As the hours ticked away last Thursday, Frank Ray Chandler, his family and lawyers tried to remain hopeful that Gov. Mike Easley would grant clemency to the 32-year-old who was facing execution in just a few hours. At Raleigh’s Central Prison, Chandler had his first-ever contact visits with his parents. At 5 p.m., he was eating his last meal: a Pizza Hut thin-crust, medium pizza with pepperoni, ham, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, black olives and extra cheese, and a glass of iced milk.
By 7:30 p.m., death penalty opponents gathered at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church for a prayer service, and police set up temporary steel barricades in the prison driveway.
In Michigan, Chandler’s half-sister, Evelyn Elkins, said she and her other siblings would be praying that Easley would spare their brother’s life.
“I’m really trusting in God for a miracle,” said Elkins, who visited her brother the weekend before. “I am hopeful.”
Hope died at 7:55 p.m., when Easley’s office faxed a statement to warden Marvin Polk denying clemency for Chandler, who was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of Doris Poore, a 90-year-old woman who Chandler says he killed by accident when she startled him in the darkness during a burglary of her Mount Airy home.
Shortly after informing Chandler that the 2 a.m. execution was on, Chandler’s legal team of Janet Holohan, Mark Rabil and Jim Smith walked solemnly out of the prison and informed Chandler’s parents of Easley’s decision. Chandler told Rabil he did not want any more visits during his final five hours of life.
Rabil, Holohan and Smith, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who had worked on Chandler’s appeals while he was a UNC law student, walked up to the front of the prison to tell a group of candle-holding mourners that Chandler would die.
“It was denied,” Rabil said. “With no explanation.”
Death-penalty opponents had been hopeful that Easley would stop Chandler’s execution. Even former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a death penalty supporter, had met with Easley in support of clemency. Orr wrote the lone dissenting opinion in a 1996 ruling by the court that upheld Chandler’s jury conviction and death sentence. Orr said Chandler’s crime, an accidental killing without premeditation, did not warrant the death penalty.
Smith said he remained hopeful until the end.
“I was probably more hopeful than [Chandler] was,” Smith said. “I actually thought that the governor would do the right thing. I’m obviously very disappointed in the governor. I’m very sad. I’m sad for the victim’s family, as well.”
Rabil saw a silver-lining. He said the injustice of Chandler’s execution would result in the passage of a moratorium on executions.
“Frank knows that because of him there’s great likelihood the moratorium’s going to pass,” Rabil told the group. “He’ll go with that consolation. He thinks he had to go just so this thing can get passed.”
Around 1 a.m., Holohan, Rabil and Smith returned to the prison to witness Chandler’s execution. Chandler did not want his family members to be there. At 2:13 a.m., Polk pronounced Chandler dead, the 18th execution during Easley’s first term as governor.
“This was probably the least humane death that you could ever see,” Rabil told reporters at about 2:30 a.m. “This is no way for civilized society to act; to be taken into a room where strangers watch you die–in a very private moment–through a double-paned glass…
“He didn’t want his family there because of the horror of this, and I can see that. And for anybody out there that thinks that this is a peaceful way to go, all I can say is think again and come watch one of these.
“Maybe the people in the legislature or the governor needs to come here and watch this, because this is not a peaceful death. There’s no privacy. There’s no sacredness as there should be. It’s just not the way that death should be.”
Rabil said he felt horrible for Poore’s family and the tragedy they went though.
“But I can’t imagine that sitting in a darkened room watching a person die created any type of healing or any type of closure whatsoever,” he said.