Virginia authorities are readying the state's electric chair for what is expected to be the last episode in the gripping five-year story of James D. Briley.
Near midnight Thursday, barring the success of any last-minute legal appeals, convicted murderer Briley, 28, is scheduled to be placed in a hulking oak and metal chair in the state penitentiary here where he is to die from a surge of 2,300 volts of electricity.
It would be the second execution in the state in only six months. On Oct. 12, Briley's brother, Linwood, 30, was electrocuted in the same chair, just five months after the two led four other inmates on a successful but short-lived escape from Mecklenburg Correctional Center's death row.
A third Briley brother, Anthony, is serving a life sentence for murder.
There are 27 other inmates on Virginia's death row, corrections officials said. Three other executions are scheduled in the state within the next two months.
The crimes of both Linwood and James Briley -- who were convicted in separate trials for multiple murders in Richmond in the late 1970s -- and their final punishment have been surrounded by emotional outcries from both opponents and proponents of the death penalty.
While Richmond police are expected to be out in force to prevent a recurrence of a near riot by demonstrators outside the prison last year, the outpouring over James Briley's execution so far has not matched that for Linwood.
Aides to Gov. Charles S. Robb said today that they had received 216 letters urging that Briley's life be spared, compared with more than 1,000 for his brother. Only a handful of letters urged their executions.
George M. Stoddart, Robb's press secretary, said Robb is unlikely to intervene.
"His position is that clemency is an extraordinary power of the governor and he would only exercise it under extraordinary circumstances, such as compelling new evidence or something he discovered in his own review of the case file," Stoddart said.
Virginians Against the Death Penalty, a group that has lobbied against the use of capital punishment, has scheduled a candlelight service at a local Methodist Church here Thursday night before starting a candlelight march to the penitentiary.
"We believe the state . . . should not be in the business of exterminating people," said Jon Klein, a spokesman for the group. "This puts us in the company of South Africa, Iran, the Soviet Union and a number of authoritarian regimes . . . . "
Stoddart said Robb's personal view of the death penalty is that "some crimes are so heinous that it death is the only appropriate remedy."
Stoddart declined to comment specifically on the Briley case.
David Hathcock, spokesman for state Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles, said a task force of assistant attorneys general is standing by "to provide assistance and to go to whatever court might be necessary to answer any pleas," Hathcock said.
Of Virginia's other death row inmates, none has matched the notoriety of the Brileys.
"The crimes for which they were convicted terrorized a lot of people. The community certainly feels it will be over," said Kathi King, a spokeswoman for the penitentiary, who said she was expressing the sentiments of correction officers who live in the northside community of Richmond where the Briley crimes occurred.
James Briley was convicted of the rape and murder of Judy Diane Barton, a pregnant Richmond woman, and the slaying of her 5-year-old son, Harvey Wayne Barton. He gave a final interview to reporters on Tuesday, maintaining his innocence.
A few weeks ago, Briley was married in a cell-block ceremony to a North Carolina woman who plans to write a book about the Brileys.
James Briley's execution will be witnessed by law enforcement authorities and six civilian witnesses, including Richmond Mayor Roy A. West and John Robinson, director of the Martin Luther King Center in Arlington.