Child Killer Dies In Florida Chair
STARKE, Fla. (AP) _ Johnny Paul Witt, once told by his father that he would ″never amount to anything,″ was put to death Wednesday in Florida’s electric chair for killing, sexually abusing and mutilating an 11-year-old boy.
Witt, 42, convicted for the fatal assault on the son of a University of South Florida professor, died at 7:10 a.m., despite clemency pleas by his mother who said it was unfair to execute him since a co-defendant received a life term.
When asked if he had any last words, Witt mumbled, ″No, I don’t have any″ as he chewed on his lip.
A dark mask was lowered over his shaved head and a hooded executioner, who was paid $150, pulled the switch that sent 2,000 volts through Witt’s body. The inmate jerked upward and the color faded slowly from his balled hands after the surge hit.
Witt was condemned for the murder of Jonathan Mark Kushner, who was riding his bicycle to a convenience store to buy candy when he was attacked Oct. 28, 1973.
Witt was the second killer executed in the state this year and the 12th man put to death in Florida’s electric chair since 1979. Witt became the 39th inmate executed in the nation since capital punishment was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.
″The crime for which Mr. Witt was convicted a decade ago was a particularly brutal murder of a young child,″ said Gov. Bob Graham. ″Mr. Witt has paid with his own life for the innocent life he took so viciously.″
Witt’s mother, Dorothy Witt of Knoxville, Tenn., spent four hours with her son Tuesday night and left the Florida State Prison near Starke just hours before the execution.
She repeatedly had written to the governor and other officials seeking a reprieve for her son, saying he shouldn’t die when co-defendant Gary Tillman was given a life sentence for pleading guilty and testifying against Witt.
She said Witt was unhappy for much of his life and had been told by his father that ″he was no good and would never amount to anything.″
As a boy, Witt sang solos in church, she said.
Witt requested no final meal but was given an omelet, which he ″kind of nibbled at,″ before being taken from his holding cell to the nearby oak electric chair, said Department of Corrections spokesman Vernon Bradford.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-3 to reject an emergency appeal aimed at temporarily sparing Witt’s life.
As Witt was led into the death chamber at 6:58 a.m., he looked through a window scanning the faces of the witnesses on the other side of a wall. He sighed heavily when strapped into the chair.
Among the witnesses were Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Detectives Gary Gainey and Rocky Rodriguez, who investigated the crime.
The young victim was pedaling to a convenience store near the family home when he was knocked from his bike, bound and gagged and driven to an orange grove. He was gagged so tightly that he smothered. According to court records, when the men opened the trunk and found the boy dead, the killers sexually abused and mutilated his body.
Witt’s wife, Donna, reported to police that her husband had confessed to killing the boy.
Another murderer, William Middleton Jr., also had been scheduled to die Wednesday morning but received a federal court stay Tuesday. Two other death row inmates are scheduled to die March 19.