Okla., Ala. execute 2 criminals Neill killed 4 in robbery; Johnson was a thief

Posted: December 13, 2002

Oklahoma executed a man yesterday who was convicted of murdering four people during a bank robbery in 1984 in what was considered one of the worst mass murders in the state's history.

Also last night, a man condemned for his role in the 1984 shooting death of a jeweler became the first Alabama inmate executed by injection.

Jay Wesley Neill, 37, was pronounced dead by prison officials at 6:18 p.m. CST, three minutes after receiving a lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. He was the sixth person executed in the state this year.

When Neill was 19, he and accomplice Robert Grady Johnson robbed the First State Bank of Chattanooga in Geronimo, Okla., a small town in the southwest part of the state.

Neill was convicted of taking three of the bank's employees - Jeri Bowles, Kay Bruno, and Joyce Mullenix - into a back room and killing them with a total of 75 stab wounds. Two of the victims were nearly decapitated from the multiple stab wounds and one victim was seven months pregnant at the time.

Neill wounded three others and killed customer Ralph Zeller with a gun shot to his head.

"I want everyone to know that I'm really sorry for what I did to you," Neill said in a last statement delivered in a shaky voice. "I'm sorry for the horrible, horrible things I did."

Neill also said that Johnson was not in the bank at the time the victims were killed and wounded.

Neill and Johnson made off with $17,000 from the robbery and fled to San Francisco, where they spent the money on a posh hotel, a 24-hour limousine service and shopping sprees, police said.

Following their capture, the two men blamed one another for the crime and were given separate trials. Johnson, who claimed Neill forced him into the robbery during the course of an abusive sexual relationship, received a life sentence.

Homosexual rights groups sent letters to Gov. Frank Keating asking him to commute the death sentence, arguing Neill's trial was "tainted with bias" by anti-gay comments a prosecutor made about Neill's homosexuality.

Neill was handed the death penalty in 1992. About 20 family members of those killed by Neill witnessed the execution.

"I know it's not popular, but I was here to get some revenge, and I got some measure of revenge," said Gerald Morgan, the uncle of victim Jeri Bowles.

For his final meal, Neill had a double cheeseburger and French fries.

The execution was Oklahoma's 54th since it resumed executions in 1990.

Anthony Johnson, who was not the triggerman in the robbery, was put to death despite pleas from some Alabama investigators that it be halted to help solve the crime. His appeals were rejected by the governor and U.S. Supreme Court hours before his scheduled execution.

Johnson, 46, did not give a final statement. He acknowledged the presence of his pastor and a friend in the witness room and told the warden, "They know I love them."

Lethal injection became Alabama's primary method of execution under a law passed earlier this year, leaving only Nebraska with the chair as the sole means to execute condemned inmates. Alabama's electric chair, known as "Yellow Mama" for its color, has been used since 1927. It was last used in May.

The original investigators in the March 11, 1984, slaying of Hartselle jeweler Kenneth Cantrell had said that, if spared execution, Johnson could help bring his cohorts to justice.

No one else has been prosecuted, but the district attorney said Johnson's uncorroborated testimony would not have been be sufficient to bring charges. Johnson's lawyer has said he gave police the names of the other people involved in the slaying. *

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