Virginia to Execute 7 Inmates in 7 Weeks
By Donald P. Baker
RICHMOND, March 24 – An execution scheduled for Thursday night at Greensville Correctional Center is the first of seven set for the next seven weeks, putting Virginia on a pace to break its record of 17 executions in a single year, established early in the century.
Both opponents and advocates of the death penalty attribute the accelerated schedule – three men already have been put to death this year – to a shortened appeals process and to laws that make it difficult to offer new evidence after conviction.
"We've cut the appeals time down from 10 to 15 years to two to four," said Mark A. Miner, spokesman for Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), who added that Gilmore deserves credit for working with the legislature to shorten the time span during his term as attorney general.
A different view was offered by Henry Heller, a Charlottesville carpenter who heads the 2,600-member Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "Our appeals process is worthless," he said.
Only Texas exceeds Virginia in the number of criminals it puts to death, but even in the Lone Star State, the chances of a death row inmate forestalling the ultimate penalty are considerably greater than those in Virginia.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, six of 107 death sentences meted out by Virginia courts have been overturned or commuted to life in prison.
"That's about the lowest percentage of any state, and certainly the lowest of any state with a sizable number" of death row inmates, said Richard Dieter, director of the District-based Death Penalty Information Center.
In Texas, Dieter said, there are 441 inmates on death row, compared with 36 in Virginia.
Although the person scheduled for execution Thursday, David Lee Fisher, has been on death row nearly 12 years, the next half-dozen convicted killers have had a shorter wait, averaging 4½ years. One of the murders was committed less than two years ago.
Fisher, 57, was convicted in 1987 of killing 18-year-old David Wilkey in 1983 in a murder-for-hire scheme that went awry when Wilkey fell in love with the intended victim.
Fisher ended up persuading a third person to kill Wilkey, in a shooting that they attempted to disguise as an accident on a fishing trip. Police entered the case after Fisher cashed in a double-indemnity insurance policy he had taken out on Wilkey's life shortly before the shooting.
Fisher's appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and to Gilmore include a charge of juror misconduct. A juror, now deceased, said she had been the lone holdout against the death penalty until her husband told her to go along with the others.
Following is information about the other scheduled executions, with information provided by the state attorney general's office:
April 6 — Terry Williams, 43, was convicted in the death of Harris Thomas Stone, an elderly Danville man who was found dead in his bed on Nov. 3, 1985. Initially, the death was listed as heart failure, but six months later, Williams confessed, saying he struck Stone in the chest and the back with a garden tool and took $3 from his wallet.
April 13 — Carl Chichester, 36, of Manassas, was convicted by a Prince William County jury on Sept. 20, 1993, for the murder of Timothy Rigney, 30, on Aug. 16, 1991. Rigney was slain during the robbery of a Little Caesar's Pizza restaurant in the Manaport Shopping Center in Manassas. Rigney was the restaurant manager. Chichester's accomplice, Sheldon Maurice McDowell, was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a 71-year sentence.
April 20 — Arthur Jenkins, 29, was convicted of the murders on Oct. 12, 1990, of his uncle, Floyd Jenkins, 72, and Lee Brinklow, 69, in Warren County. Jenkins had been living with his uncle and aunt since his release from prison a month earlier. During an argument, Arthur Jenkins shot Brinklow and his uncle, but neither wound was fatal.
Jenkins then got a butcher knife, stabbed Floyd Jenkins seven times and shot him in the head. As Brinklow pleaded for his life, Jenkins fatally shot him.
April 28 — Eric Payne, 26, had been on parole less than five months, after serving five years for drug possession, when he committed two murders within a week in the Richmond area in June 1997.
Both victims were women whom he beat to death with a hammer after sexually molesting them. In both instances, Payne asked the victims if he could use their telephones and, after gaining entry to their houses, attacked them with a 22-ounce hammer.
April 29 — Ronald Dale Yeatts, 38, was convicted of the Sept. 23, 1989, murder of 70-year-old Ruby Meeks Dodson in rural Pittsylvania County.
Yeatts and a friend feigned car trouble to gain access to Dodson's house, where they stole Dodson's pocketbook, which contained $700. Yeatts told his companion that he "cut her throat...because she seen my face."
May 12 — Calvin Swann, 44, was looking for money to "shoot cocaine" when he and a companion entered the home of 62-year-old Conway Richter in Danville on Nov. 7, 1992. Swann, who was wearing a mask, shot Richter, who had been sitting at his kitchen table, and fled with $60.
Swann was arrested six weeks later in the Danville city jail, where he was being held on charges of assaulting a police officer during an arrest for possession of cocaine 10 days after the slaying.
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that there was conflicting evidence about whether he is schizophrenic.
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