus Fleming.

It took nearly 30 minutes to quell the violence; some of the injuries were described as serious, but none as life-threatening.

Officials said they had been tipped that a disturbance was likely and it had not affected their plans for Briley's electrocution.

Briley, 28, died in the same electric chair where his brother Linwood, 30, was executed last Oct. 12.

They and a third brother were members of a Richmond gang that was active in the late 1970s.

James Briley was condemned for raping a pregnant woman and then murdering her and her 5-year-old son. Linwood Briley was electrocuted for murdering a Richmond disk jockey. A third brother, Anthony, is serving a life sentence for his role in another murder.

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