Monday, January 9, 2012

Oklahoma First Execution

Oklahoma First Execution

An Oklahoma murder convict who tried and failed to kill himself three weeks ago is slated to become the first U.S. inmate executed in 2012.

Barring a last-minute stay of execution, Gary Roland Welch, 49, faces death by lethal injection Thursday evening for the 1994 fatal stabbing of Robert Dean Hardcastle during a drug dispute.

If carried out as scheduled, Welch would be the first U.S. inmate executed this year, and the first in Oklahoma since January 11, 2011, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks death penalty data. He would become the 1,278th person executed since capital punishment was reinstated in the United States in 1976.

The number of executions fell for the second year in a row in 2011, with 43 inmates put to death compared with 46 in 2010 and 52 in 2009, DPIC figures show. That is fewer than half of the number of executions a dozen years before, in 1999, when a record 98 prisoners were executed.

Welch attempted unsuccessfully to kill himself three weeks ago by slashing his neck, according to prison officials.

He was convicted of killing Hardcastle, 35, during a fight that broke out during a drug deal in Miami, Oklahoma, authorities said. Welch said he acted in self defense.

Multiple witnesses said Welch punched and stabbed the victim before slashing him with a broken beer bottle, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said.

"Gary Welch had a 15-year history of violent crimes that included multiple assaults on women and police officers, burglary, stabbings and carrying concealed weapons before his conviction for murder," Pruitt said. "The punishment of death as chosen by a jury of Welch's peers is reserved for the most heinous crimes. My thoughts are with Robert Hardcastle's family and what they have endured for the past 17 years."

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board narrowly denied clemency to Welch by a 3-2 vote.

Welch said during the hearing he would not apologize for killing Hardcastle because the other man initiated the fight.

"To me, this was life or death. It was just luck that I survived," Welch said. "My intentions were never to kill him. But I also didn't intend for him to kill me either."

A codefendant of Welch's, Claudie Conover, also was convicted and sentenced to death, but his sentence later was reduced to life without parole. Conover died of natural causes in 2001.

Oklahoma executed two prisoners in 2011, both in the first two weeks of the year, according to DPIC data.