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'I understand why you hate me'

Earl Richmond Jr. changed so much in prison, two guards switched posts because his loss was so painful.


Earl Richmond Jr. was an out-of-control drug addict and alcoholic when he killed four people and ended up on death row in Raleigh's Central Prison. In his final days and hours, however, Richmond was his own man, humbly and honestly taking responsibility for his actions, offering no excuses as he faced execution last Friday morning, the 20th man put to death under Gov. Mike Easley.

A Cumberland County jury sentenced Richmond to die for the 1991 killings of 27-year-old Helisa Stewart Hayes and her two children, Phillip, 8, and Darien, 7. He also received a life sentence for killing another woman, Lisa Ann Nadeau, in New Jersey.

Known affectionately as "E" by the other men on death row, Richmond left behind a lot of broken hearts among the men he lived with on the row, said Ann Humphreys, a mitigation specialist who worked with Richmond's legal team. Humphreys interviewed five death row inmates, asking them to share their impressions of Richmond. The men told stories of a fellow inmate who shared his money and possessions without reservations or the expectation of getting anything in return; a "peacemaker" who talked others out of fighting; a man who was respected universally by guards and inmates alike; and a man with a "good soul" and a "ready smile."

"Two officers don't even work on our block anymore since they heard he's being executed," an inmate told Humphreys. "They can't take it; it's too painful."

A former Army drill sergeant who traveled the world, Richmond refused a last meal, and he refused to partake of self-pity.

"I want no medication, no Valium, no last meal," Richmond wrote in a statement he read to 78 death row inmates on May 3. "My victims got no last meal."

In his testimony, Richmond told his story, expressed sadness at leaving his friends behind and wrote of his Christian faith.

"I have crossed paths with many people from all walks of life. I say that to say this: I've met better people in here than I've met during my travels. There's a lot of good men in this building, and it's been a blessing for me to have known you.

"I'm going to miss so much of this place. It's all I have known for the last 13 years of my life ... no one can do time by himself, and I've never felt alone. And that's because of all of you.

"I wanted to be prepared for my execution, so I could show others it's not to be feared. I've been prepared for this day for years ... Satan got me once, lied to me in my face. He's not going to steal my joy or my victory this time. There is a God and He has touched my heart and I am His. That's why you see in me what you see. Between me and the finish line there is a gurney. I'm not concerned about the gurney ..."

In a final statement read by his attorney, Jonathan Broun of Chapel Hill, Richmond expressed his "deepest apologies" to the families of his victims.

"My actions have crushed the dreams and hearts of many families," Richmond said. "My heart cries out to heal your pain and suffering. It is my wish and prayer that my death will release you from the torment and pain that has accompanied you since the time of your losses. I understand why you hate me. It is not my wish to ask you to forgive because that would be selfish. God is well aware of my sins and shortcomings and how much of a hurdle they have been in my life. I realized that I have caused pain and suffering to those I love. God has changed my heart, my mind and my spirit which has multiplied my contrition. May God comfort you all."

Broun, who represented Richmond at his original trial and witnessed the execution, also spoke on behalf of Richmond's legal team.

"We just want to say that the Earl Richmond who did these crimes died many, many years ago," Broun said at a post-execution press conference. "We have seen in the past few years a tremendous change. The words [Richmond wrote] do not begin to describe the remorse and pain he has felt for his actions. He did not want us to be talking about his remorse or other things beforehand because he did not want it to be thought of as just some ploy or some attempt to get clemency."

Fayetteville Observer court reporter Paul Woolverton, one of two journalists who witnessed Richmond's execution, said it was not easy watching Richmond die.

"A man came in alive and left dead and you knew ahead of time it's going to happen," Woolverton said. "He just was laying there, and you realize after a bit that he was dead, and I got to thinking at one point, 'Just a little bit ago I saw how his face was so animated.' ... He closed his eyes and he never opened them again."

Cumberland County District Attorney Edward W. Grannis Jr. was apparently not moved by the experience of witnessing Richmond's execution. In a statement released to reporters, Grannis wrote: "We are grateful to the State of North Carolina for carrying out the execution of Earl Richmond, Jr. The manner of his execution pales in comparison to the brutal and horrific murders of his three North Carolina victims ... We trust that Earl Richmond, Jr.'s execution has provided some measure of justice for his victims and for the citizens of the State of North Carolina."

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