James D. Briley, scheduled to die in Virginia's electric chair here Thursday night for the murder of a pregnant woman and her 5-year-old son, resolutely maintained his innocence today.
"I was not the animal the press has made me out to be . . . ," said Briley, appearing calm and confident at a news conference held in the basement of the state penitentiary here.
Briley, 28, was sentenced to death for the 1979 slaying in Richmond of Judy Diane Barton, and her son, Harvey Wayne Barton, whose bodies were found in their ransacked, bloodstained home. He contended that he was framed.
Briley also admitted for the first time today that he and his brother, Linwood, who was electrocuted last year, plotted for two years before leading four other inmates in a dramatic escape from death row at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center last May 31.
All six were captured.
"I had a choice. I could sit back and believe in the judicial system, so far it hasn't worked for me, [or] escape and possibly help myself," said Briley, speaking into a telephone as he and his lawyer sat in a small, dingy interview room protected by bulletproof Plexiglas.
Prosecutors have said Briley, along with his brother, was implicated as part of a gang in some of Richmond's most heinous crimes. They said he killed Barton and her son in cold blood because he wanted no witnesses to a robbery.
Briley admitted going to the Barton home days after the murders to steal a television. He said he saw the bodies, but did not tell police because as a black former convict to do so "would have been more or less killing myself."
Briley called today's 40-minute interview, attended by a dozen reporters, saying he wanted to tell his story before his death. He also said the real murderers may be moved to confess in order to spare his life.
"I know everyone says they are innocent," Briley said. "Of course I feel sorry for everything that has happened, but to sit here and say I am sorry for doing it is something I can't say."
Briley also defended his recent death-row marriage to Evangeline Redding, 44, of North Carolina, who says she is planning to write a book about the Briley brothers.
Briley said, "It was absolute love or otherwise I would not have married her." He said his wife "cares a great deal about every person on death row."
He said he has drawn up a will, but declined to say what is in it. He said any royalties from his wife's book or potential film rights should go to his family. "Money can't buy you love," he said. "Money can make life a little bit easier."
Briley said the sentencing of blacks to death more often than whites for similar crimes is racist and that his brother's execution last Oct. 12 was a sign of racism in Virginia.
He recalled that a large, boisterous crowd outside the prison included some persons who shouted "kill the nigger" and waved Confederate flags. "The death sentence will never be carried out fairly," Briley said.
Briley said his brother's execution "gave me more courage to fight that I had before . . . [and made me] more determined to live.
"I live in hope. I live in faith. I know I was framed. That's what I'm sitting back there thinking about each day . . . . I want to be remembered as a person who fought for his freedom at all costs."