At Execution, Woman Comforts Dad's Killer

As convicted murderer Robert Knighton was put to death this evening, the witnesses included his only friend, Sue Norton — the daughter of one of his victims.

Shortly after receiving an injection, Knighton, 62, was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m., prison officials said.

He had been sentenced to death for the murders of Norton's adopted father, Richard Denney, 62, and Denney's wife, Virginia, 64. The Denneys were killed in their rural Oklahoma farmhouse on Jan. 8, 1990.

Norton said she forgave Knighton 12 years ago. She even testified on his behalf last week at a clemency hearing, where the state Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-0 against sparing his life.

Norton, who lives in Arkansas City, Kan., spent the last few days visiting Knighton at the McAlester death house.

"When I forgave Robert Knighton, it was not intended that I would befriend him and become his best friend," Norton said before the execution. "But, you know, just as time went on, that's what happened."

But Norton's forgiving nature almost cost her a sister. Maudie Nichols, Denney's biological daughter, said she believed Knighton deserved to die for his crimes. She refused to speak to Norton for two years after her sister forgave their father's killer.

Nichols also planned to attend the execution. She said earlier that she and Norton had agreed to disagree about Knighton's fate.

"We decided we didn't like not seeing each other, so we came to an agreement," Nichols said. "We just don't talk about the case."

Knighton ‘Accepted God as His Savior’

Norton said she and Knighton did not talk about the case in the days before his death. Instead, they spent his last moments talking about God and faith.

"You know, we've talked about the years in the past, but mainly right now we're focusing on what's going to happen after death," Norton said before the execution. "You know, when Robert Knighton accepted God as his savior … his life has changed."

Before Knighton was sentenced to death for the Denney killings, he served 17 years in a Missouri prison for manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery.

He was later transferred to a halfway house in Kansas City, Mo., where he hooked up with Lawrence Brittain, a teenager on probation for auto theft. They escaped, picked up Knighton's girlfriend, Ruth Renee Williams, and embarked on a murderous crime spree.

In Clinton, Mo., Knighton shot Frankie T. Merrifield and his stepson, Roy E. Donahue, after the group had been drinking together. Knighton, Brittain and Williams drove on in a stolen van until they ran out of gas in front of the Denneys' house in Noble County, Okla.

Norton said her father walked out to the gate to meet them and offered to give them directions. Knighton then went into the house and robbed Denney of $61 and a pocketknife before shooting the 62-year-old man and his 64-year-old wife.

Brittain was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison on each. Williams was charged with two counts of accessory after the fact and received a 15-year prison sentence on each count.

The state attorney general's office had said that Knighton had killed at least five people, and there was no way his life should have been spared.

"Who knows how many people he's killed?" said Assistant Attorney General Robert Whittaker. "We only know of five. He has hurt enough families."

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