Convicted killer Earl Conrad Bramblett was put to death last night in Virginia's electric chair, the third inmate in the state to choose electrocution since lethal injection became an option in 1995.
Bramblett, 61, who was sentenced to death for killing a family of four in southern Virginia in 1994, maintained his innocence and said he chose electrocution as a form of protest.
"I hope the SOB's who put me here will never forget what they see," Bramblett wrote in an April 3 letter to a private investigator who had supported him. "If that's revenge, then I suppose it is. . . . But perhaps those who just went along (and any other decent people out there) will be so influenced or affected, they will look into my case."
Bramblett was pronounced dead at 9:09 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt after the standard two sets of shocks were administered, according to Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor. He was the first inmate to be executed this year.
In his final statement, Bramblett said that he "never murdered anybody" and that he would be "going to my death with a clear conscience," Traylor said. He also told his two sons that he loved them.
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) denied Bramblett's request for clemency less than an hour before the execution. The U.S. Supreme Court also denied a request for a stay, and both the Virginia Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court in Roanoke rejected last-minute arguments by Bramblett's attorneys that use of the electric chair amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Bramblett was convicted of capital murder in 1997 in Roanoke County for the killings of his longtime friend Blaine Hodges, Hodges's wife, Teresa, and the couple's two daughters. Blaine Hodges and the girls, Anah, 3, and Winter, 11, were fatally shot in their Vinton home, authorities said. Teresa Hodges was strangled.
Prosecutors said Bramblett killed the family and then set fire to their home because he feared that Blaine Hodges was about to tell police that Bramblett had sexually molested the older daughter.
Sarah Lugar, Teresa Hodges's niece, said yesterday that she planned to attend the execution, along with her mother, Brenda Lugar. Sarah Lugar remembered the Hodgeses as an "all-American family." She recalled that her aunt often made bread and that the children loved the movie "Beauty and the Beast."
"A lot of pain and suffering will die with [Bramblett] tonight," Sarah Lugar said hours before the execution. "Nothing that we are going to see this evening will be any worse than what he did to them."
But Bramblett's attorneys say questions remain about his guilt. In their unsuccessful clemency petition, Jennifer L. Givens and William H. Lindsey argued that the conviction was based largely on the word of a "jailhouse snitch" who later recanted. The petition also argued that authorities disregarded "hints that others had a motive to kill the family."
Prosecutors have vigorously defended the conviction and said the evidence against Bramblett is substantial. In court documents, they point to evidence including a hair belonging to Bramblett that was discovered in the bed where the children's bodies were found and audiotapes Bramblett had made describing his "obsession" with the 11-year-old.
In his April 3 letter to Douglas C. Graham, the retired private investigator who had corresponded with him for years, Bramblett called his impending execution an "assassination."
If the option of life in prison were offered, Bramblett wrote, he would choose to die. "If I have to sign to accept life, I'm out of here. It's adios, amigo. They are just going to have to kill me," he wrote.
Bramblett spent a few hours yesterday afternoon with members of his family, Traylor said. He made no requests for his last meal and was offered the same dinner served yesterday to all inmates: sloppy Joes, boiled potatoes, corn and chocolate cake.
Traylor said the electrical mechanism attached to the state's homemade oak chair, which officials believe has been used since 1908, is tested about once a month. It was tested Tuesday and again yesterday morning.
Bramblett was the third inmate to die in the chair since 1995, when lethal injection became an option for Virginia death row inmates. In that time, 61 Virginia inmates have been executed by injection.
Kenneth Manuel Stewart Jr., who killed his wife and infant son at their Bedford County farmhouse in 1991, was electrocuted in 1998. Michael David Clagett, who killed four people during a robbery, was electrocuted in 2000.