Convicted killer who was 17 at time of slaying put to death after losing last-minute appeal

Tuesday, October 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A convicted killer who was 17 at the time of the murder was executed after losing an appeal that attempted to make his age a rallying point for keeping him from the death chamber.

Gerald Mitchell, 33, had spent nearly half of his life on death row before the Monday execution, which marked the 19th time since 1976 a U.S. inmate was put to death for a murder committed when the killer was younger than 18.

He apologized to the victim's mother and told his family and friends to be strong. His sister, Marsha, sobbed and slid to her knees on the floor of the witness area,

``I am sorry for the life I took from you,'' Mitchell said, looking at Diane Marino, whose son Charles was killed. ``I sincerely apologize.''

By the time he was arrested for shooting three people in 1985, killing two of them, the 17-year-old Mitchell had a history of robbery and theft and had been expelled from an alternative school.

Mitchell was accused of killing Charles Anthony Marino, 20, who was shot with a sawed-off shotgun after he and his brother-in-law, Kenneth Fleming, tried to buy $1 worth of marijuana from Mitchell in Houston, court records show.

Fleming was seriously wounded and left for dead, and Marino was robbed of his car. The same day, Mitchell shot and killed Hector Munguia, 18, while trying to rob him.

``I just can't relate, even after all these years,'' said Diane Marino. ``I just don't understand why people do what they do.''

The execution came about two months after fellow inmate Napoleon Beazley was spared before he was to have been put to death for killing the father of a federal appeals court judge at age 17.

Mitchell's case didn't attract the attention of Beazley's, partially because of last month's terrorist attacks.

His lawyers had asked the Supreme Court to block his execution, arguing that the penalty would violate international law. The high court on Monday turned down the request to delay the execution.

``It is impossible to ignore this widespread recognition by applicable international bodies and officials,'' his lawyers wrote in their petition to the high court.

London-based Amnesty International criticized what it called the United States' ``pick-and-choose approach to international human rights standards.''

``On the one hand the USA is seeking to build an international coalition in response to the crimes of (Sept. 11), while on the other it is set to break an overwhelming global consensus that the crimes of children must never result in the death penalty,'' the organizaiton said.

Texas law allows the death sentence to be imposed on those convicted of capital murder at age 17. He was the 10th such executed inmate in Texas, the nation's most active death-penalty state.