Sun sets for Elledge

Convicted killer has wish granted, is put to death around 1 a.m.

By Warren Cornwall

Herald Writer

WALLA WALLA – Shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, in a small room in Unit 6 of the Walla Walla State Penitentiary, James Homer Elledge quietly met the death he had sought for the last 3 years.

The 58-year-old murderer died without a word, expressionless, his eyes closed, giving virtually no sign of the lethal chemicals seeping into his veins, the state’s final reckoning for the crime he committed in the basement of a Lynnwood church.

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James Elledge

Elledge was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 12:52 a.m., the fourth man executed since Washington reinstated the death penalty in 1981.

The apparent peace of his passing belied a life marked by violence. A twice-convicted murderer, he spent nearly his entire adult life in prison. He sought to end that life with his conviction in the 1998 strangulation and stabbing death of 47-year-old Eloise Fitzner.

He urged the jury to sentence him to death, and had said his execution could serve as some form of redemption for his crime.

But Elledge offered no final comment to the audience of media witnesses, his defense attorney, a prosecutor and two Lynnwood police detectives who investigated the death. The small group sat clustered before a large window blocked by a curtain.

The curtain raised shortly after 12:30 a.m. to reveal Elledge lying on a gurney, a royal blue sheet shrouding his body up to his neck. He faced straight upward toward the ceiling. His reddish brown hair was neatly combed, his face clean shaven except for a mustache.

Two intravenous lines snaked out from beneath the blanket, leading through a wall to a room where the execution team and the chemicals waited. He appeared, as one witness observed, like a body laid out at a mortuary for a funeral viewing.

Prison superintendent John Lambert walked near Elledge’s head and said into a microphone, "Inmate Elledge has no last words."

Then he stepped from view. And the witnesses waited. The only sound was the rustle of paper in notepads, and the whir of a ventilation fan.

Remembering Elledge’s victim

Eloise Jane Fitzner was a gentle soul who loved animals and had great compassion for people with personal problems, friends and loved ones recalled at her memorial service in 1998.

“She was someone who had a very caring nature for those who needed help,” the Rev. Keith Beebe, pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church, said at the service attended by about 100 mourners. “She loved those who had deep needs.”

Fitzner, born Eloise Helland in March 1951, was a Spokane native, graduated from North Central High School in 1969, and was baptized and active in youth groups at Spokane’s Knox Presbyterian Church, where her funeral was held.

Fitzner suffered from a debilitating disease, severe fibromyalgia, the last 16 years of her life and relied on her strong religious convictions to get through the hard times, Beebe said. “I understand she was in great pain the last several years.”

Fitzner had previously been married and divorced, Beebe said. After living in New Orleans and Houston for a time, she moved to Lynnwood in 1992. There, she shared an apartment with three cats, reflecting a lifelong love of animals, her family said.

It was the same apartment complex where the man who would kill her, James Homer Elledge, lived for a time.

Bill Jaquette, Snohomish County’s chief public defender and Elledge’s attorney, sat in the front row closest to Elledge’s head, leaning forward in his chair as the minutes passed. Jaquette has firmly opposed the death penalty. But he had argued for Elledge to receive the death penalty, deciding that his client’s wishes outweighed his own.

He had visited with Elledge shortly before the execution, as had prison chaplain Gil Alden, said Department of Corrections spokesman Veltry Johnson.

John Adcock, a Snohomish County deputy prosecuting attorney, sat bolt upright in a chair in the second row. He displayed no emotion.

There was no sign of the different chemicals being injected into Elledge’s body. But, with a telephone call from Department of Corrections Secretary Joseph Lehman, the procedure began at 12:39, according to department spokesman Veltry Johnson.

First thiopental sodium to relax his muscles. Then pancuronium bromide to paralyze his lungs. Finally, potassium chloride to stop his heart.

After several minutes, Elledge’s mouth appeared to open slightly. Moments later, the curtain was drawn shut. Jaquette sat back in his chair. Soon after, Johnson announced Elledge’s death.

While the execution had begun later than other recent ones, which started shortly after the 12:01 a.m. limit, Johnson said there were no problems during the preparations.

As this quiet drama unfolded, outside the old stone walls, about 100 somber people gravitated to the closest corner of an enclosure clutching lighted candles.

For more than an hour they stood, knelt or just leaned against the chain-link fence keeping them from the prison grounds. Some prayed and some stared. All objected to what some said was a legal form of murder going on inside the walls.

The protest against the death penalty was quiet and ordered. About 100 feet away, in a separate enclosure, only a handful of people assembled in support of the death penalty and Elledge’s demise.

The spectacle on both sides of the issue was considerably more subdued than in 1994 when Charles Campbell was hanged for the deaths of three people in Clearview.

Kevin Glackin-Coley, who works as the director of detention ministry for the Seattle Roman Catholic archbishop, said it may not be possible to immediately convince political leaders to abolish the death penalty in this state, but he sees momentum for a moratorium on other executions until the state’s law is studied to make sure it’s at least applied equitably.

The death penalty is supposed to be for the worst of the criminals, he said, "not to put to death only those who want to be executed."

When Elledge’s death was announced to the protesters, Glackinj-Coley said he felt "profound sadness."

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