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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Dec. 3, 1997)
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for this execution
By Erin Gibson
When the state of Nebraska execut
ed Harold Lamont Otey on Sept. 2,
1994, the jeers and chants of about
2,000 demonstrators - both for and
against the execution - steeped the air
outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
Like a sea of football fans strug
gling to appear on national television,
some celebrated the execution waving a
“Nebraska State Pen 1st Annual B-B-Q”
banner. Others arrived drunk and wear
ing homemade T-shirts.
Other protesters prayed, cried and
bowed their heads. One wore a small,
white button that read, “Why do we kill
people who kill people to show that
killing is wrong?”
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of John Joubert, about 600 demonstra
tors repealed the Otey midnight celebra
tion, described as “animalistic” by
University of Nebraska-Lincoln crimi
nal justice professor and execution wit
ness Chris Eskridge.
The two scenes persuaded state offi
cials to conduct Tuesday’s execution for
Robert E. Williams during the mid
morning instead of at midnight, with
^ hopes that the gathering would be
smaller and more serene.
About 80 demonstrators gathered
outside the penitentiary to mark
But state officials and UNL crimi
nal justice and psychology experts dis
agree whether fee timing of the execu
tion alone reduced the size of the
The biggest factor was the short
length of time between this and the last
criminal execution, some said. The long
period between Williams’ crimes and
his execution also may have made
Nebraskans ambivalent to the event,
Still others said Williams’ request
By changing the
time of execution, we
were able to avert
that Nebraskans refrain from protesting
his execution had an effect
Susan Jacobs, a UNL associate pro
fessor of criminal justice, said the tim
ing of the execution was the biggest
contributor to the smaller crowds.
“It was not a dramatic time to go,
nor a convenient one,” Jacobs said.
Williams’ execution began at 10:16
a.m. on aTuesday, while Otey’s began at
12:23 a.m. on a Friday. The execution of
Joubert also began early one Friday at
“By changing the time of execution,
we were able to avert the carnival
atmosphere,” said Gov. Ben Nelson
Tuesday, adding that “yellow courage”
drove protesters from the bars to the past
Jacobs also said Williams’ pleas for
anti-death penalty demonstrators to
avoid the penitentiary during the execu
tion might have kept some would-be
cibiVd meiliberS'av^; ^ * ; *
But Eskridge said the time period
between die executions was the biggest
factor to reducing unruly crowds.
Otey’s 1994 execution marked the
first time in 35 years the state had exe
cuted a criminal, he said. Joubert’s exe
cution, with notably smaller crowds,
followed the Otey execution by about
two years. Williams’ execution date fell
only 1 Vi years later.
Nebraskans’ ambivalence to
Williams’ execution also increased
because of the 20-year time period
between his crimes and his execution,
Williams confessed he murdered
two Lincoln women in 1977. Joubert
and Otey were executed more quickly -
Joubert 13 years after he murdered two
Sarpy County boys, and Otey 17 years
after he raped and murdered an Omaha
Regardless of their feelings toward
the criminals or their victims, people
remain equally fascinated by death, said
psychology Professor Richard
“People are always fascinated by
power, and taking someone’s life is
about the most powerful thing you can
idea of executions because they have
become more common, he said.
“It may still intellectually horrify
people, but the emotional response is
muted by the repetition,” Dienstbier
said. “It’s very much like war itself.
With people getting killed in war, we
For this reason, future executions
may draw even smaller crowds, he said.
• Sandy Summers/DN 1
ABOVE: DEATH PENALTY ADVOCATES show their support Tuesday morning
before Robert E. Williams’ execution.
TOP: JUSTIN SANDEFUR (left) and Nathan Blake protest the death penalty
Tuesday morning outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
Family of Iowa victim finds
closure in Williams’ death
By Ted Taylor
Twenty years ago when his wife,
Virginia, was raped and murdered in their
Sioux Rapids, Iowa, home, Wayne Earl
Rowe wanted him dead.
Two years ago when die Nebraska Supreme
Court granted a stay, three hours before his
scheduled execution, Rowe wanted him dead.
On Tuesday, the day he was scheduled to
die for the murder of a Lincoln woman - not
his wife - Rowe wanted him dead.
And at 10:16 a.m. Tuesday Rowe got his
wish. He watched death row inmate and his
wife’s murderer, Robert E. Williams, die.
“I’ve been waiting 20 years for this,” the
stoic, 75-year-old retired farmer said during
a news conference after Williams was put to
death in the electric chair. “I didn’t think it
could be true that it was happening.”
Rowe was one of 10 witnesses to watch
Williams’ execution Tuesday morning.
