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Barely newsworthy


Following an execution at Raleigh's Central Prison, Department of Correction spokeswoman Pam Walker usually steps to a microphone in the prison visiting room to perform her post-execution ritual.

"[Blank] was executed by lethal injection this morning in accordance with the North Carolina law," Walker says. She also notes the exact time that the condemned entered the execution chamber, when the warden pronounced him dead, and notes that his body is being taken to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill.

When Joseph Timothy "Timmy" Keel was executed last Friday morning for murdering John Simmons, his father-in-law, media interest was so minimal that Walker didn't make her official announcement. The three media witnesses to the execution huddled for a few minutes, gave a few short interviews, and left.

No reporter from The News & Observer was there to witness the execution. Nor was one there to interview the approximately 100 death penalty opponents who maintained vigil on Western Boulevard until after the 2 a.m. execution, or several pro-death penalty demonstrators--some of whom were members of the Simmons family--who also held signs along Western Boulevard supporting lethal injection for Keel.

With Keel being the fifth execution the state has carried out since August, media interest may be waning. John Dennis Daniels is scheduled to die in Central Prison's execution chamber this Friday at 2 a.m., and Robbie James Lyons is scheduled to die on Dec. 5. The seven executions, if carried out, would be the most in a year in the state since 1949.

Associated Press reporter Estes Thompson, who has witnessed more than 20 executions at Central Prison, including Keel's, said he knew of no plans by the Raleigh AP to stop covering executions. Thompson said his counterpart in Texas has witnessed more than 400 executions.

Thompson said the four Simmons relatives who witnessed Keel's execution seemed unaffected by it all. "They were just watching it very matter-of-factly," Thompson said. "The vision came to mind of people watching a hog killing."

Tarboro reporter Calvin Adkins of The Daily Southerner witnessed Keel's execution. He said he would use the experience to warn young people that "the wages of sin, if you can say that, the wages of sin--especially murder in the first degree--could be the death penalty, and I witnessed that firsthand tonight." The son of a Baptist minister, Adkins said he doesn't agree with the death penalty at all.

"There's got to be a better way, and I don't know that way, and apparently the United States doesn't know that way," he said. "But an eye for an eye, I don't agree with that."

In a pre-execution prayer service at N.C. State's Doggett Catholic Student Center, a short video was shown of an interview with Timmy Keel's son, Patrick, who was 8 years old when the video was made in 1999, a year in which Timmy Keel received two execution dates (both were stayed).

In the video, the interviewer holds up a calendar showing the date of Keel's scheduled execution. On the calendar, Patrick had neatly written in the box: "Dad Dies."

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