U.S. News

Arizona executes man for murder of philanthropist

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The killer of a Phoenix-area philanthropist who was injected with battery acid and strangled during a 1991 robbery of the victim’s home was executed on Thursday after nearly two decades on Arizona’s death row.

Robert Charles Towery in an undated photo. REUTERS/Arizona Department of Corrections

The inmate, Robert Charles Towery, 47, was pronounced dead at 11:26 a.m. local time, nine minutes after his execution by lethal injection began, at the state prison complex in Florence, about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix, state officials said.

Towery was sentenced to death in November 1992 for the slaying of Robert Jones, a man Towery had met through the killer’s automotive business, during a home-invasion robbery in September of the previous year.

“This is an especially heinous and cold murder,” state Attorney General Tom Horne said in a statement after the execution, citing the fact that Towery had injected his victim with battery acid before strangling him with a plastic zip tie.

“Jones was a 68-year-old man with a transplanted heart who knew Towery and had previously lent him money,” Horne said. “Towery and his accomplice targeted Jones to rob him.”

Towery’s conviction hinged in large part on the testimony of his co-defendant in the case, Randy Barker, who cooperated with prosecutors in a plea deal and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the crime.

Jones, described by Horne as a philanthropist, was known to give money to college graduates to continue their education.

In his final words before being put to death, Towery apologized to the victim’s family and friends, and to his own family, then spoke about the bad choices he had made in his life and concluded by saying, “I love my family. Potato, potato, potato,” according to state Corrections Department spokesman Bill Lamoreaux.

Lamoreaux had no explanation for the meaning of Towery’s last utterance.

Towery’s last meal consisted of a Porterhouse steak with sautéed mushrooms, baked potato with butter and sour cream, steamed asparagus, a cup of clam chowder, a soft drink, apple pie with vanilla ice cream and some milk, prison officials said.

He became the second man executed in Arizona within the past eight days and the 30th since the death penalty was reinstated there in 1992. He was also the seventh person executed in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In a series of last-ditch appeals, his lawyers sought to get Towery’s sentence reduced to 25 years to life in prison by arguing he received too harsh a penalty compared with Barker.

In trial testimony, Barker recounted he and Towery took a taxi to Jones’ home in the affluent Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley on the night of the crime, knocked on his door and asked to use the phone, claiming their vehicle had broken down.

Once inside, Towery pulled a weapon on Jones and Barker handcuffed him. Towery then proceeded to take $1,200 and load jewelry, electronics and other items into Jones’ car before both men led their victim to the master bedroom at gunpoint.

Towery laid Jones face down on the bed and injected him using a veterinary syringe filled with a substance that Barker said was battery acid. Towery told the victim the substance would put him to sleep.

Believing Jones was pretending to have fallen asleep, Towery then pulled plastic ties from his briefcase and strangled Jones. It took two attempts before Jones died, according to trial testimony.

Jones’ body was found the next day. His car was discovered abandoned a week later.

The two suspects were arrested as a result of a tip to authorities.

Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Steve Gorman and Daniel Trotta