Wednesday, 11 April 2007

State heads toward first execution since 2000

State heads toward first execution since 2000

Associated Press

Apr. 10, 2007 05:42 PM

By the time Mike Kimerer got Robert Comer on the phone to tell him he was going to die, the news had already reached Comer.

He was happy about it.

Finally, after nearly two decades of appeals and seven years after he decided to end efforts to have his death sentence overturned, a federal appeals court had said Comer was competent to end that fight.

"When he heard about the decision of the Ninth Circuit (Court of Appeals), that to his mind was a victory," said Kimerer, a Phoenix attorney who represented Comer in his effort to end his appeals. "That was what he was trying to achieve."

Now, Arizona is gearing up for its first execution in nearly seven years.

The Arizona Supreme Court has been asked to issue an execution warrant and is expected to take up the matter on April 17, said Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Terry Goddard.

The execution date would be set for 35 days after the Supreme Court approves the execution warrant.

Comer, testifying in 2002 before a federal judge, said he wanted to go ahead with the execution because he was tired, had killed a man and the law called for his death.

Now 50, Comer was convicted in 1988 of killing a fellow Apache Lake camper during a 1987 crime spree during which he also raped another camper after tying up her boyfriend. Besides the first-degree murder and armed robbery conviction for the shooting death of Larry Pritchard, Comer also was convicted in Maricopa County Superior Court of sexual assault, armed robbery, kidnapping and aggravated assault for the attacks on the female camper and her boyfriend.

Comer's girlfriend was with him at the time of the crimes and pleaded guilty to kidnapping and testified against Comer. Juneva Willis served nearly six years in prison before her 1994 release.

The federal appeals court's March 15 decision ended efforts by a second team of Comer's lawyers who were fighting a 2002 ruling by a federal judge that he was competent to fire them and end his appeals. Kimerer represented Comer in the attempt to show he could make a rational decision to choose death.

"I think one of the primary reasons is that it's the last thing that he really has a choice about and he really wants to make that choice," Kimerer said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. "And in his mind he deserves the death penalty based on his very objective analysis of the situation.

"He has very rational, objective reasons as to why he has made this decision. It's not fun to live on death row."

Because Comer was sentenced before Arizona voters approved a switch from the gas chamber to legal injection in 1992, he has a choice of either method.

He has chosen lethal injection, said Katie Decker, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Corrections.

The expected execution so many years after the last one in Arizona and the choice of lethal injection could be a problem for the state.

Arizona hasn't executed anyone since November, 2000, when Tucson resident Donald Miller died by lethal injection for helping to murder an 18-year-old woman.

Because of the time between executions, Decker said the state is completely reviewing its procedures for carrying out the sentence.

In recent years, lethal injection techniques have become the focus of legal questions in several states.

In December, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suspended executions after an inmate required a second dose of lethal chemicals and took twice as long as usual to die. The drugs were mistakenly injected into his tissue instead of his veins.

Executions also were halted in Missouri, California, Tennessee and North Carolina because of lethal injection concerns.

Comer, in the 2002 hearing where he was trying to end his appeals, made it clear why he wanted to go ahead and be executed.

"We've been doing this for 15 years," Comer said under questioning by one of Kimerer's associates. "...I killed Larry Pritchard. Stuck a gun in his ear and pulled the trigger, he's dead. You see?

"Has to do with me being tired. Has to do with me paying my debt to society. Let's do it. I don't know what everybody's so scared about. Death is not that damn bad. But I killed Larry. This is what the law allowed me to be sentenced to."

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