AIKEN - After more than a decade of trials, appeals and anxious waiting, 51-year-old Augustan Jerry McWee will likely take his final steps tonight.
Gov. Mark Sanford's announcement Thursday that he will not intervene in Mr. McWee's case clears the way for tonight's scheduled execution at the Broad River Capital Punishment Facility, where Mr. McWee will atone for acts committed more than a dozen years ago.
On July 6, 1991, at about 6 p.m., Mr. McWee and George Wade Scott, a friend and co-worker in the roofing business, pulled up to the Highway 19 Corner Store, a rural outpost near the Edgefield County line.
Strung out on crystal meth and desperate for cash, the pair were searching for a place to rob, according to court testimony.
John Perry, a 32-year-old clerk who had recently moved to the area with his wife and three children, was working alone that night.
"He was a very meek kind of person," remembered farmer Jerry Yonce, a frequent visitor to the store. "He was probably scuffling for every dollar. He needed that job."
Mr. Scott went inside to scout the store out, and seeing only the clerk inside, returned to the car and told Mr. McWee.
Mr. McWee, a former paramedic who spent six months on the Augusta police force in the mid-1970s, fingered his .38-caliber revolver and went in, his accomplice following him.
The accounts of what happened next differ between the men. But Mr. Scott, who is serving a life sentence for his crimes, testified that Mr. Perry was crying and pleading, "Please don't hurt me," when Mr. McWee led him to a back room at gunpoint. The shaken clerk was made to get down on his knees, and Mr. McWee fired two shots into the back of his head.
"He flopped around like a fish out of water," Mr. McWee told Mr. Scott later, according to court testimony. Mr. McWee seemed to feel no remorse for the killing in the immediate aftermath, later turning to grin at Mr. Scott when he saw a television news report of the murder.
A week later, having gone through the $350 netted in the Corner Store robbery, the two men decided to rob their "boss-man," a roofing contractor named David Willis.
They ambushed him at his Aiken County trailer early in the morning, Mr. Scott shooting him twice.
Afterward, they went to a local restaurant for breakfast.
Aiken County Solicitor Barbara Morgan says Mr. McWee's punishment fits the crime.
"It was planned; it was senseless; and there was no justification for it whatsoever," Ms. Morgan said. "It was almost funny to him."
Mr. McWee's appellate lawyer, John Hardaway, doubts the credibility of Mr. Scott's version of events. Mr. Scott later changed his story as to whether he had been given a deal for his testimony, Mr. Hardaway said.
Regardless, Mr. McWee accepts the gravity of his actions and has prepared himself to die, Mr. Hardaway said.
"Mr. McWee has expressed remorse for his crimes and hopes if he's executed his execution will bring some peace and closure for the victims," Mr. Hardaway said.
The case has torn at Mr. McWee's family. His sister was murdered five years prior to the killing, and Mr. McWee's mother, Celia, has expressed sympathy toward his victims. She will be in the death chamber to witness her son's last breaths. Karen Perry, John Perry's widow, whose oldest son is now 19, will not.
"She's marking the occasion in her own way," Ms. Morgan said.
Mr. Yonce feels the execution has been a long time coming.
"I'd say justice will finally be served," Mr. Yonce said.
"We're supposed to pray for these people, but you need to be responsible for your actions. I pray for him, but I just can't feel sorry for him."
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110. or firstname.lastname@example.org.