Harold Clark, director of the Nebraska State
' Penitentiary, said Rowe took the place usual
ly reserved for a prison staff member.
After witnessing the execution, Rowe
was joined at the news conference by his
son, Tom, and daughter-in-law, Jan.
Rowe said it was important for him and
the family to be there when Williams was put
“I know it’s complete, I know it’s over;” he
said “I can now go back to my own community,
with their blessing, and live a very decent life.”
Tom Rowe said Tuesday was a time for
his family to reflect on his mother’s life.
“This is a day when we have to experi
ence and share, and a day we probably looked
forward to 20 years ago,” he said, “when he
took my mother’s life for no reason at all.”
The Williams’ case had been one of
many murder cases closely watched by the
Iowa Legislature in its discussions of possi
bly reinstating the death penalty.
Iowa is one of 12 states that currently
does not have the death penalty.
And in the years since his wife’s death,
Rowe and his family have hoped to change that
But in recent years, he said, his testimony in
support of the death penalty has gone unheard
The family members said they were sat
isfied with Williams being found guilty in
Nebraska and sentenced to death here.
And while media witnesses indicated
they were impressed with Williams’ calm
demeanor, Tom Rowe saw no glory in it.
“I can assure you that on that day 20 years
ago, it was not serene and notpeacefid,” he said
The elder Rowe said he felt “relaxed” after
the execution and after Williams’ apology.
Both Rowes said they accepted the apolo
gy, but could never forget what happened.
“We have forgiven Mr. Williams,” Tom
Rowe said, “but we will never forgive, nor
forget what he did 20 years ago.
“Justice has been served.”
Inmate calm at end, witnesses say
WILLIAMS from page 1
“I am sorry, Mr. Rowe. I love you, brother,”
Williams said, according to witnesses. He then
waved, with his hands strapped to the electric
chair. Rowe waved back, and said later that he
accepted Williams’ apology.
Williams’ death warrant went into effect one
minute after midnight Tuesday, but prison offi
cials decided to hold the execution during the
morning hours to avoid the large crowds and
drunken disturbances of past executions.
The execution of Harold Lamont Otey in
1994 and John Joubert in 1996 were held min
utes after midnight. Otey’s execution brought
more than 2,000 protesters Mid revelers to the
penitentiary, and the scene was a carnival of tears
and drunken death chants.
Joubert’s execution brought more than 600
people, and was different only in that the state
patrol separated the pro- and anti-death penalty
The scene outside the penitentiary Tuesday
morning was eerily silent More than 50 protest
ers and supporters were present, and only a few
signs were hoisted.
Inside, the scene was also calm and quiet
Witnesses said Williams was smiling
throughout everything before die execution. The
five media witnesses said Williams’ calm Mid
almost cheerful demeanor set them at ease.
“It appeared as if he was ready for this,” said
KETV Channel 7 reporter Brad Stephens.-“It
was incredible how calm he was.”
Associated Press reporter Robynn Tysver
said “he was unerringly polite. Calm, composed,
Bill Hord, Lincoln bureau chief for the
Omaha World-Herald, Tracy Overstreet, news
director for KRGI radio in Grand Island and
Butch Mabin, a reporter for the Lincoln Journal
Star also witnessed the execution.
Williams was strapped into the electric chair > i
shortly before 10 a.m. The first offour2,400 volt
jolts of electricity started at 10:16 a.m., and the
last was finished at 10:17 a.m. Williams was pro
nounced dead at 10:23 a.m.
Witnesses said that on die fust and third jolts
of electricity, smoke appeared from the right side
of Williams’ head and on his left knee area.
Electrodes from the chair are placed on both
areas with a wet sponge separating die skin from
For Rowe, Wiliams’ death signaled closure
to his wife’s death.
“The book is closed. The chapter has been
finally ended,” Rowe said. “I will go on with my
Attorney General Don Stenberg, in a written
statement, said his office was extending sympa
thy to the families of the victims.
“We also express our sympathy to Wiliams’
friends and family,” he said. “It is a great tragedy
that Williams’ many crimes brought so much
grief to so many good people.” . !j
Gov. Ben Nelson, in a press conference in his
office shortly after the execution, said there was
no pleasure in his role in the execution.
“It was a somber experience,” Nelson said,
who has been governor for all three executions
this decade. “It doesn’t get easier with time. In a
sense, it’s cumulative and becomes more diffi
* Tysver said that the execution offered little to
“It’s a lose, lose, lose situation today. Mr.
Williams lost, his family lost, his friends lost, the
victims lost,” she said. “Nobody won today.”
Staff reporter Amanda Schindler con
tributed to this report. .
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