Wed, 20 May 2009 01:18:54 GMT —
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) - An East Texas man apologized repeatedly Tuesday as he was executed for fatally stabbing a convenience store clerk during a robbery more than two decades ago.
"I know I hurt you very bad," Michael Lynn Riley said to his victim's relatives, including her two daughters and husband. "I want you to know I'm sorry. I hope one day you can move on and, if not, I understand." The daughters of Wynona Harris were young children when their mother was killed.
Riley, 51, also apologized to his mother, who was not present, for being "not the big son that you wanted me to be." Then he reminded friends who were watching that for years he has said he was ready to die. To the fellows on the row: stay strong. Fleetwood is out of here," he said, referring to his death row nickname.
Eight minutes after the lethal drugs began to flow, he was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m., Riley, 51, was the 15th convicted murderer executed this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.
"They're freeing me from this place," Riley told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "I'm in Heaven. I can already feel it. Come May 19th, I'll be free." While he didn't volunteer for execution, he'd asked friends to not pray that he receive a reprieve. His appeals were exhausted and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles last week turned down a clemency request.
Riley was condemned for the 1986 slaying of Harris, a 23-year-old clerk at the Shop-A-Minit convenience store in his hometown of Quitman, about 75 miles east of Dallas. He was a frequent customer and Harris told him to help himself to the ice cream he wanted that Saturday morning while she counted some money.
Instead, he attacked her with a 10-inch butcher knife, stabbing and slashing her nearly three dozen times, then fled with about $1,000 in a money bag. A customer looking to get a gas pump turned on went inside the store but couldn't find anyone.
"He looked behind the counter and saw the bloody gore," recalled Marcus Taylor, the former Wood County district attorney who prosecuted Riley. "Capital cases are reserved for he most violent and vicious. This was one of them. The sheer brutality of the crime was just incredible, absolutely incredible."
A milk delivery driver had spotted a man in distinctive coveralls hanging around outside the store pretending to be on a pay phone. Bloody footprints leading away from the store and toward Riley's home a few blocks away led detectives to the murder weapon and a money bag. Riley turned himself in to authorities later that day after hearing police were looking for him. After detectives recovered his coveralls and the stolen money inside them, he confessed. "Your conscience definitely bothers you," he said from prison.
He said gambling losses in a dice game prompted the killing. "Dice took my life," he said. "It's the worst drug habit you can have. I wanted to try to live the big life. I was trying to live the life of a high roller."
In 2005, Riley was within days of execution when lawyers contending he was mentally disabled and ineligible for capital punishment won a court-ordered reprieve. "I could have been dead years ago," he said, calling himself blessed.
At the time of his arrest, Riley already was well known to authorities in Quitman. When charged with Harris' slaying, he was on probation for forgery for writing a bad check. He received a nine-year prison term in 1980 for burglary but was paroled three years later. He had an earlier prison stint for burglary, plus arrests and jail time in Wood County for burglary, public intoxication, assault and theft.
Riley is among the longest-serving of Texas' 334 condemned prisoners. He was convicted in 1986 and sentenced to death but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1991 overturned the conviction, finding a potential juror was dismissed improperly. At his retrial in 1995, he pleaded guilty and lawyers argued for life in prison. Prosecutors sought death and jurors agreed with them.
"I have no hate," he said. "I was very sorry for what I did." At least six other Texas death row inmates have execution dates in the coming months, including Terry Hankins, 34, scheduled to die June 2 for a shooting rampage eight years ago in Tarrant County that left his two stepchildren dead. The children's mother also was gunned down.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)