JOLIET, ILL., SEPT. 12 -- A man who admitted he killed a young couple in a $40 holdup and opposed efforts to appeal his death sentence died by injection in Illinois' first execution in 28 years.

Charles Walker, 50, was pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m. at Stateville Prison. The high school dropout had spent 24 years of his life in prison for various offenses.

The case had been watched closely by opponents of capital punishment, who feared it would open the floodgates on executions in Illinois, where 124 people are on Death Row.

"Tell Jesse and tell Vi that I will see them later. You're a good man," Walker told Warden Thomas Roth as he went to his death. He was referring to Jesse Mathes, a minister, and to his girlfriend.

The Supreme Court and Illinois' high court Tuesday had rejected challenges by death-penalty opponents and two death-row inmates, who contended the combination of drugs used in the execution did not meet state law.

Gov. James R. Thompson (R) on Monday had refused to commute Walker's sentence.

Walker had opposed any attempt to save his life, saying he would rather die for the 1983 murders of Kevin Paule, 21, and Paul's fiancee, Sharon Winker, 25. The couple, who had been fishing near Mascoutah, were tied to trees, robbed and shot. "I'm guilty. I can accept my punishment," Walker once said. "I'm sorry I done it, yeah, but it's done."

He became the 139th person executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed states to resume use of the death penalty.

Illinois, which had not put an inmate to death since it sent a man to the electric chair in 1962, is the 16th state since 1976 to resume executions.