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US Supreme Court won't block planned Va. execution

Wednesday - 1/16/2013, 6:57pm  ET

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia man who strangled two inmates and vowed to continue killing unless he was given the death penalty was scheduled to be executed Wednesday night, denied a stay by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robert Gleason Jr., 42, was scheduled to be put to death by electrocution at 9 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. He was the first condemned inmate facing execution 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 had argued 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. They had asked to be appointed to his case to order a new competency evaluation, even though two others have proved he was capable of making decisions in his case.

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

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

"The death part don't bother me. This has been a long time coming," he said in 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 reiterated 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 said of Gleason. "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 organized vigils across the state and expected a handful of protesters outside the prison at the execution hour.

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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