Oklahoma prepares to execute five-time killer

Tuesday, July 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Eleven years ago, Gregg Francis Braun left his parents' Garden City, Kan., condominium and became a killer. If only, his father says, clocks could be turned back -- including the one ticking toward his son's execution.

If Gregg Braun's execution proceeds as scheduled, he will be led to Oklahoma's death chamber on Wednesday, exactly 11 years after he went on a four-state murder spree that left five people dead. "They're going to kill a good man," said Braun's father, Lelyn Braun, of Hays, Kan., who was a prominent Garden City lawyer at the time of the crimes. "And they're going to do it illegally."

Lelyn Braun doesn't defend his son's actions. But he is aiding an effort to win a last-minute stay of Thursday's execution and have him returned to New Mexico to serve a life sentence there. Appeals have been filed in both New Mexico and Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday rejected the request.

Dusty Miller understands why a father would fight for his child. He raised three children to adulthood alone. But Miller can't comprehend how a 28-year-old Braun could walk into an Ardmore, Okla., floral shop and shoot his sweet-natured wife, Gwendolyn Sue Miller. And Miller doesn't believe a man like that can change as Lelyn Braun claims. "I don't understand how he could meet somebody like Gwen and still make a decision that the world didn't need her anymore," Miller said Monday.

Gregg Braun received the death penalty in Mrs. Miller's July 21,1989 murder. Two other women survived being shot in the head during the shop robbery. His killing spree began two days earlier in Garden City when, riding on an all-day cocaine high, he set out to rob a convenience store and ended up shooting the clerk. He later told police that just after the murder he felt he had to kill again.

The bodies of Barbara Kochendorfer and Mary Rains were found on the same rural road. The next day, he shot E.P. "Pete" Spurrier while robbing a Pampa, Texas, photo development store. It wasn't until July 23,1989, just after he shot Geraldine Valdez twice in the head at a Springer, N.M., convenience store that police finally caught up with him. "You guys must be proud," he told them. "You don't know what kind of famous criminal you caught."

Lelyn Braun says he didn't know this Gregg Braun. Yes, the son he raised had his troubles with drugs. Yes, the youngest Braun ran with the wrong crowd -- unlike an older brother who became a prosecutor and another who became a successful businessman. But Gregg Braun, who graduated Wichita State University with a degree in criminal justice, had seemed ready to get his life on track when he came to live with his parents. The night before the murders his father cooked him a steak. Dinner, however, ended in an argument when Gregg Braun showed up drunk, Lelyn Braun said. The elder Braun heard about the Garden City murders the next day on the golf course and concluded that roving motorcycle gangs must be to blame. "It can't be Gregg," he thought when he got the call that his son had been arrested.

Gregg Braun received life sentences for the murders in Kansas, Texas and New Mexico. Lelyn Braun blames the murder spree on a combination of drugs and alcohol. He said he wrote the victims' families to tell them he wished Gregg had never been born. "I'm sorry it happened," he said. "I only wish to God we could turn the clocks back and undo it."

Gregg Braun's victims share a scrapbook of sorts. A blue-bound report presented to Oklahoma's clemency board is jammed with letters from the victims' families, along with official reports about Braun's crimes. A letter from Kochendorfer's 17-year-old daughter, Barbara, tells of a teen-ager wanting a mother to comfort her when she cries. Another from 12-year-old Jessica Marion Rains speaks of the mother she never knew. "Sometimes, I just need to know what she was like," she writes. Some of the letters express forgiveness. Some cry out fo rjustice. "He is the type of animal that makes the death penalty necessary," wrote Delores Spurrier, whose husband was killed. "The sooner he is put to death, the better off the world will be.” Valdez's daughter, Suzanne Baze, described how her mother volunteered for the Little League and always wore a smile. "My dad, brother and I had to make the most painful decision we ever had to make," she wrote. "We had to decide whether or not to take my mom off life support."

And there are photos. A young Mrs. Miller on horseback. A smiling couple on their wedding day. A family ski trip. A grave covered in the flowers she loved to share. Miller's letter is to his wife. “Everyone had a story about you and how much they loved you. And we laughed about you and cried about you. And then, as fast as the nightmare came, it got worse. And you were really gone."

Many of the family members plan to be there to watch Gregg Braun die. Miller plans to attend with his daughter and twin sons, who were 13 and 11 when their mother died. "I feel so sorry for Gregg's dad," Miller said. "I think we love our children regardless of what they do. But this was not just a little mistake in life." "He left a tidal wave of people hurting."