[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIFORNIA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jan 17 09:59:56 CST 2006
Reporter's eyewitness account of Allen's execution
The oldest man to ever enter California's execution chamber met his doom
Tuesday the way he'd wanted to: With the faint lilt of Native American
chants ringing in the air around him, and loved ones mouthing "I love you"
to him as his damaged vision slowly faded to black.
A symbolic Indian feather lay on quadruple murderer Clarence Ray Allen's
chest for the entire 33-minute execution, rising and falling until the
lethal poisons piped into his veins through intravenous tubes stopped his
breathing and he at last lay completely still.
"Hoka Hey, (an Indian saying meaning) it's a good day to die," Allen, who
turned 76 on Monday, wrote in his last statement.
Those whose lives he savaged by ordering up the shotgun deaths of their
loved ones in Fresno in 1980 looked as if they couldn't have agreed more.
Patricia Pendergrass, whose 27-year-old brother Bryon Schletewitz died
when Allen's hitman blasted him in the head, kept her hands clenched
together and her lips pursed tightly from start to finish -- and then, as
the official notice of his death was read off, she allowed herself the
slightest hint of a smile. Five chairs to her right in the ring of
witnesses sitting at a railing alongside the death chamber, prosecutor
Ward Campbell lifted his chin as if in victory.
"Mr. Allen finally received the justice he deserved tonight," Campbell
said a half-hour after the execution. "I was always confident this day
would come. I am just very glad to have it finally be done."
It only took a few seconds after Allen walked into the heavily glassed,
apple-green death chamber at precisely 12:05 a.m. to figure out this was
not going to be the sort of execution many had predicted it would be.
Allen, who has spent 23 years on death row, was said to be so ill from
heart trouble and diabetes that he was blind, nearly deaf and could not
walk. And indeed, when the oval door of the death chamber clanged open to
begin the procedure, he was in a wheelchair.
But then he stood up.
The 4 guards alongside him -- two on each side -- put their hands under
his shoulders and elbows to help him, but when his feet moved forward it
was clear they did so on their own power. His portly face, pasty from
living decades inside a cell, showed no pain as walked 5 steps to stand
alongside the cross-shaped execution gurney.
He was a burly man, but when he put his thin arms on the sides of the
gurney, he had little difficulty hoisting himself up and laying flat. And
once he'd been strapped down and fit with the needles that would inject
poisons into his tattooed arms, he vigorously craned his head and made eye
contact with several people in the room.
He smiled broadly, calling out first, "Where are you?" and then, "I love
you," as he raised his head several times to gaze at his former
daughter-in-law, Kathy Allen, and four other supporters who came to watch
him die. They smiled back, and when one of the women waved, he nodded his
It was all contrary to the impression given by his backers for months that
he was an old man so feeble he would be unable to see anything, and would
probably have to be carried bodily to the gurney. Such robust ability in
someone whose eyesight was compromised by diabetes and who suffered a full
heart attack just four months ago may have surprised some in the witness
room -- but not prison officials who had been keeping close tabs on Allen.
"No shock to those of us who knew him," said San Quentin spokesman Vernell
Crittendon, who also witnessed the execution, and all 12 others that have
come before Allen since the state resumed executing inmates in 1992 .
"I've watched him walk and read his own mail for a long time now."
Allen was referred to as a white man when he went to prison, but his
Choctaw and Cherokee roots took on great important in the final years of
his life -- and both his appearance Tuesday morning and the fact that he
requested that his two spiritual advisors in the witness room be Native
Americans testified to that.
He came into the death chamber with his long gray hair flowing to the
middle of his back and held tight by a beaded headband of green, yellow
and red. Around his neck was a white beaded necklace with an amulet
hanging loosely down in front. He held a gray and white feather, with
white leather thongs trailing off one end, in his manacled hands, and just
before he was lashed tightly down by black straps he placed it on his
The 7 prison guards who spent from 12:05 to 12:17 strapping him to the
gurney and inserting a needle in each arm -- the right needle digging in
next to an eagle tattoo -- moved gingerly around the feather as they did
their work. Unlike during the execution last month of Stanley Tookie
Williams, the needle insertion went smoothly, taking just seven minutes
instead of 13, with each needle sliding home easily.
