Horrors' Killer Gets His Wish Victims' Kin Watch As Gary Heidnik Gets Lethal Injection

Posted: July 07, 1999

The "House of Horrors" killer got his wish last night.

Gary Heidnik was put to death by lethal injection at Rockview State Correctional Institution in Centre County.

At 10:17 p.m., the cocktail of death began flowing into his veins as 12 witnesses and four women, relatives of Heidnik's victims, looked on.

He was pronounced dead at 10:29 by Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers.

The victims' relatives applauded when his death was announced over a speaker. One woman was heard to say, "Thank you, Jesus."

Heidnik, 55, who years ago had said he wanted to be executed, was sentenced by a Philadelphia jury in 1988 to die for the murders of two of several young women he kept as sex slaves in his North Philadelphia basement.

The home earned the name "House of Horrors" when police found it had been used to kill, rape and torture young women he had lured there.

The body of Deborah Dudley, 24, was found dumped in a Camden County woods. The body parts of Sandra Lindsay, 24, were found in Heidnik's freezer and in a pot on his stove. There was evidence he had fed some of her body, mixed with dog food, to his other slaves.

"So horrible were his deeds," said Gov. Ridge, "a jury of 12 Pennsylvanians determined unanimously that he must forfeit his life. Tonight, he paid that price. In doing so, he suffered far less than the women he tortured and killed."

Lindsay's sister, Tracey Lomax, and Dudley's sister, Carolyn Johnson, spoke with reporters after the execution. Both are from Philadelphia and said they really were anxious to attend the execution.

"Now all of the trials, all of the appeals are over, and he's headed for the big trial," Lomax said. "I do believe he will suffer, maybe not in this life, but he will suffer. As far as I'm concerned, the chapter of him is closed."

Said Johnson, "I feel like a whole burden was lifted off me. I feel like my sister can be in peace. I hope there can be closure now for my family."

The witnesses, six from the media and six ordinary citizens, arrived at the prison at 10 p.m. By 10:10 they were led into the beige-colored 12-by-20-foot viewing room. A blue curtain separated it from the death chamber.

The witnesses were separated from the victims' relatives by a partition.

At 10:10, the curtain opened, revealing Heidnik lying on a gurney, his right hand extended toward the window. A sheet was pulled almost to his shoulders. His eyes were closed.

When the chemicals began to flow into his arm, his face turned a deep red and then became ashen, close to the color of his salt-and-pepper beard, as one witness said.

At 10:28, the curtain was closed and after a few minutes, the announcement of his death was made.

Heidnik's body was taken to a local funeral home for cremation.

At the governor's mansion in Harrisburg, demonstrators from the Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty protested the execution after learning that appeals to spare him had been denied.

A scramble of last-minute appeals in the federal court system, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to stop the execution, the third in Pennsylvania since 1995.

Set for 10 p.m., the execution was delayed 17 minutes following a call by Ridge to the prison at about 9:30 to report that the Supreme Court was still pondering a request for a stay. About a half-hour later the prison learned the court had denied the request and the execution was ordered to proceed.

Despite Heidnik's expressed wish to be put to death, his daughter, Maxine Davidson White, and lawyers for the Defenders Association of Philadelphia fought to save him.

Heidnik's defenders argued that he was mentally incompetent to decide to accept execution. He had been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

Heidnik had a somewhat distorted reason for wanting to die. He told psychiatrists he believed he was innocent of murder but wanted to die because the death of an innocent man would lead to the end of the death penalty in the United States.

The psychiatrists found this reasoning sound. They said he was trying to put a good spin on a bad ending, and convinced judges of their opinion.

Heidnik arrived at Rockview, near State College, at 12:20 p.m. yesterday and was taken to the execution facility, which is separate from the main prison building. He was fingerprinted and placed in a holding cell.

According to Michael Lukens, press secretary for the Department of Corrections, Heidnik declined a physical exam and a shower.

He was given a briefing by prison officials about what was going to happen to him.

State Corrections Commissioner Martin Horn met with him.

"He was quiet and cooperative," Lukens said.

He said Heidnik, who still wore his trademark beard, was dressed in a short-sleeve white shirt, brown pants, socks and slippers.

For lunch, he had a turkey-and-cheese sandwich with tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise on white bread, macaroni salad and french fries.

For his last meal he picked two slices of pizza and two cups of black coffee, which he was served at 5:40 p.m.

He met with his daughter in a noncontact area in which visitors are separated by a plastic sheet. They visited for about an hour.

In the afternoon, Heidnik asked that a radio be set up outside his cell and tuned to a country music station.

He also asked for his personal Bible, but the prison did not have it. He declined a substitute.

In the execution chamber were folding chairs for the witnesses. There was also space for any family members of the victims who wished to attend.

He learned at 6:30 p.m. about his final court denial, but a phone line in the execution chamber was kept open to the Governor's Mansion in case of a last-minute reprieve.

At 9:35, he was taken the 20 or so feet to the execution chamber and was strapped down on a gurney. A needle was inserted in his arm.

Yesterday afternoon, while Heidnik was awaiting his death at Rockview, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia issued a 2-1 ruling denying the request for an execution stay.

In a brief, unsigned opinion, Circuit Judges Samuel A. Alito Jr., of Newark, N.J., and Richard L. Nygaard, of Erie, Pa., agreed that Heidnik was mentally competent to waive further appeals.

Alito and Nygaard upheld Saturday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen, who found that Heidnik's decision to waive further appeals was "voluntary, intelligent, knowing and rational."

The fact that Heidnik suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, a serious mental illness, wasn't "incompatible" with Heidnik having the ability to rationally choose execution over life in prison, Van Antwerpen had decided.

Dissenting and complaining of a rush to judgment, Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee of Philadelphia suggested that Heidnik was insane and could not understand what was going on.

Public defenders representing Heidnik's daughter immediately asked all 11 3rd Circuit judges to rehear the case. They declined later in the day. The defenders then took their futile appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are 226 inmates on Pennsylvania's death row. The majority are African-American and more than half are from Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest death-row roster, following Texas, with 437 inmates, California with 536 and Florida with 390.

Send e-mail to adamsoa@phillynews.com

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