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Va. killer of 2 inmates to be executed Jan. 16

Tuesday - 11/27/2012, 1:28pm  ET

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia prisoner who strangled two inmates in the state's highest security prisons and vowed to keep killing unless he was put to death is scheduled to be executed in January.

Wise County Circuit Judge John Kilgore on Tuesday set a Jan. 16 execution for Robert Gleason Jr., 42, after Gleason waived all state and federal appeals.

"I did the crime and this is the punishment. It is what it is," Gleason told The Associated Press in June. "I ain't going to go kill a bunch of people and say `Oh, don't do that to me.'"

Gleason told AP he would choose to die by electrocution instead of lethal injection. Condemned inmates in Virginia get to choose between the two methods, but electrocution is rarely chosen. His attorneys did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Gleason was serving a life term for murder at Wallens Ridge State Prison in May 2009 when he killed his cellmate, Harvey Watson Jr. After being transferred to the supermax Red Onion State Prison, Gleason strangled inmate Aaron Cooper in an outdoor recreation cage in July 2010.

The killings inside highly secure facilities exposed problems in the prison system and spawned a federal lawsuit.

At Wallens Ridge, a high security prison in the mountains of southwest Virginia, Gleason used shreds of bed sheets to tie Watson's hands and arms to his body and fashioned a gag out of two socks. He later gave Watson a cigarette before beating and strangling the 63-year-old man, who was serving a 100-year sentence for killing a man and wounding two others.

Watson's death went unnoticed for 15 hours because correctional officers had not followed proper procedure for inmate head counts. Department officials said two officers were disciplined and two others were fired. One of those was reinstated upon appeal.

After Watson's murder, Gleason was transferred to Red Onion, the state's only supermax prison where inmates are held in isolation 23 hours each day.

Gleason claimed in court that a correctional officer at Red Onion put metal in his food, and that he told a close friend he would kill an officer in retaliation. He says the friend made him promise not to do that, and that the only way for him to keep that promise is to be executed.

"I murdered that man cold-bloodedly. I planned it, and I'm gonna do it again," Gleason told the AP at the time. "Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row."

Gleason repeated those threats in court, vowing to continue killing unless he was sentenced to death.

While awaiting sentencing for Watson's murder, Gleason befriended 26-year-old Cooper, who was serving 34 years for robbery and carjacking.

While on the recreation yard in individual cages, Gleason convinced Cooper that he needed his help to measure a religious necklace. Cooper put his back to Gleason in the cage, wrapped the necklace around his neck and gave the other end to Gleason, who put one foot onto the cage and pulled to strangle Cooper on and off for about an hour.

Cooper's mother, Kim Strickland, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year against Department of Corrections officials, accusing them of conspiring with Gleason to kill her son. Strickland claims Gleason traded favors with prison guards in order to arrange her son's slaying. It also accuses guards and security officers of not doing required searches and of abandoning in-person and video monitoring stations during the murder.

Cooper was dead more than an hour before corrections officers found him, even though there were security cameras and a watch tower overlooking the individual cages. Strickland's lawsuit claims security officers falsified a required head count that was to be done with the inmates were on the recreation yard.

While the lawsuit was filed in July, those named were only recently served and have yet to file a response. A department spokesman refused to comment on pending litigation. The attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)