Several guards patted Allen's shoulders and nudged his feather back in
place as they worked. After taping his hands down to the gurney arms,
mummy-style, they turned the gurney counter-clockwise a half-turn so he
could see his supporters standing along the western wall of the witness
chamber. Then they left and sealed the door. It was 12:17 a.m.
At 12:19, a piece of paper carrying the death warrant was shoved through a
door porthole into the witness room, and a guard read it off. "The
execution shall now proceed," she said.
In short order, unseen hands from behind the execution chamber walls sent
3 chemicals through the lines attached to the needles in Allen's arms:
sodium pentothal to put him to sleep, pancuronium bromide to stop his
breathing, and potassium chloride to stop his heart. A cardiac monitor
attached to his chest registered him dead at 12:38 -- about 5 minutes
longer than usual for the chemicals to work -- and Warden Steven Ornoski
later said the staff had to send a 2nd salvo of potassium chloride through
the lines to finish the task.
"Basically, this guy's heart has been beating for 76 years, and it took
awhile for it to stop," he explained. Two other executions required the
While the strapping, inserting and injecting unfolded, the 50 witnesses
watched mostly stoically, without speaking out loud. The silence was
broken, eerily, by the distant sound of Indian chants about halfway
through the execution when 300 protesters at the eastern gate of the
prison, several blocks away, sent their drumming and chanting through a
loudspeaker system. Through the thick stone walls of the execution room,
their strains could be slightly heard for several minutes.
Once the chanting stopped, the only audible noises were nervous coughs,
muffled talking from behind the room walls, where the poisons were being
dispatched, and the irritating "cheep, chip, cheep" whine of what sounded
like a squeaky fan.
Along 1 wall, on a 2-tier set of risers, stood Kathy Allen's group. One of
them, legal researcher Denise Ferry, appeared to struggle with the strain
of standing so long, squatting down several times and wiping her face.
Another, a woman with long black hair and sunglasses, shook her head back
and forth many times, holding her arms tightly to her chest. Kathy Allen
looked griefstricken throughout the execution, and managed weak smiles
only when Allen looked her way.
On the opposite wall were 17 media witnesses, and along the wall between
the 2 groups were state officials and what appeared to be relatives of
Allen's victims. Standing in front of that group were state Assemblywoman
Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, who co-wrote a bill calling for a
moratorium on executions, and -- next to her -- Assemblyman Todd Spitzer,
R-Orange, who opposes the bill.
Lieber spent most of the evening with her chin in her hand, staring
intently into the chamber. Spitzer stared, too, but shortly after Allen's
head stopped moving he began cracking his knuckles and looking at his
watch, seeming eager for the procedure to end.
Seated at a railing in front of the window of the death chamber were 7
relatives of the 3 people whose slayings sent him to death row:
Schletewitz, Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 20. The 4th person
whose killing Allen ordered -- Mary Sue Kitts, 17 when she was strangled
by a hitman in 1974 -- reportedly had no representatives there, because
Allen's life prison term for her slaying pre-dated his capital sentence in
the killing of the other 3.
The murders were all related, though. Allen, who headed a theft ring in
the 1970s, had ordered Kitts killed because she told Schletewitz that
Allen led a burglary of the Schletewitz family store in Fresno, Fran's
Market. Then while in Folsom prison for that murder, Allen sent a hitman
after Schletewitz and seven others who testified against him -- and when
the killer finally caught up with his first mark as he closed out his
shift at Fran's Market one night in 1980, Rocha and White had the awful
luck of also being on shift.
White's aunt and uncle sat in 2 chairs Tuesday. Rocha's sister sat in
another. Jack Abbott, who ran to Fran's Market the night of the triple
shooting and shot the hitman, wounding him, was at the railing too -- and
locked eyes and waved grimly at Allen at one point.
Pendergrass, 55, and 2 young women -- 1 on either side, 1 reportedly her
daughter -- sat in 3 other chairs. One of the young women twisted her
hands together nervously, continuously, and when Allen's eyes closed for
good and head stopped moving at 12:21 she bowed her head and seemed to
"I don't think this execution will wipe away the pain," Pendergrass told
The Chronicle last week. "But what it will do is close a chapter. He made
not just our families victims, but those in his own family who must now
lose him victims too -- we have all suffered, for different reasons. I
want it to be done."
The emotion shone like fire from her eyes Tuesday morning as the certitude
of Allen's death became clear.
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
More information about the DeathPenalty