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Robert Gleason got death the way he wanted it

Robert Gleason got death the way he wanted it

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Robert C. Gleason Jr. talks to investigators as they record his testimony in July 2010, hours after he strangled Aaron Alexander Cooper at Red Onion State Prison in Southwest Virginia. He was executed Wednesday night. He chose to die by the electric chair.

Update: 11:20 p.m.


JARRATT, Va. –– Robert C. Gleason Jr. died with fists partially clenched and smoke rising from his body.

He was faceless Wednesday night, the throes of death hidden behind a thick, black mask that allowed enough space only for his nose to poke through.

Death came on his own terms: He sought execution for a pair of murders in two Southwest Virginia prisons and asked for the electric chair.

There was the customary, last-minute flurry of appeals rejected by the governor and the U.S. Supreme Court. But those weren’t his appeals. Instead, they were filed by a team of capital defense attorneys arguing Gleason’s mental incompetence and hoping for the chance to represent him.

And Gleason, like the governor and federal judges, rejected their help to the very end.

His last words in the execution chamber at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., were cryptic.

“Well, I hope Percy ain’t going to wet the sponge. Put me on the highway to Jackson and call my Irish buddies. Pog mo thoin. God bless,” he said.

The translation of the Irish Gaelic wording is “kiss my a--.”

Death took roughly eight minutes from the time the condemned man entered the chamber.

The execution, taking place on the other side of a two-way window, was like a play that began with Gleason taking a few steps into a cinderblock room and ended with someone mumbling a “time of death.”

It culminated with someone drawing a blue curtain across the witness room window and a prison official telling the witnesses it was time to leave.

Gleason died violently as more than 1,000 volts of electricity jolted his body in a pair of 90-second cycles.

He smiled to the room full of witnesses as soon as he stepped into the execution chamber and winked at his spiritual advisor, who was sitting in the crowd. He gave a thumbs up as he sat in the chair.

Gleason wore flip-flops, a blue shirt and dark blue pants with the right pant leg cut off at the knee. A skullcap was placed on his head and a brine-soaked sea sponge was strapped to his right tattoo-covered calf.

A pair of cables snaked up along the electric chair to the top of the skullcap and along the ground onto the floor to his calves.

A guard stood with a red phone in his hand that was a direct line to the governor’s office. But there would be no intervention.

At 9 p.m., a man with the phone nodded for the executioner to begin. One man turned a key in a wall to activate the system and another man in an adjacent room started the electrocution.

Gleason’s body spasmed with each series of jolts, smoke rising from the mask.

The jolts were administered at 9:03, and after five long minutes of silence a doctor in a white coat entered from a side room, put a stethoscope to his tattooed chest and then nodded that he was dead.

He then pronounced the time of death as 9:08 p.m.

Sitting in another room to view the execution was Kim Strickland, the mother of the last victim, Aaron Alexander Cooper.

“May God have mercy on his soul,” she said Monday of her son’s killer. “I have been and will be praying for his family throughout this ordeal.”

In a letter sent to her, Gleason described Cooper’s death and noted that he was holding on to the mother’s address.

“Everyone will be O.K. if I get the death penalty,” he wrote.

Strickland, fearing his reach beyond prison walls, has moved several times since her son died and remains on the run.

 “A very reliable source told me I was not safe and I have moved four or five times,” she testified during a 2011 sentencing hearing. “I have no sense of home anymore.”

Now penniless, she lives out of her car and shelters.

Amy Taylor, the mother of one of Gleason’s children, said she will miss him.

“He will always be remembered by those who truly knew him as a very fun, loving, compassionate person who cared more for those he loved than he ever did for himself,” she said.

Gleason spent his last two hours with his spiritual advisor, Tim “Bam Bam” Spradling, a former biker buddy who now preaches at a Richmond church.

“We talked about how my life went one way and his went in the opposite direction,” Spradling said.

In those last hours, Gleason cried for his victims and asked God for forgiveness, he added.

No one seems to know the real reason Gleason demanded execution. In court, he said it was to teach younger relatives that murder comes with severe consequences.

Yet, a case worker’s report from 2011 suggests that Gleason had a mental history filled with feelings of paranoia, anxiety and depression, ultimately leading to exhaustion and a need to escape. Life in prison, according to the report, would simply be too intolerable.

Initially, Gleason earned life in prison without parole for shooting to death truck driver Michael Kent Jamerson on May 8, 2007, to cover up the tracks of a methamphetamine ring already eyed by federal investigators.

