Originally created 11/08/97

Matthews is executed by injection



COLUMBIA -- Convicted murderer Earl Matthews was put to death Friday in South Carolina's first dinner-hour execution.

Matthews, 32, was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m. by lethal injection, state Corrections Department spokesman John Barkley said.

Matthews, in his final statement, used his execution as a warning to the troubled youth of today.

"My way of thinking isn't like it used to be. I was a foolish young boy, and I did foolish things. Young people, listen to me. When older people tell you some things, you better listen," his statement said.

Matthews of Charleston was convicted of shooting and killing 16-year-old Lucia Aimar and wounding her boyfriend, Eric Burn, in 1984.

He confronted the couple as they sat in their car eating tacos near a drive-through restaurant and apparently tried to rob them.

Matthews, covered with a white sheet, closed his eyes while his attorney read his final statement. In it, Matthews said he had no one to blame but himself.

As the tubes shifted, Matthews blinked once and exhaled. His face went ashen as the chemicals flowed into his bloodstream.

"It certainly was an easier death than the young lady experienced," said Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon, who witnessed the execution. "He suffered an infinitely more peaceful death than his victim did."

South Carolina traditionally scheduled executions for 1 a.m. However, the last execution, of Michael Elkins on June 13, was moved to 12:01 a.m. for the prison staff's convenience.

The latest time change makes it easier on victims' families, judges, prison officials and others in the process, Barkley said.

"It was just felt the execution could be carried out during the day," he said. "With the early morning hours, we thought it was more of a hardship."

Death penalty opponents had hoped the dinner-hour execution would increase public awareness and outrage.

"It should be done in the open, and people should know about it. It's being done in our name and with our tax money," said Bruce Pearson, director of the South Carolina Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Aimar's family could have sent a representative to witness the execution but decided against it.

"I think that's probably healthy," defense attorney John Blume said. "They've either moved on or don't want to be part of the spectacle."

The U.S. Supreme Court, with no dissent, denied an application for a stay and refused to consider a separate appeal.

Blume spent two hours with Matthews Friday morning and said he understood a stay was a long shot.

"I believe in telling people the truth," he said. "Earl's not smart, but he's fairly realistic."

Matthews' original sentence was overturned in 1986, but he was again sentenced to death in a second trial held the following year.

Matthews is the 13th Death Row inmate executed since South Carolina reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Executions resumed in 1985.

State law requires executions to be carried out on the fourth Friday after a death warrant is signed.

Texas also executes inmates at 6 p.m. Florida does it at 7 a.m., and Virginia at 9 p.m. Arizona is moving its executions from midnight to late afternoon.