Virginia set to execute inmate who opted for electric chair

PORTSMOUTH, Va. Tue Jan 15, 2013 6:09pm EST

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. Jan 15 (Reuters) - Virginia plans to use its electric chair on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three years to execute an inmate who pleaded guilty to two prison murders and threatened to continue killing until he received the death penalty.

Robert Charles Gleason Jr., 42, chose electrocution over lethal injection, the more commonly used method to carry out executions in the United States. Virginia last used the electric chair in March 2010.

Gleason waived appeals and volunteered to be executed over the objections of his former court-appointed attorneys, who argue that his time spent in solitary confinement while on death row has left him unable to make rational decisions.

State and federal courts have so far rejected efforts by the attorneys to halt the execution and have Gleason ruled mentally incompetent. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said last week he would not intervene.

"Gleason has expressed no remorse for these horrific murders," McDonnell said in a statement on Friday. "He has been found competent by the appropriate courts to make all of these decisions."

Gleason was serving life in prison without parole for a 2007 murder when he admitted to using strips from bed sheets to bind and strangle fellow inmate Harvey Watson, 63, at Virginia's Wallens Ridge State Prison in May 2009.

Gleason told authorities he timed that murder for the second anniversary of his earlier homicide, according to court records.

He said he was able to tie Watson's hands without a struggle by saying it was part of an escape plan. He taunted Watson before he strangled him by pressing a urine-soaked sponge onto his face and a sock into his mouth, court records said.

ANOTHER STRANGULATION

While awaiting sentencing, Gleason attacked another inmate in July 2010 at the super maximum-security Red Onion State Prison, court records said.

Gleason said he asked Aaron A. Cooper, 26, to try on a "religious necklace," which Gleason threaded through a wire fence separating the inmates' solitary recreation pens.

Gleason testified that he choked Cooper through the fence "till he turned purple," waited for his color to come back and then proceeded to choke Cooper to death.

The second strangulation prompted a federal wrongful death lawsuit by Cooper's mother, who accuses corrections employees of giving Gleason the chance to murder her son after Gleason told guards he would kill again.

The state Attorney General's Office has said Gleason indicated during court proceedings for the prison murders that he planned to keep killing unless he was given the death penalty. Earlier this month, Gleason told a federal judge he did not want a lawyer and his execution should not be delayed.

But his former attorneys argued Gleason has a long history of mental illness, including several suicide attempts and at least two admissions to a psychiatric facility, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.

The execution is set for 9 p.m. on Wednesday (0200 GMT Thursday) at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. If carried out, it will be the first execution in the United States this year.

The oak armchair in which Gleason will be secured with leather straps is the same chair Virginia used for its first electrocution, which was carried out at the old Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908. The way the chair delivers the electric shocks was updated in 1991.

Of the 1,320 executions since the U.S. death penalty was reinstated in 1976, only 157 have been by electrocution, including 30 in Virginia, according to state records and the Death Penalty Information Center.

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