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Condemned: John Hardy Rose


"My life is kind of like full of evil monsters. But there's this little boy in me that's a good guy. He's just been overrun all his life; he's never had a chance to grow."

On Nov. 30, at 2:00 a.m., John Hardy Rose is scheduled to be executed at Central Prison in Raleigh. Rose was convicted of the Jan. 3, 1991 murder of Patricia Stewart. Rose broke into Stewart's apartment, stabbed her five times and stuffed her body into the trunk of a car. The following evening, he drove to his grandmother's property, burned Stewart's body and buried her in a shallow grave.

Shock reverberated through rural Graham County with news of the murder. The county of some 8,000 sits in the northwestern corner of the state. Robbinsville, the county seat, rests against the Joyce Kilmer Forest amid the Great Smoky Mountains through which Rose wandered as a boy.

His father was an abusive man, an alcoholic who beat his wife and on occasion would force his boy to have sex, while he watched, with adult women. The family was so deeply impoverished that Rose's mother would sometimes have to beg for food. They moved often, allegedly 21 times in a single year.

"I'm sure a lot of kids had it rougher than I did," says Rose. "I don't blame it on nothing or nobody--nobody but myself."

Rose sees himself as two individuals: the kid who still resides within him and the monster who murdered Patricia Stewart.

"My mind is eat up with evil," he says, "stuff that an average man wouldn't know nothing about. All I know is it started when I was a kid and it's still there today. I don't know where it comes from. It's just a force; I don't know. It's just something I've lived with all my life."

The brutality of Rose's crime suggests the savagery of this "force" inside him. A medical examiner testified that Rose stabbed Stewart five times, with one blow to the head inflicted with such strength that it pierced her skull.

In the course of his appeal, Rose's attorney, Mike Minsker, introduced evidence of mental disorder that he believed should have been presented at trial. Rose had been examined by two psychiatrists and had undergone an additional examination at Dorothea Dix Hospital to determine his competency to stand trial. Out of those examinations came evidence that, according to court records, "Rose had sexual disorders, voyeurism and sexual sadism, and was mentally impaired respecting his ability to conform his conduct to the requirements of law."

Rose related to one psychiatrist the details of his sexual assault of Stewart--a story he had not told in court. The Dorothea Dix evaluations concluded that "Rose suffered from a provisional sexual disorder and a mixed personality disorder," but that he was "otherwise competent to stand trial."

Why had Rose's court-appointed attorneys failed to present this evidence at trial? Perhaps out of inexperience. Neither had ever defended a capital case: One had been out of law school only a short time, the other was a career prosecutor. Whatever the reason, court records indicate that his attorneys decided not to pursue a defense that included Rose's sexual disorders because they felt that introducing "further bad elements into the case" would mean that they "would have no chance whatsoever with the jury," and that introducing any testimony regarding Rose's sexual disorders during the sentencing phase "would eliminate the chance for any kind of leniency."

Studies show that about 95 percent of inmates on death row nationwide received court-appointed counsel. In North Carolina, 98 percent of death row inmates could not afford to hire an attorney.

Rose recognizes that the death penalty falls disproportionately on the poor. Still, he has chosen not to request clemency from the governor, despite the fact that Pope John Paul II has asked Gov. Easley to spare him, calling for a moratorium on the death penalty until the impact of factors such as poverty, race and mental capacity can be properly evaluated.

Of this news, Rose says: "I thought it was pretty amazing, very unexpected. It just shows that there are people who care. I thank him very much."

Meanwhile, anti-death penalty activists and organizations continue their efforts to spare Rose's life. But not Rose: "I don't want to put my family through that," he says. "I don't want to put Patricia Stewart's family through that. I'm ready for all this to be over with. I've accepted it. I would be very disappointed if [Easley] did stop my execution."

Of others speaking on his behalf: "Those people, man, I respect them and I thank them--for other people, more so than for myself," Rose says. "With what I did with my life, I don't deserve to live. Those people think I do, but those people don't have to live in my body. They don't have to think the evil things that I think everyday. They just don't know what I go through just by being alive."

He's received support from the other men on death row: "They respect me," Rose says. "A lot of them think I should ask for clemency. But nobody's said anything harsh or anything like that."

Such respect means a lot, he adds. "Friends are something I've had very few of."

Like many men on death row, Rose has returned to his faith, to his Southern Baptist roots. He says his faith "makes me happy. There's no sadness in me whatsoever--not for myself. I'm gonna be at peace. I've lived my whole life the way a man shouldn't have to live. I'm at peace now."

Of that kid within, Rose says, "he's never had a chance to grow. But now he knows himself that the evil is fixin' to die. And he's happy because he knows he's going to heaven, man, he's going to live forever. He finally won a round. That's the way it is."

Rose's attorney Mike Minsker has been on the case for seven years. Of Rose's decision not to ask for clemency, he says: "We discussed that issue for a long time and analyzed and debated it. Of all the decisions you ever make in your life, clearly one of the most powerful ones must be to ask someone not to kill you. ... I respected that, and I'll abide by it."

Minsker speaks of the mitigating circumstances of Rose's poverty and his mental health--circumstances that no jury ever heard.

"It's been a very emotional thing to be involved in. Every lawyer loses cases; every lawyer doesn't see his client executed. It's just tragic.

"I think John's a tremendously strong man," Minsker adds. "He's going to live with his decision, and in all probability die with his decision."

Preparing for that day, Rose's family visited him Monday, their first visit in about six years. "I won't let nobody come see me," says Rose. "But being as it's the end, I let my family come."

His mother will be there to watch him die. "I can't argue with my mom," he says. "You know, what she says is the rules."

Since the day his execution was announced, Rose says "it's just been joy. I'm happy. That little boy in me, he finally won."

John Hardy Rose will start execution day with breakfast: "Eggs, bacon, pancakes, something like that," he says. "Friday morning, I'm gonna be roamin' those mountains again."

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