Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remembering another execution

Barring a last minute reprieve, convicted killer Dennis Skillicorn has less than 17 hours to live.

Of course, there is still a chance he will receive clemency from Gov. Jay Nixon or somehow he will strike pay dirt with one of his many appeals in state and federal courts, but as the hours pass, the odds of that happening are increasingly unlikely.

Almost 13 years ago, August 21, 1996, The Carthage Press and its sister publication, The Lamar Press, offered in-person coverage of the execution of another killer, Richard Oxford, one of two men who murdered Harold and Melba Wampler of Carthage.

Over the past few days, I have criticized the media, particularly the Kansas City Star for its coverage of the impending Skillicorn execution, noting that Skillicorn's victim, Richard Drummond, was barely mentioned in most accounts, and while we have received story after story about the remarkable change that Skillicorn has undergone during his time in prison, we have learned almost nothing about the innocent victim.

In August 1996, I sent my best feature writer, Amy Lamb, a graduate of Lamar High School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, to Potosi to cover Richard Oxford's execution. While I wasn't able to lay my hands on Amy's news coverage of the execution, I did find the column she wrote, which ran in the Aug. 29, 1996, Lamar Press:

POTOSI- Two guards stand in the outdoor courtyard outside the visiting room at the Potosi Correctional Center, both huddled around their radios. It's just after midnight Wednesday.

Soon after I walk outside where they are, they turn up the volume.

"So do they radio you guys when it's all over?" I ask.

"No. You hear the whole thing as it's happening," said the guard next to me.

I got a little closer and asked, "Where are they now?"

"They're in the second stage," he said.

"What's that?"

"It's the second drug."

Pancronium bromide. It stops the respiratory system. It's 12:04 a.m.

"Begin phase three," comes the calm female voice over the radio.

Potassium chloride. It stops the heart. It's 12:)5 a.m.

:it's extremely quiet now as I look at the guards and out over the concrete wall where my Diet Pepsi is resting. There's no movement anywhere.

A third guard had come out a few minutes earlier. He was manning the metal detector inside the doorway.

Now, the mouthpiece to his headset is pushed up. He leans against the wall in a corner of the concrete courtyard inside the prison.

He just stands there, staring at his watch through his glasses, concentrating on the seconds ticking by. The bright lights from around the prison yard illuminate the night, shining brightly off the security fences and coiled razor wire behind him.

"Operation complete."

It's 12:06 a.m. Richard Oxford is dead.

Four minutes and it was all over.

I was the only media person who covered the execution who wasn't a state's witness. The others had arranged to be witnesses before Oxford's previous June 12 execution date, and I didn't know until last week that I was going to get to Potosi this time.

The family of Harold and Melba Wampler, who Oxford was convicted of killing, came up to the visiting room, which served as a press room tonight, soon after the execution.

They were quiet and looked thoughtful. They had just watched a man die. The man who killed their mother and father, the man who shot them in the head and left them in the trunk of their car.

The man who laughed and smiled in the courtroom during his trial. The man who had raped and sodomized many times before. The man who had a criminal background spanning more than 20 years and had escaped from prison.

The man who laughed at their family with his dying breath.

This was not an easy time for them. But it brought closure.

Many of the family members who were there, Jeff Wampler of Carthage, Brenda Cornell of Lamar, Greg Wampler of Jasper, Pam Tague of Spokane, Wash., and their cousin, Dee Wampler, a Springfield defense attorney, wished it could have been more severe.

Brenda Cornell said something last week that really made me think when she talked about her parents' deaths.

"One of them had to be shot first. The other had to hear those shots," she said.

That has to be one of the most horrible things I can think of.

I'm not even married yet, but to think about witnessing my fiance's brutal murder, that is sheer torture.

And to be locked in a trunk, bound and gagged, and hear and see some lunatic escaped convict put a bullet into the head of your spouse of so many years- I can't think of anything worse.

"He should've been locked in the trunk of a car and have to go 130 miles bound and gagged and lying there with someone he loves, wondering what's going to happen," said son Jeff Wampler.

Richard Oxford knew he was going to die, but he put himself in the situation. He put himself on death row. He blamed his behavior on a life of drug and alcohol abuse that stemmed from a lousy childhood.

Millions of children have not so perfect childhoods, but you have to choose which course you take. One course can take you out of it, and the other just leads you farther down a path of your own destruction.

Or to death row.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My name is Bobbie Tague. I am Pam Tague's daughter and the grand daughter of Harold and Melba Wampler. I was eight years old when Richard Oxford and Richard Brown terrorized and then murdered my grandparents. This nightmare continues to effect myself and my family. The mother I knew and loved so much as a young girl was taken from me when her parent's were killed that night. Even though Oxford was executed, it did not heal the wound. It changed many people forever. Here I sit 28 years after this horrific event googling information about my grandparents deaths. I have so many questions that will never be answered. I have so much fear and pain that will never heal. These two men did not just destroy the lives of two people. They hurt an entire family for multiple generations. My poor mother is a cold shell of the warm mom I remember before that awful day in 1986. My grandparents bodies were found on January 2, 1987. That was my sister's 15th birthday. Her birthday will always be remembered as the second most tragic day of our lives next to the day my grandparents went missing. Nothing has helped ease the pain.