TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - A Gulf War veteran whose plea for clemency claimed exposure to Iraqi nerve gas made him violent was executed by the U.S. government on Tuesday for the 1995 rape and murder of a young servicewoman.
Louis Jones, Jr., 53, became the third federal death row convict to be put to death since the government resumed executions in June 2001 with those of fellow Gulf War veteran and convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and drug kingpin Juan Garza eight days later.
Suzanne Carter leads a group of death penalty opponents in a rally at the Vigo County Courthouse in Terre Haute, Ind., Monday, March 17, 2003. Gulf War vetera Louis Jones Jr. was executed by lethal injection Tuesday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Jones died at 7:08 a.m. EST after an injection of lethal chemicals at the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, site of the only federal execution chamber. His final meal the evening before consisted of peaches, nectarines and plums.
"Though the Lord has chastised me forth he hath not given me over unto death," Jones said as the drugs were injected. He then began singing a hymn beginning "Jesus keep me near the cross..." before drifting off.
He was the 17th person put to death in the United States so far this year, at a time of renewed debate in the country on the death penalty and continuing international criticism. The governor of Illinois earlier this year emptied that state's death row, citing injustices in the law.
Jones appealed to President Bush to commute his sentence to life in prison, based on disclosures since his 1995 trial about allied exposure to nerve gas during the 1991 conflict and ailments collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome.
A decorated former member of the U.S. Special Forces who had retired from the military, Jones confessed to breaking into Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, ostensibly to look for his estranged wife, and abducting Air Force Pvt. Tracie McBride instead. He admitted raping the 19-year-old McBride in his apartment, then taking her to a bridge where he beat her to death with a tire iron.
ARGUED WAS EXPOSED TO GAS
He was tried in under the 1988 law that reinstated federal executions because McBride was kidnapped from a U.S. military base.
Texas Tech University law professor Timothy Floyd, who handled Jones' appeals, argued the jury did not get to hear about subsequent Pentagon revelations that Jones was among more than 100,000 allied soldiers exposed to Sarin nerve gas while chasing retreating Iraqi troops.
Prosecutors argued Jones had shown violent tendencies before the Gulf War, citing beatings he administered to a few fellow soldiers.
At his trial, defense lawyers argued Jones did not have a criminal record prior to McBride's murder, but had suffered abuse as a child and post-traumatic stress disorder from his wartime duties. He parachuted under fire into Grenada during the 1983 U.S. invasion of the Caribbean island and was among front-line troops that drove into Iraq in the Gulf War.
The United States is the only western democracy in which the death penalty is still used. According to Amnesty International, in 2001 China carried out the most executions, 2,468, followed by Iran, 138, Saudi Arabia 79 and the United States 66.
©2003 Reuters Ltd