Three condemned prisoners — one repentant, the other two defiant — were put to death today in a rare triple execution nationwide.
Missouri carried out the first execution today at 12:07 a.m. CT when Gary Lee Roll was put to death by lethal injection. Roll, 47, was executed for killing three members of a Cape Girardeau family during a robbery at their home in 1992. He became the third Missouri inmate put to death this year and the 44th since the death penalty was reinstated in 1989.
Atypical Death Row Resident
Roll didn’t fit the profile of a condemned killer. Unlike many on death row, he didn’t grow up facing physical, emotional, mental or sexual abuse. He was from a respected, hard working Cape Girardeau family. His brother became a top FBI agent in Kansas City.
Death penalty opponents often point out that many on death row are borderline mentally retarded. Roll had an IQ of 125, well above average. And he wasn’t a drifter — he was a Vietnam veteran who dropped out of college 10 hours short of graduation to help run the family heating and air conditioning business.
As he awaited death, Roll accepted his fate and apologized to his family and the relatives of his three victims, Sherry Scheper and her sons Randy and Curtis.
“I failed my family,” Roll said in his final statement. He also expressed his remorse to the Scheper family.
Drug Path to Death Row In an interview the day before his execution, Roll said it was a single, painful event in 1973 that turned his life down the wrong path.
Roll had dropped out of Southeast Missouri State University to volunteer for the Army at the height of the Vietnam War. Stationed in Germany, Roll suffered from six impacted teeth. An Army oral surgeon extracted all six at once, in the process exposing a nerve in Roll’s lower mouth.
The excruciating pain never went away, Roll said.
“It hurts to talk about it,” Roll said. “It affected my life so much. It changed me.”
Roll first sought help through conventional means, even suing the Veteran’s Administration when officials there wouldn’t provide the medication he felt he needed.
Eventually, Roll said he would do anything to relieve the pain, including experimenting with illegal drugs. In 1991, his drug use was a factor in his wife’s decision to divorce him. Through two teenage friends of his son, Roll began to use LSD. Roll said his need to relieve his pain through LSD eventually led him to murder during his fateful robbery-gone-bad at the Scheper household.
Another Execution in TexasIn Huntsville, Texas tonight , a paroled burglar convicted of killing parents and sister by beating them with a hammer claw and stabbing them with a butcher knife was executed by lethal injection tonight.
Jeffrey Henry Caldwell continued to deny involvement in the murders in the moments before his death.
“I still to this day scream out that I did not kill them,” Caldwell said. “I accept the blame for what happened to my parents and only sister but did not kill them or beat them or shoot them.”
In a lengthy statement, Caldwell expressed love for his family and his daughter. He thanked his attorneys and urged fellow death row inmates to “keep your heads up.” Addressing his brothers, who testified against him at his trial, Caldwell said he loved them with all his heart.
“You will have to face the justice of God,” he said. “I can forgive you all but you must ask for forgiveness from God. I leave now to join my parents and my only sister.”
As the drugs began taking effect, Caldwell coughed, gasped and then made a snoring sound. He was the sixth Texas prisoner to receive lethal injection this month and the 32nd this year.
‘Magic Knife’ Confession The three victims were found stuffed in a motor home parked in the driveway of their Dallas home.
Caldwell told police his parents, Henry and Gwendolyn Caldwell, and his 19-year-old sister, Kimberly, had run into his knife during an argument. The statement was remembered as “the ‘magic knife’ confession,” by former Dallas County assistant prosecutor Andy Beach this week. “But he forgot to say he had hit each of them a couple of times with a claw hammer,” Beach said.
Caldwell maintained that his criminal past prompted a jury to convict and condemn him and that the murders were committed by drug dealers he had ripped off.
In late appeals to the courts, Caldwell’s lawyers contended he was incompetent and should not be put to death.
Failed Clemency Bid In Virginia, after a failed plea for clemency, Russel W. Burket was executed tonight for killing a Virginia Beach woman and her 5-year-old daughter.
Burket, 32, was on death row for the 1993 deaths of Katherine Tafelski and her daughter Ashley. Burket’s attorney had sent a last-minute letter to Gov. Jim Gilmore asking for clemency, but Gilmore denied the request, clearing the way for the execution shortly after 9 p.m. ET.
Burket, asked if he had a final statement, shook his head and said nothing.
Burket’s execution originally was set for June 21, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a stay 75 minutes before he was scheduled to die. Eight days later, the court refused to hear his appeal.
Anthony A. Protogyrou, Burket’s lawyer, sent Gilmore a letter Monday seeking clemency. Protogyrou said Burket is mentally disabled and wasn’t thinking correctly when he pleaded guilty to the crime in 1994.
“That was when he was still seeing monsters in his cell,” Protogyrou said in a telephone interview.
DNA Testing Request Burket’s lawyers also asked for a retest of a blue washcloth that was found at the crime scene containing traces of semen. Previous testing matched DNA from the semen to about 8 percent of all white men, including Burket and his brother, Lester Burket Jr.
Lester Burket was questioned by police about the 1993 slaying but was never charged.
Gilmore said further DNA testing was unnecessary, given the previous testing, Russel Burket’s continuing admission of guilt and “his insistence that no one else was involved.”
Burket was convicted in 1994 of using a rusty crowbar to crush the skulls of his next door neighbor, Tafelski, and her daughter, Ashley. He also sexually assaulted Tafelski with the metal bar.
Before his original execution date was postponed, Burket opted for the electric chair over lethal injection because it was “his way of ending a life he hasn’t wanted,” Protogyrou said in June. Burket has attempted suicide several times, Protogyrou said.
“Now he’s having the state do what he’s always tried to do,” Protogyrou said.
Former Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Humphreys, who prosecuted Burket, never thought Burket was mentally ill.
“I always thought he was pretty cagey for someone who’s supposed to be substandard,” Humphreys, now a judge, said in a 1998 interview.
On Pace for a Record
Texas is on pace to execute a record number of prisoners this year. At least seven more condemned murderers are scheduled to die in 2000. Their deaths would top the 37 prisoners executed in the state in 1997.