Virginia inmate who fought for death penalty to get wish

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Local,Virginia,Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A Virginia man who strangled two inmates and vowed to continue killing unless he was given the death penalty was scheduled to be executed on Wednesday unless the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he wasn't competent to waive his appeals.

Robert Gleason Jr., 42, was scheduled to die by electrocution at 9 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. He will be the first inmate executed in the U.S. this year and the first since 2010 to choose to die by electrocution. Virginia is one of nine states where inmates get a choice between electrocution and lethal injection.

Gleason's former attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution. They argue Gleason was not competent to forego his appeals and that his mental state has deteriorated further during the year he's spent in solitary confinement on death row.

Gleason, however, has fought against their attempts, pointing to two separate mental health evaluations

Gleason told The Associated Press he deserves to die for what he's done.

"The death part don't bother me. This has been a long time coming," he said one of many telephone interviews. "It's called karma."

Gleason was serving life in prison for another slaying when he killed his cellmate, Harvey Watson Jr., in May 2009. He told the AP then that he would continue killing unless given the death penalty. He repeated those threats in court.

After being transferred to Red Onion State Prison, the state's only all-segregation prison, Gleason strangled 26-year-old Aaron Cooper in an adjoining, individual outdoor recreation cage in July 2010. As officers tried to resuscitate Cooper, who video surveillance shows had been choked on and off for nearly an hour, Gleason told them "you're going to have to pump a lot harder than that."

Cooper's mother, Kim Strickland, has sued the prison system.

"May God have mercy on his soul," Strickland told AP. "I've been praying and will continue to pray that his family can heal from this ordeal."

Despite Gleason's crimes and his insistence on being put to death, "the state should not kill its own citizens under any circumstances," said Virginians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty Executive Director Stephen Northup. Northrup said Gleason's threats to continue killing should not be enough to justify his execution.

"Our Department of Corrections has the ability to keep someone who is truly dangerous like Mr. Gleason in solitary confinement with no access to another human being," Northrup said. "...We have the ability to keep everyone else safe from truly dangerous people without killing them."

The group will host vigils across the state and expects a handful of protesters outside the prison during the execution.

Use of the electric chair remains rare in Virginia. Since inmates were given the option in 1995, only six of the 85 executed since then have chosen electrocution over lethal injection.

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