JARRATT, Va. (AP) — A man who strangled his prison cellmate and made good on a vow to continue killing if he wasn't executed was put to death Wednesday in Virginia's electric chair.
Robert Gleason Jr., 42, was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center. He became the first inmate executed in the U.S. this year and the first to choose death by electrocution since 2010. In Virginia and nine other states, death row inmates are allowed to choose between electrocution and lethal injection.
Before being lowered into the chair, Gleason winked into the witness booth. Then he sat calmly while six members of the execution team strapped him in.
"Can they hear me out there?" Gleason asked. He made reference to two songs he liked, including a Johnny Cash song and "Take it to the Limit" by the Eagles as he declared, "Put me on the highway" recalling lyrics from the Eagles hit. In previous interviews with The Associated Press, he said the Eagles song was special because he longed for one last motorcycle ride.
He also alluded to a movie about execution called "The Green Mile" before ending with an Irish expletive and concluding: "God bless."
Then, after a metal helmet was placed on his head and a clamp on his right calf, his face was covered with a leather strap. He made a thumbs-up with his right hand for several seconds. Then, his body tensed as he was given two 90-second cycles of electric current before being pronounced dead.
Gleason was serving life in prison for the 2007 fatal shooting of a man when he became frustrated with prison officials because they wouldn't move out his new, mentally disturbed cellmate. Gleason hogtied, beat and strangled 63-year-old Harvey Watson Jr. in May 2009 and remained with the inmate's body for more than 15 hours before the crime was discovered.
"Someone needs to stop it," he told The AP after Watson's death. "The only way to stop me is put me on death row."
While awaiting sentencing at a highly secure prison for the state's most dangerous inmates, Gleason strangled 26-year-old Aaron Cooper through wire fencing that separated their individual cages in a recreation yard in July 2010. As officers tried to resuscitate Cooper — video surveillance shows had been choked on and off for nearly an hour — Gleason told them "you're going to have to pump a lot harder than that."
Gleason subsequently told AP in phone interviews that he deserved to die for what he did.