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Prosecutor: ‘The Only Time We Can Relax ... is When He is in Hell’

September 1, 1991 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Donald Henry Gaskins, who has admitted killing 13 people between 1970 and 1975, faces death in the electric chair Friday for blowing up a fellow prisoner.

Gaskins, nicknamed ″Pee Wee″ and called a ″redneck Charlie Manson,″ and ″a master of trickery″ by prosecutors and victims’ families, was serving 10 life sentences when he was convicted of the 1982 slaying of death row inmate Rudolph Tyner at Central Correctional Institution.

Gaskins stabbed, shot or drowned his free-world victims, burying them in backwoods graves near the rural community of Prospect in the heart of the state’s tobacco belt.

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A jury sentenced him to die for one of those killings, but the sentence was tossed out when the state’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional.

Gaskins made a bomb that looked like a homemade radio. It blew up when Tyner put it to his ear on Sept. 12, 1982, earning Gaskins another death sentence.

Reform isn’t an option for Gaskins, said Dick Harpootlian, who as deputy solicitor prosecuted the case.

″The only time we can relax our vigilance on Pee Wee is when he is in hell,″ he said. ″He’s not afraid of prison. But he’s really scared of that electric chair.″

In a recent interview, Gaskins called electrocution ″one of the most malicious, most cold bloodest, premeditatest murders that there is. It can’t be no worse than if I was to sit down and plan to kill somebody.″

Defense attorney Jack Swerling said it’s ironic Gaskins faces death for killing another man sentenced to die.

Authorities still don’t know how Gaskins smuggled plastic explosives into prison to make the bomb. But Gaskins was a prison maintenance man and had access to tools.

He committed the murder for Tony Cimo, whose mother and stepfather had been killed by Tyner during a convenience store robbery.

A 1986 CBS television movie, ″Vengeance: The Story of Tony Cimo,″ detailed Cimo’s growing frustration over Tyner’s lengthy appeals.

Gaskins recorded phone conversations with Cimo, planning to use the tapes to extort money. When he learned he was a suspect, he recorded reruns of ″Hogan’s Heroes″ over the tapes, hoping to make authorities look foolish.

But investigators were able to extract the conversations to use as evidence.

Gaskins, who is white, said he agreed to kill Tyner because Tyner was black. He said his desire to keep the races separate was behind some of the killings.

He drowned a white woman who was pregnant with a baby fathered by a black. He also drowned the woman’s 2-year-old daughter, whose father also was black.

Gaskins, who says he’s anywhere from 56 to 62, first got in trouble as a teen-ager. He was sent to reform school for hitting a girl in the head with a hatchet.

He got the nickname because of his diminutive stature. He stands 5 feet 6 inches tall.

A psychological evaluation done in 1981 said Gaskins projected a macho image to make up for feelings of inadequacy. The psychologist said Gaskins is emotionally shallow and preoccupied with hostile and aggressive needs.

The report said he sees himself above the mores of society and that he has a rigid personal moral code he applies to other people and situations. The psychologist said Gaskins sensed his victims had ″done him wrong.″

Before Tyner’s murder, Gaskins peddled coffee and sandwiches to inmates and guards. He even ran a small loan and pawn shop.

Gaskins is known for frequent hunger strikes over prison policies.

Earlier this year, he gathered signatures from inmates willing to fight in the Persian Gulf. Just two weeks ago, he was accused of plotting to kidnap Harpootlian’s 3-year-old daughter. The plan was to use the child to delay his looming execution.

P-DS-09-01-91 1859EDT