RICHMOND, OCT. 17 -- Wilbert Lee Evans, who murdered an Alexandria sheriff's deputy in 1981, was electrocuted tonight after the failure of last-minute pleas that his aid to a group of hostages taken in a death row uprising saved their lives and made him worthy of clemency.
Evans, 44, who was pronounced dead at 11:09 p.m. in the State Penitentiary here, lost his last hope to live out his life in prison today when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to issue a stay and Gov. L. Douglas Wilder declined to grant clemency.
Evans said in an interview from the penitentiary today that he wanted the family of Deputy William Gene Truesdale to know that he regretted having killed Truesdale during his failed 1981 escape attempt from Alexandria's former jail in Old Town.
"I would like them to get the opportunity to look at everything I've wrote," said Evans, who has composed 700 poems during his incarceration. "My writing would show that I have changed more than they can imagine -- to a person that's concerned about other human beings, respecting of human life, remorseful for the crime I committed and the hardship I caused."
The Supreme Court turned down Evans's appeal at 7:30 p.m., with capital punishment foe Justice Thurgood Marshall the lone dissenter. That left Gov. Wilder as the condemned man's last hope. The governor's office said a statement would be issued only if Wilder commuted the death sentence. There was no word from Wilder before the sentence was carried out.
Bart Stapert, an official of a coalition of death penalty opponents, said Evans told him a few minutes before the execution: "I am taking Justice Marshall's dissenting opinion with me to the electric chair and to my grave. To the Truesdale family, I am dead and they don't have to hate me anymore. I am sorry to have caused all the hardship."
Evans was the 10th convicted killer executed in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. No Virginia governor has commuted a death sentence during that period.
In ending Evans's last judicial appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it cannot interfere with the right of state juries to sentence criminals, nor can it compromise a governor's power to grant clemency.
Evans's battle to avoid the electric chair gained unusual public attention because he had helped save 14 prison employees during a mass escape from the Mecklenburg Correctional Center, where condemned prisoners are kept pending the outcome of their appeals or their execution at the penitentiary here.
His supporters, including a former corrections administrator, said the incident showed he had become rehabilitated in the years since he had been sentenced to death.
A handful of members of the Virginia Association to Abolish the Death Penalty began a hunger strike Tuesday night in sympathy for Evans. Other civil rights groups gathered on Evans's behalf near the penitentiary tonight.
Evans, from Raleigh, N.C., was sentenced to death for shooting Deputy Truesdale during an attempted jail break. Testimony during Evans's trial showed that Evans stripped away Truesdale's weapon, shot the officer and fled through a broken gate at Alexandria's former Old Town jailhouse.
Evans claimed he accidentally shot Truesdale as he tried to shoot off his handcuffs. City law enforcement officials argue that Evans, in custody at the time for suspicion of murder in a North Carolina case, planned all along to attempt an escape and would have slain a second officer that day had the gun not misfired when he aimed it at a policeman.
Zita Truesdale, the deputy's widow, said in a phone interview after Evans's death, "We accepted his apology and our sympathy goes out to his family. Things are never right in a situation like this. It's just closing a chapter on a life. From here, life goes on. We can now mentally bury my husband."
Evans's attorneys presented a letter to Wilder today that included excerpts from interviews conducted with the hostages immediately after the 1984 incident.
Arthur F. Mathews, one of the attorneys, said material was withheld by correctional administrators for several years and reconfirms Evans's version of the Mecklenburg events.
Officer James Fitts reported at the time that one of the inmates "made a statement that he was going to kill all the guards," but Evans helped talk him out of it.
Mathews said today, "No human being could read this letter and see what the guards and what the nurses told the state investigators shortly after their release and not be overwhelmed with the conclusion that Wilbert Evans should be spared."
Evans received a brief stay Saturday when U.S. District Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr. in Richmond ruled that a hearing should be held to determine if Evans's sentence should be reduced because of his actions at Mecklenburg.
Alexandria Sheriff James Dunning, who says he is opposed to capital punishment, was one of the 10 witnesses at the execution. He said the Truesdale family "deserve to have somebody there representing them, as well as the deputies in this office."
Though he opposes the death penalty, Dunning made clear that his belief is in no way "derived from sympathy for ruthless, cold-blooded killers like Mr. Evans."