With a prayer on her lips, born-again killer Margie Velma Barfield died peacefully at just past 2 a.m. today as a government needle pumping a state-of-the art $30 injection stopped her heart.
"It's not fair for you to leave me here with all this misery when you're going to all that glory," her attorney had told her a few hours earlier.
In a candlelight vigil suffused with the old-time religion of her Bible Belt heritage, Barfield's shaken relatives and other mourners smiled through tears and prayed for her.
In counterpoint, a chorus of the victims' families and pro-death-penatly demonstrators cheered for Old Testament justice.
At the end, the woman known around the world as "Death Row Granny" told the warden once again that she was "sorry for all the hurt that I have caused" and thanked those who had stood by her.
As she lay in her pink pajamas in the stark, white death chamber under a blue-gray sheet, the former nurse-housekeeper kept her head turned away from the 16 official witnesses on the other side of the glass viewing panel.
Although she wore her glasses, she kept her eyes closed most of the time and when she did open them, she looked straight at the tan plastic curtain that concealed prison staff members specially trained to execute her.
At a signal from the warden, the executioners pumped doses of sodium thiopental into Barfield's arms, putting her into a deep sleep. Then, they injected two doses of procuronium bromide, a paralytic agent to stop her breathing, which in effect suffocated her.
As the sleep-inducing drug entered her veins, Barfield could be seen wetting her lips a few times with her tongue. She seemed to move them as if in prayer.
Her color began to change from a healthy pink to gray, draining away from a spot in her forehead and working down.
Four or five minutes after her color changed, the prison doctor performed his only role in the drama: after removing her glasses, checking her pupils and listening to her heart with a stethoscope, he pronounced her dead. It was 2:15 a.m. He then drew a curtain between her and the witnesses.
The woman, who by her own admission had watched her four poisoned victims die slowly and in agony, did not appear to suffer in her own passing.
"I was struck by how peaceful it was," said witness Tom Fuldner, a reporter for WWAY-TV here.
The details of Barfield's death were revealed to reporters by Fuldner and three other local journalist-witnesses, including two women, before an encampment of lights, cameras and satellite dishes that had grown up outside Central Prison here.
Barfield was the first woman executed in the United States since 1962 and the first white woman executed in the state. She was the sixth person in the country to die by injection and the second in North Carolina.
In wrangling over approval of death by injection here, one legislative critic charged that the method "sugarcoats" capital punishment. But supporters hailed the method as humane, allowing the condemned "a more peaceful exit." They noted also that while the traditional cyanide execution in the gas chamber costs $104.04 per killing, injection costs the state only $30.12.
As the hour of execution passed, inmates inside the prison held lighted matches to their sealed windows.
The eerie sound of rebel yells and hoots of triumph rose from the few dozen pro-death-penalty demonstrators gathered outside the prison. They carried signs saying, "The law is the law," and "God bless the victims."
Construction worker Douglas Furmage had said earlier, "We just hope the state of North Carolina gives her their best shot, if you know what I mean. She killed people and it's wrong."
On a grassy slope near the prison, the starry points of lighted candles held by some 300 "anti-death" protesters looked like a massive, false firmament that echoed the real one above.
Along with their candles stuck in soft drink cans, the protestors carried signs bearing scripture quotations. "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," said one. Another showed a picture of a needle with the words, "Inject compassion."
Near midnight, Barfield's sister and two brothers appeared suddenly among the demonstrators, attracting a burst of bright television lights. As they spoke in turn, thanking and blessing the protestors for their support, voices in the crowd responded, "Amen," and "That's right," in the rhythm of a revival meeting.
"It hurts, 'cause I'm gonna miss her," said Faye Paul, Barfield's sister, tears streaming down her face. "We hadn't planned to come over here, but we wanted all of you to know that we love you."
"We love you, we're with you," muted voices answered.
"We're victims, too," said her brother John, "double victims because it was our mother she killed and Velma's our sister. It was hard . . . but we understand, we forgive."
Describing his visit with Barfield earlier that day, her brother James said, "I told her I'll see you later . . . with the Lord." He added, "She's not afraid. We went in to lift her up and . . . instead she lifted us up."
Barfield's attorney, James D. Little, a state lawyer who has worked on her behalf for no fee, witnessed her execution. Earlier that evening, as he bid her goodbye, he said, his eyes filling, "I told Velma . . . if I didn't believe and know that when she was executed, she would be joining the Lord, I couldn't witness the execution."
Relatives of three of Barfield's four victims gathered at a Howard Johnson's motel about 100 miles south of here, near her home in Lumberton, the rural community where the murders occurred.
"It's a comfort. It's a relief," said Alice T. Storms, daughter of Stuart Taylor, the tobacco farmer Barfield was convicted of poisoning with roach killer just before she was to marry him. "I'll be able now to go and visit my dad's grave, not feeling like there's unfinished business."
She described Barfield as a "sadist who enjoyed . . . watching people die over and over again, watching them twist in agony and pain."
The fourth victim Barfield confessed to poisoning was her mother.
Barfield's family, including a son and daughter who appeared on talk shows on her behalf, and other supporters had fought a battle for public opinion, arguing that she was in a drug-induced fog when she committed her crimes but had recovered, experienced a religious rebirth in prison and deserved to live.
The families of her victims insisted that she used religious zeal and outward goodness as a mask to hide her evil nature.
One of Barfield's final acts was to donate her organs for transplant. But officials reported that only the skin, bone and cornea were saved for the living.