Left: James Earl Reed, 49, executed late last night by electric chair in Columbia. Reed is the first person executed by electric chair in the US in nearly a year, and South Carolina's first since 2004.
James Earl Reed was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend's parents 14 years ago in a joke of a trial in which he "defended himself." He was finally executed in the electric chair late last night, after a dramatic federal stay of execution at the last minute, lasting about five hours. Peace activists held a prayer vigil at St Thomas More Catholic Chapel, and a later protest vigil at the Governor's Mansion. The stay was vacated by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals and defense attorneys' attempt to get the Supreme Court to block the execution, subsequently denied.
James Earl Reed issued no final statement, and was pronounced dead at 11:27 pm, Friday, June 20, 2008.
From Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, here is a short article about Reed by Ray Martinez of the Charleston Post and Courier, from back in 2003.
Short version: It is morally reprehensible that this execution should have been permitted. The people who put this man to death should be ashamed of themselves:
James Earl Reed is a man used to having his way, but it's not the way most people would choose.And as we see, that didn't work out so well. Check the link, he is barely literate. I'm sure he really understood the law.
When his ex-girlfriend's parents [Joseph and Barbara Lafayette] refused to tell him her whereabouts, he methodically shot them dead, firing at the mother once in each leg, once in the lower body and once between the eyes at point- blank range.
When he insisted on defending himself in his double-murder trial, despite pleas from defense attorneys that he had an IQ of 77 and was not competent to stand trial, he became the first person under the state's current capital punishment law to represent himself.
After a jury deliberated just 30 minutes to convict him of those murders, Reed reversed himself and asked for a postponement in the sentencing phase and pleaded for a lawyer to help spare his life. He got the postponement.
Now, nine years after the slayings of Joseph and Barbara Ann Lafayette in their Adams Run home, Reed has resurfaced from Death Row at Lieber Correctional Institution with another odd demand: He wants to be executed rather than continue with further appeals.
"I am standing upon my word that this case be dismiss [sic] or I be killed," Reed, 44, wrote in a letter to The Associated Press last week. He added that he has also decided against asking the governor for clemency, eating a final meal or making a last statement.
All of this sounds familiar to former 9th Circuit Solicitor David Schwacke. In television interviews before his trial, Reed ventured that if Schwacke could convict him and get the death sentence, then Reed would let Schwacke tie him to a tree and shoot him dead.
"This is pretty consistent with what he did at the trial stage, making the case personal," Schwacke said Monday. "Might just be the last act of a desperate man."
No motions have been filed pertaining to his request, said Assistant Public Defender Fielding Pringle of Richland County. She said Reed's request comes after his latest appeal for post-conviction relief was denied in a Richland County court. Reed has at least four more courts in which he could appeal his death sentence, said Pringle, including the South Carolina Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Fourth Circuit and the Federal District Court. She said she talks with him regularly, but declined to say whether he has changed his mind.
"His competency has been hotly disputed since Day 1," Pringle said Monday. "It is in the court transcript that he has an IQ of 77 and suffers from neurological impairment."
An IQ of 75 is considered the low end of normal, Pringle said.
"It is a very sad story. He should never have been allowed to represent himself in the first place. It is very sad."
The Lafayette family could not be reached for comment Monday. At trial, prosecutors said Reed and the Lafayettes' daughter, Laurie Rego, briefly dated while they were both in the Army. Rego testified that when she tried to break off the relationship and fled her own apartment to get away from him, he rammed a car into an Army officer who was trying to help her. Reed was sentenced to 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to assault, but he continued to write Rego threatening letters from prison.
When Reed was released from prison on April 25, 1994, instead of going to a federal halfway house in Fayetteville, N.C., to complete his sentence, he went to Greenville and bought a 9 mm pistol and 10 bullets. On May 18, Reed showed up at the Lafayettes' house looking for Rego.
For Reed to be executed voluntarily, he must be found competent by a judge. Five years ago, the state Supreme Court upheld Reed's conviction after considering whether Circuit Judge William Howard had erred by finding Reed competent and capable of representing himself. The high court held that the judge had made clear to Reed the inherent dangers in self- representation.
Assistant Deputy Attorney General Don Zelenka was on vacation Monday and unavailable for comment, and his department's spokesmen, Trey Walker, said he was unaware of Reed's expressed intentions to volunteer for execution.
From Lieber Correctional Institution, Reed said on his Web site at www.ccadp.org/jamesearlreed.htm: "The big issue within this death penalty case/trial was that I would be representing myself which I have come to find out this hasn't been done, until I became the first! ... I didn't become my own lawyer for no type of fame nor glory! Yet to save my life period!"
I am ashamed of South Carolina right now.