Nevada death row inmate Lawrence Colwell Jr. went quietly to his death in Nevada's execution chamber Friday night.
Colwell, 35, made no last statement, expressed no remorse and showed almost no emotion as he was led into what was once the gas chamber at the 100-year-old Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street.
As he was placed on the table inside the chamber, Colwell closed his eyes, never once looking at the official and media witnesses on the other side of the three glass windows. He didn't struggle as the lethal cocktail of chemicals flowed into his veins. Both hands and feet remained relaxed. His breathing quickened briefly but, within 20 seconds, faded as the drugs took effect. After a minute, there was no sign of life and, after five minutes, Prison Dr. Ted D'Amico pronounced Colwell dead at 9:08 p.m.
Colwell was convicted of murdering 76-year-old Frank Rosenstock after his girlfriend Merrilee Paul lured the victim to a Las Vegas hotel room in 1994. Colwell strangled the retired Brooklyn furrier with a belt, took $91 in cash and Rosenstock's credit cards, but missed $300 the victim had hidden in a sock. Afterward, prosecutors said, Colwell and Paul returned to their motel "and had sex and breakfast."
Rosenstock's son Terry and daughter Mindy witnessed the execution, issuing a statement afterward that said after 10 years of following the case, "today we feel that our family finally has justice."
Prison Director Jackie Crawford said Colwell declined the sedatives normally offered to inmates to relax them before the lethal drugs are administered.
"He smoked a lot of cigarettes," she said.
"He was just prepared to be executed. He said no, he did not want to say anything nor did he show any remorse," she told reporters afterward.
She said Colwell's parents were at the prison but did not witness the execution. He requested that his body be cremated.
Colwell did leave a letter for his public defense team but Crawford said its contents are confidential under attorney-client privilege. She said, however, that the letter did not ask for his execution to be stopped.
In fact, Colwell had that right at any time up until the lethal drugs were administered. He had several possible appeals still available in federal court and U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben told him during a hearing earlier this month he could ask for a stay at any time. He rejected those appeals repeating, as he has throughout the legal process, that he would rather be executed than live the rest of his life in prison.
Although prison officials said Colwell's mood changed dramatically when he woke up Friday morning and he spent some time with his lawyers, he refused in the end to change his mind and halt the execution.
Because the last man executed - Sebastian Bridges - fought his guards and screamed as they belted him down, prison officials added two more belts to the restraints for Colwell. That brought the total to 6 straps which look very much like old automotive seat belts. They weren't necessary.
Gov. Kenny Guinn's Chief of Staff Mike Hillerby, Attorney General Brian Sandoval and State Senator Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, were among the official witnesses to the execution - Sandoval being the first Nevada attorney general to do so.
Sandoval said he wanted to see the process for himself since his office is charged with defending appeals by inmates seeking to avoid execution.
Hillerby described it as "a responsibility that comes through the office - the most serious obligation the people of Nevada have placed on us."
Nolan, who has witnessed more than one execution, said he sits on the Judiciary Committee which deals with the death penalty every session and believes lawmakers who vote on those issues should experience the process by attending an execution whether they support or oppose the death penalty.
Terry Rosenstock thanked prison officials for their handling of the situation and their compassion afterward. He concluded that the family hopes the Nevada parole board "will do the right thing and refuse to grant parole to Colwell's accomplice Merrilee Paul in May."
Contact Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or at 687-8750.