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Interviewer Says Clanton Expressed Remorse for Murder

April 15, 1988 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The execution of Earl Clanton Jr., a participant in the largest escape of condemned prisoners in U.S. history, leaves three of the six inmates who fled the Mecklenburg Correctional Center in 1984 still on death row.

Clanton, 33, was put to death late Thursday night after final appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay and to Gov. Gerald L. Baliles for clemency were turned down.

Clanton, who said he lived a troubled childhood that included beatings by his father and sexual abuse by his stepmother, was sentenced to die for robbing and killing a neighbor, Wilhelmina Smith, in November 1980. The 38- year-old victim, a Petersburg school librarian, was strangled, stabbed and robbed of $8.

Before he died, Clanton expressed remorse for the murder, said Ignacio Carrion, a Washington-based reporter for Spanish television who interviewed Clanton just hours before the execution.

″He said he felt sorry for strangling the woman,″ said Carrion. ″He was very articulate. He showed no fear of dying, but he felt apprehensive, obviously.″

During the trial, Clanton had denied killing the woman, saying he got blood on his clothing because he had tried to help defend her against two intruders.

Clanton and five other death row inmates staged a daring escape from prison on May 31, 1984. All six were recaptured within a month, with Clanton being one of the first two caught as they were drinking wine and eating cheese outside a coin laundry in Warrenton, N.C.

Two of the escapees, brothers Linwood and James Briley, were executed before Clanton. The other three - Willie Leroy Jones, Derick L. Peterson and Lem Tuggle - are still on death row.

Previous executions at the aging State Penitentiary in downtown Richmond, slated to close within two years, have attracted rowdy crowds of death penalty supporters who yelled epithets at prayer vigil groups opposed to capital punishment. But the scene Thursday night was subdued.

About 75 death penalty foes held a candlelight vigil and sang ″We Shall Overcome.″ Larry Pagnoni, who spoke to the group, suggested that Virginia’s use of executions was racist.

″When we use the death penalty, Virginia is in a state of apartheid, like in South Africa,″ said Pagnoni, director of a Richmond shelter for the homeless.

Since 1982, seven death sentences have been carried out in the state. All of the condemned were men; five of the seven were black, including Clanton.

Clanton’s death brings to 98 the number of persons executed since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to restore the death penalty in 1976. Five of the executions have taken place this year.