DOZENS on death row are ready for death

Thursday, May 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Thomas Grasso was none too pleased when he found out he was not going to be executed yet.

``My whole day is totally ruined,'' he said. ``This is giving me a major headache.''

Grasso eventually got his wish, being put to death in 1995 in Oklahoma for the murder of a neighbor. He is among dozens of death-row prisoners who, like Timothy McVeigh, decided not to stay the hand of the executioner.

Motives vary among prisoners who drop their appeals and submit to the death chamber willingly, or at least without protest.

Some become repentant and say they do not deserve to live. McVeigh, the unremorseful Oklahoma City bomber who killed 168 people, is not among them.

A few like the control they feel in the timing of their death. McVeigh, who favors the poetic line ``I am the master of my fate'' and may use it among his last words, seems to fit this pattern.

At least a few are suicidal. They want the state to do what they could not bring themselves to do.

Most just want to get it over with.

``I am a rational man,'' Robert Lee Massie wrote before helping California executioners find a vein for his lethal injection in March. ``I do not consider forgoing the raptures of another decade behind bars to be an irrational decision.'' Massie had killed again after being paroled for a 1965 murder.

McVeigh, scheduled to die May 16, appears to be in the camp of those who see no sense in postponing the inevitable.

``I guess his feeling is, he knows he's going to die _ it might as well be sooner than later,'' his father William said after McVeigh dropped his appeals. McVeigh could still change his mind.

Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty, has chronicled about 90 ``consensual executions'' among the more than 700 conducted in the United States since a 1976 Supreme Court decision brought capital punishment back.

Volunteers were first to be executed in 11 of the 31 states that have put people to death since 1976, starting with Gary Gilmore in Utah. None of the people executed since then in Idaho, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania had exhausted their appeals, according to Amnesty International.

McVeigh will be the first prisoner executed by the federal government since the death penalty was reinstated.

On Tuesday night, Clay King Smith became the latest volunteer to die.

Smith had considered appeals even on his final day but only if the families of his victims _ his ex-girlfriend, her cousin and three children at Pine Bluff, Ark. _ told him it was OK. They were silent.

Death penalty opponents say consensual executions give the authorities an easy out, enabling them to avoid reviews of convictions and sentences that should be conducted even if the prisoner _ who may be mentally disturbed or too despondent to care _ does not want them to be.

Some prisoners convey their wish to die in the starkest terms, threatening to kill again if given any chance.

``You better vote for the death penalty because if you don't, I'll get out and it may be one of you next, or your family,'' Steven Judy told an Indiana jury before his 1981 execution.