Elledge’s final day includes breakfast but no sunset

  • Warren Cornwall, Jim Haley and Scott North / Herald Writers
  • Monday, August 27, 2001 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

By Warren Cornwall, Jim Haley and Scott North

Herald Writers

WALLA WALLA – The final hours in the life of James Homer Elledge were marked with a last meal of breakfast, a meeting with his lawyer and a visit from the prison chaplain.

It was a scorching Eastern Washington day outside Elledge’s cramped quarters in the cell at the Walla Walla State Penitentiary where dozens of condemned men have marked their last hours. He was allowed outside for two hours in the prison yard in the morning. But the Lynnwood man had no way to view his last sunset.

Elledge was declared dead today at 12:52 a.m. after being executed by lethal injection.

Elledge became the second person in Washington executed by lethal injection and also the second Snohomish County man to face execution since 1994. There were no last-minute motions or attempts made in either the state supreme court or U.S. District Court to stop the execution, the attorney general’s office said.

* * *

The cell is spare and hard, furnished with a metal bed, a thin mattress, a metal toilet and a small metal shelf. The only sunlight filters through a window in the roof of the adjoining hallway.

Elledge, 58, did not spend those final hours as some did, fighting a planned execution. Since shortly after his 1998 murder of Eloise Fitzner, 47, in a Lynnwood church basement, Elledge has mounted an unwavering pursuit of his own death.

At his trial in Everett three years ago, he pleaded guilty and urged jurors to vote in favor of a death sentence, telling them, “There is a very wicked part of me, and this wicked part needs to die.”

After the jury concurred, Elledge refused all offers of appeal and fought efforts to intercede by death-penalty opponents.

* * *

His last meal was really his first. Shortly after 6 a.m. Monday, he was served apple juice, oatmeal, toast, hash browns, a boiled egg, coffee and eggs. He had arranged for a last meal that evening, but declined it, state Department of Corrections spokesman Veltry Johnson said. That meal, too, was breakfast: eggs, bacon, waffles, cereal, sweet roll and orange juice.

Elledge also declined to take a sedative before his execution. He asked that there be no autopsy, and prison officials agreed to that, Johnson said.

Fitzner, of Lynnwood, is survived by her mother, and older brother, Mike Helland, both of the Spokane area. Helland, 54, said he planned to spend the evening with his mother at a convalescent home, awaiting a call from prosecutors with word of Elledge’s death.

“I think we’ll be doing some praying,” he said.

Elledge’s attorney, Snohomish County’s chief public defender Bill Jaquette, made the long, hot drive from Edmonds to Walla Walla on Monday morning. He passed the afternoon in an air-conditioned motel room visiting with another public defender and “trying not to think.”

A passionate opponent of the death penalty, Jaquette nonetheless decided to represent Elledge’s wishes and argue for execution. He spent some time with Elledge late Monday, visiting at the death chamber holding cell. He was then scheduled to witness the execution.

“It is a frightening business to have a client who is going to be executed, regardless of the circumstances,” Jaquette said. But he added that he is convinced Elledge views his lethal injection as a necessary, affirmative act, and “as strange as that may sound, this is his way of reaching for redemption and this deserves his lawyer to be there.”

A deputy prosecutor and two Lynnwood police detectives also were scheduled to witness the execution.

* * *

Just outside the penitentiary, several dozen people had gathered by 10 p.m. to protest the execution. Some carried signs, many sat in the thick grass, and some just stood silently looking at the huge institution where Elledge was slated to die. All were illuminated by big floodlights powered by humming generators.

“I believe you don’t end violence with violence,” said Margaret Schwender of Kirkland. “There’s too much violence in the world already.”

One woman, Xan Allen of Walla Walla, carried a sign: “Revenge is bitter.”

Organizers planned readings, prayers and a silent vigil in the moments before the scheduled execution.

In a separate enclosure 100 feet away, a handful of people gathered in support of the death penalty and Elledge’s death.

Tim Bonnittoo of nearby Milton-Freewater, Ore., compared Elledge’s demise with that of Charles Campbell, the Snohomish County killer who was hanged in 1994.

“I’ll say this (for Elledge). He’s a better man than Charles Campbell. Like, he’s taking it like a man,” Bonnittoo said.

For most of Monday evening, the 30 or so guards in the parking lot vastly outnumbered the protesters from both sides.

Helland said he would be relieved by the execution and the end to the intense attention that has revived painful memories of his sister’s death. He was frustrated that Elledge’s fate has overshadowed appreciation of his sister’s life and compassion.

Fitzner, who suffered from a painful muscular disease for the last decades of her life, cared for cats left at animal shelters and people abandoned by good fortune, according to Helland.

Elledge’s execution was the last in a series of violent acts that have punctuated his life.

Born in Baton Rouge, La., he spent much of his youth in reform school. His first violent crime occurred in 1964 in Roswell, N.M. There, at age 21, he grabbed a female clerk during a robbery at a Western Union office, knocked her unconscious, attempted to rape her and doused her with gasoline.

Released in 1974, he headed to Seattle. There he killed Bertha Lush, a 63-year-old motel manager, in a dispute over rent. The victim was struck at least 28 times with a ball-peen hammer.

The crime that put Elledge on death row occurred in April 1998. Elledge admitted luring Fitzner and one of the woman’s friends to the basement of a Lynnwood church where he worked as a janitor. He strangled and stabbed Fitzner and then abducted her companion, whom he allegedly sexually assaulted.

Elledge has said he killed Fitzner because he was enraged over a letter she’d written to a woman urging her to break off a relationship with him. The letter had been written before the woman married him and roughly a year before the murder.

Elledge’s trip to the death chamber was set to begin with prison officials leading him down a flight of stairs to the execution chamber where a gurney with thick straps awaited. The condemned man’s arms would be strapped down, away from his sides. A needle would be slid into a vein in each arm.

A series of chemicals would be released into the IV lines. First thiopental sodium to relax his muscles. Then pancuronium bromide to paralyze his lungs. Finally, potassium chloride to stop his heart.

The other Snohomish County man to be executed since 1994 was triple murderer Charles Rodman Campbell, who died on the state’s gallows after a 12-year legal battle. Unlike Campbell, Elledge waived all his appeals, becoming what some have termed an execution “volunteer.” Two other Washington men have taken a similar route since 1993. The volunteer phenomenon has been a part of death penalty history since 1976, when Gary Gilmore demanded to be executed by a Utah firing squad. Such volunteers account for about 13 percent of the roughly 700 executions in the United States during the past 25 years.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to cornwall@heraldnet.com.

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