Gleason, during his 2011 sentencing hearing, said they had stopped by a wooded area in Amherst County and he pulled a pistol from Jamerson’s own belt, told him to get right with God, and began shooting.

A turkey hunter found Jamerson’s body the next day. A Liberty University student fishing along the bank of the James River, about three miles from the body, found the gun several days later.

Two years later, Gleason ended up in a cell with 63-year-old Harvey Gray Watson Jr. at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap. Watson was serving a 100-year sentence for killing a man and wounding two others when he fired a shotgun into his neighbor’s Lynchburg home in 1983.

The older inmate was mentally impaired and known for such antics as singing nonsensical tunes throughout the night and drinking his own urine. Gleason tired of him after about a week and tied him up, beat and strangled him on May 8, 2009 – the two-year anniversary of Jamerson’s murder.

Guards didn’t notice the body in the cell for 15 hours.

Soon after that, Gleason threatened to kill again unless given the death penalty.

Then, on July 28, 2010, he strangled convicted carjacker Aaron Alexander Cooper, 26, in the recreation yard of the supermax security Red Onion State Prison near Pound.

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It was done with ripped apart strips of braided bed sheet threaded through the chain link fence separating the two inmates., (276) 791-0698



Update: 9:25 p.m.

Robert Gleason was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m.

The convicted killer of three men entered the small cinderblock room where he died, smiled and gave a thumbs up before sitting in the electric chair.

Gleason was strapped to the chair, given two series of electric jolts starting at 9 p.m., and after five minutes was pronounced dead by a medical examiner.

Read more later on and in Thursday's Bristol Herald Courier.

Update: 8:50 p..m.

In about 10 minutes, Robert Gleason will be seated on the 104-year-old oak electric chair.

Guards will hook an electrical contact to his leg and turn a switch twice, for about 90 seconds each.

Gleason, convicted of the deaths of three men, will die.

Update: 8:15 p.m.

A U.S. district judge on Wednesday ordered 10 documents pertaining to the Gleason case be sealed after the close of the case.

The documents pertain to Gleason's family and Gleason's mental health history. Gleason requested that the documents be sealed, a court order released Wednesday notes.

"Sealing is necessary to protect Mr. Gleason's privacy and the privacy of his family," Gleason's lawyers wrote in the motion to seal the files.

Update: 7:30 p.m.

Members of the group Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty plan to gather outside the correctional facility at 8:30 p.m. tonight. They will stay until after the hearse carrying the body leaves.

Other vigils have been scheduled at jails, colleges and churches across the state, according to the group's website. Those vigils are slated to begin at 9 p.m., which is the time Gleason is expected to be executed. The only one scheduled for this area, according to the website, is at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Lee County.

Update: 7:20 p.m.

A corrections officer will have a phone with a direct line to the governor's office, in case there is a last-minute pardon for killer Robert Gleason.

But Gov. Bob McDonnell's office released a statement Friday saying he didn't plan to intervene in the execution.

 Update: 7:05 p.m.

A last-ditch attempt by lawyers to appeal Gleason's execution was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court this evening.

Gleason himself has repeatedly voiced his desire to die by electrocution and to stop dragging the case out with automatic appeals.

Update: 7 p.m.

Reporters are waiting outside the Greensville Correctional Center -- our Michael Owens among them -- ready to go into the facility in just minutes.

Update: 6:30 p.m.

The family members of Robert Gleason's victims -- Michael Kent Jamerson, Harvey Watson and Aaron A. Cooper -- were invited to watch the execution of the man who robbed men from their lives.

The Virginia Department of Corrections, citing privacy concerns, would not say which family members plan to attend.

JARRATT, Va. -- Convicted killer Robert Gleason is heading to the executioner's chair tonight.

Reporter Michael Owens is in Jarratt, Va., where at 9 p.m. Gleason will be strapped into an electric chair in the Greensville Correctional Center. There, he will be offered the chance for last words and then electrocuted twice, for about 90 seconds each time.

Electrocution is Gleason's choice.

Today, the man received no visitors -- not a member of the clergy, a lawyer or an immediate family member, all of whom could have received clearance to see him on his last day on earth.

Gleason requested a last meal, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Corrections said. But he didn't want to release what his food choices were.

Above were updates that Michael Owens provided throughout the evening Wednesday night on Updates by Owens can also be found on Twitter at @Mike_BHCNews and at the account at @Tricities_com.

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