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Allen's Final Words: 'It's a Good Day to Die'

Among those watching the execution was the sister of one of the victims, as well as a man injured at the scene of the triple slaying.

January 18, 2006|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

SAN QUENTIN — Just after midnight Tuesday, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his final appeal, the oldest inmate on California's death row was brought to San Quentin's octagonal, green death chamber.

With difficulty, Clarence Ray Allen, 76, walked the last several steps to a gurney, assisted by prison guards who gently held him by his shoulders and elbows.

Then Allen, wearing a yellow, green and red beaded headband and a large Native American necklace with an amulet and gray and white feathers, lay quietly as prison attendants inserted needles from an intravenous tube into his arms and began the flow of lethal chemicals.

At 12:38 a.m., nearly 20 minutes after the solution began flowing into his body, Allen was pronounced dead.

In a briefing after the execution, prison Warden Steven Ornoski read Allen's final statement. "My last words will be 'Hoka Hey, it's a good day to die,' " the statement read in part. "Thank you very much. I love you all. Goodbye."

Allen was sentenced to death in 1982, after his conviction for arranging a triple murder. He orchestrated the 1980 murders from Folsom State Prison, where he was serving a life sentence for the 1974 slaying of his son's girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, whom he had murdered to prevent her from testifying in a burglary case against him.

While serving time for that crime, he offered another inmate, Billy Ray Hamilton, $25,000 to kill eight people who had testified against him in the Kitts case. After getting out of prison, Hamilton killed one of the witnesses, Bryon Schletewitz, 27, whose father owned a store Allen had burglarized, and two market employees, Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 18.

Several days before the execution, Rocha's sister, Cecelia Broughton, said Allen deserved to die. "She had the whole world ahead of her, and of course I imagine her begging and crying for her life. When I juxtapose that image with one of him begging for his life, it doesn't compare."

Schletewitz's sister Patricia Pendergrass, 55, attended the execution. "I can watch Clarence Allen die," she said several days earlier. "It's going to be a peaceful death for him."

The execution was also witnessed by Jack Abbott, who was wounded when he arrived at the store where Hamilton committed the murders. Days before the execution, Abbott, 74, of Fresno, said he thought justice was being served.

"You have to pay a penalty for doing something so gross and terrible as this," Abbott said. "Don't you suppose the majority of people voted for this death penalty because they felt this was a just thing, an eye for an eye?"

As Allen lay on the gurney, witnesses said, Abbott locked eyes with the condemned man and raised his hand.

Allen's execution came a month after that of Stanley Tookie Williams. The charismatic co-founder of the Crips street gang was put to death after a long campaign for clemency waged by supporters who said he had been redeemed during his many years in prison.

Allen's unsuccessful appeals, by contrast, focused on his age and poor health. Legally blind and suffering from diabetes, he recently suffered a heart attack.

In the hours leading up to his death, Allen seemed to be enjoying the attention that he was getting, prison officials said. Monday was Allen's birthday, and he had a steady stream of visitors during the day.

About 6:30 p.m. he ate his last meal, which included a buffalo steak, Indian fried bread, Kentucky Fried Chicken and black walnut ice cream, which he mixed with whole milk to make a shake.

"He didn't eat too much, but he enjoyed all of it," prison spokesman Sgt. Eric Messick said. Allen's final statement confirmed that. "First of all, I'd like to say how good the last meal was, how much I enjoyed it and how much I love my family and friends who have stood by me all these years," he wrote.

Allen, whose mother was part Choctaw and whose father was part Cherokee, embraced Native American religious traditions while in prison. In his final hours, he spent time with a spiritual advisor. After he was strapped onto the gurney, he showed little emotion.

A female guard brought in a container with gauze, swabs, needles and tape. Attendants slipped on white gloves, and began inserting catheters into his arms.

By about 12:16 a.m. all of the needles were in place and Allen turned to face the seven people he had chosen to be present, including family, friends and two spiritual advisors.

Occasionally, Allen raised his head or turned to the crowd. He mouthed, "I love you" in the direction of loved ones, including Kathy Allen, the ex-wife of Allen's son, Kenneth, who is serving a life sentence in prison.

At several points, a woman who has long aided in Allen's defense sat on one of the risers and was apparently comforted by prison staff members.

About 12:19 a.m. Allen's death warrant was read aloud, announcing that he would "suffer the death penalty within the walls of San Quentin."

"The execution," a female prison guard said, "will now proceed."

During the minutes before he was declared dead, witnesses, including family members of Allen's victims, remained silent.

Allen's chest barely moved, and at some point, it ceased moving.

At 12:35 a.m., an extra dose of potassium chloride, which stops the heart, was administered. About 12:40 a.m. a white scroll was passed through a slot in the locked door and was read by a guard, who announced that an attending physician had pronounced Allen dead at 12:38 a.m.

A minute later, a guard closed the curtain and witnesses walked out of the room, passing between two rows of prison guards.

In the wake of the execution, Ward Campbell, a deputy attorney general who prosecuted Allen and finally saw him put to death for his crimes, expressed satisfaction.

"I fulfilled the commitment I made," he said.

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