Friday, May 21, 1999

Killer says he has paid debt, wants to die

The Courier-Journal

        EDDYVILLE, Ky. — Scheduled to die by injection on Tuesday, Eddie Harper acknowledged Thursday that he murdered his adoptive parents for their money and was using illegal drugs at the time. He said he hasn't changed his mind about wanting to go ahead with the execution.

        In what could be his last interview, Mr. Harper reflected on his life, his crime and his continuing regrets that society still sees him as a murderer even though he has spent more than 16 years in prison and feels he has paid for his crime.

        “I'm a murderer in society's eyes,” he said. “I did a bad thing. But I've been laying in here trying to pay for it for 17 years.”

        The execution, if it takes place, will be the first in Kentucky to be performed by injection and the first in the state in modern times of a condemned person who has waived his rights to appeal.

        In the 70-minute interview at the Kentucky State Penitentiary, Mr. Harper said he doesn't deserve to die because he had no previous felony record and “was under extreme pressure when this happened,” dazed by PCP-laced marijuana, alcohol and his love for a woman who had gone back to her husband.

        He said he may have been temporarily insane when he shot Alice and Edward Lee Harper Sr. in Jefferson County in 1982. But he said he still doesn't want public defenders to intervene on his behalf, saying he wants no further appeals of his death sentence, even though his son is pressuring him to do so.

        However, Ernie Lewis, the head of the state agency that provides lawyers for indigent criminal defendants, said his office plans to appeal Wednesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinney that Mr. Harper is competent to drop further appeals.

        Mr. Lewis said public defenders would ask the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati today to stay Mr. Harper's execution, scheduled for 7 p.m. CDT Tuesday.

        Mr. Harper said he expected such tactics from public defenders but predicted they would fail.

"I cracked their egos'
        “I don't think they can” stop his execution, “the way I wiped them out,” Mr. Harper said. “I cracked their egos. This guy on death row who doesn't have a law degree of any kind beat 'em.”

        Mr. Harper harshly criticized public defenders Randy Wheeler and Susan Martin and one of their agency's investigators, Renie Schuble, for trying to make it look as though he is out of touch with reality in a two-day hearing before Judge McKinney in Louisville this week.

        Public defenders had claimed that Mr. Harper's contention that he stays in contact with his son, Ben Sheehan, 27, was a delusion. But Mr. Harper produced paperwork and photographs to show that he is in contact with Mr. Sheehan, to whom he turned over his parents' estate six years ago. He bristled over the public defenders' claims that he would be unable to carry out a plan to create a $30,000 trust for Valerie Bryan, an investigator for public defenders, who Mr. Harper fell in love with two years ago.

        “I'm leaving something for her,” he said. Mr. Harper acknowledged that relations with his son were strained in the past, and that his son's wife, Kim Sheehan, had worked hard in recent years to bring the father and son together.

        But the Sheehans and their 19-month-old daughter, Bailey, will visit him this weekend as he remains under a “death watch” in Cell 7 of 15 Walk in the cellhouse that houses the execution chamber.

Valium to be withheld Mr. Harper said he has no fears of what awaits him.
        Penitentiary officials said Thursday they had decided not to administer Valium to Mr. Harper 90 minutes before the execution, as their new procedures for lethal injection call for.

        “Since he could, I guess, sometime in the process say, "Hey, wait a minute, I want to appeal,' we don't want his judgment clouded,” said prison spokesman Barry Banister. Mr. Harper said there was an emotional round of farewells when he was moved from death row to 15 Walk on Wednesday.

        “They were very hurt and touched,” he said of the 39 other condemned men. Some of the men gave him groceries and snack items, he said.

        Although public defenders implied this week that many death-row inmates are unhappy with Mr. Harper's choice to “volunteer” for the death penalty, Mr. Harper disagreed. “These guys here, they hate to see me do this, but they understand why I'm doing it,” he said.

        Mr. Harper, who attended Valley View Baptist Church in southwestern Jefferson County while growing up but who converted to Roman Catholi cism in 1985, said he is satisfied that what he is doing is not at odds with church teaching. He said he is suffering so much, living in prison with no hope of ever being free, that he believes that mitigates whatever sin he may be committing.

        Mr. Harper said he is going neither to heaven nor to hell but to purgatory. “It will be a place of reconciliation, of cleansing my sins and of learning more about God,” he said.

He wavered Mr. Harper visited last evening with his spiritual adviser, Paul Stevens, a lay Catholic minister from Dawson Springs.
        He said both Mr. Stevens and his son, Ben, are trying to talk him out of dropping his appeals. But Mr. Harper said there is no way he'll change his mind, even though he admitted that late last week he wavered, in a telephone conversation with one of his lawyers and Ms. Bryan, whom he called “the joy of my life.”

        Mr. Harper acknowledged that he had considered changing course to avoid personal and professional embarrassment to Ms. Bryan, who married another man several months after Mr. Harper says he fell in love with her in 1997.

        Mr. Harper admitted that he told Ms. Bryan that if he changed his mind about dropping his appeals, as he did in 1985, he would not be able to explain that to death-row inmates or to the news media.

        “I'd look pretty silly doing that,” he said. “And also, they'd say, "Well, this guy is incompetent. He doesn't know if he wants to do it or not.'”

        Asked why he cares what other people think, Mr. Harper said he wants society to know that, while he made a terrible mistake, he is not all bad and certainly not crazy.

Visits planned Mr. Harper said he will visit with his son's family, Mr. Stevens and prison psychologist Kenneth Thomas before Tuesday night. He said he also has asked Warden Philip Parker to let him see Mr. Martin, the public defender, and Ms. Bryan, if they come to Eddyville. (Warden Parker has agreed to that, Mr. Banister said.) Mr. Lewis said Ms. Bryan was told of Mr. Harper's request but that she will not be sent to see him in an official capacity. Mr. Lewis said he “can't imagine” that Ms. Bryan would go to Eddyville on her own time and at her own expense.
        Mr. Harper said Mr. Stevens urged him to stop thinking of Ms. Bryan, to “put that out of your mind” in what could be his final days.

        But Mr. Harper said, “I'll never get Val out of my mind. I'll take her right back there to those (intravenous) needles. But this is not about Val,” but about ending a life he finds intolerable, he said.

        Mr. Harper said Mr. Stevens also warned him not to try to reinstate his appeals in the final four hours before 7 p.m. Tuesday, because stopping the state's execution process at that late hour could be impossible.

        “He's saying, "Don't wait till the last four hours, because it could get close.' But that ain't going to happen. I'm outta here.”


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