Killer prefers execution to prison Fatal injection set for March 3 in Del.

February 21, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

SMYRNA, DELAWARE — SMYRNA, Del. -- James Allen Red Dog, who removed his cowboy boots so that the man whose throat he had cut wouldn't bleed all over them, is about to get out of prison.

The convicted murderer and rapist says he doesn't want to stay behind bars. Prosecutors and judges say they won't stand in his way.

So, Red Dog is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the Delaware Correctional Center here on March 3, a Wednesday.

Red Dog, who has intimate knowledge of how at least five other people have died, says he is ready for his own death. Delaware prison authorities are preparing to give it to him through an intravenous tube carrying a lethal dose of three prescription drugs.

Unless there is a mishap in the prison's trailer-turned-death-chamber, the 6-foot-3 American Indian will stop breathing shortly after the drugs begin trickling into his tattooed arm. Within minutes, his heart will fail.

Corrections officials have granted Red Dog's wish to have a Sioux spiritual leader among the official witnesses at the execution.

Red Dog, who was born 39 years ago on a reservation in Montana, will become the second prisoner to be executed in Delaware since the state resumed capital punishment in 1992 after a 46-year hiatus.

A year ago, serial killer Steven Brian Pennell, 34, was executed by lethal injection after he refused his wife's attempts to appeal his two murder convictions.

Someday, the same scene could occur in Maryland, where the General Assembly is considering switching the method of capital punishment from the gas chamber to lethal injection. The Senate already has passed such a bill.

Described as a beguiling but sometimes vicious misfit who never came to terms with the 20th century, Red Dog has made it clear that he does not intend to fight the death sentence imposed by Superior Court Judge Norman A. Barron last April for the murder of Hugh Pennington in February 1991.

Red Dog pleaded no contest to the charges against him and has rebuffed his lawyer's attempts to appeal, which would give death penalty opponents their first chance to challenge Delaware's new execution law before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Given the choice of execution or spending the rest of his life in prison -- he also got four life terms plus 80 years for rape, kidnapping and weapons violations -- Red Dog never hesitated to choose the quickest way out.

Before he came to Delaware in 1988, Red Dog had spent time in California's Lompoc Correctional Institution and in federal prisons in Leavenworth, Kan., and Marion, Ill.

"Do I feel I deserve to die?" said Red Dog, repeating a question asked by TCI Cablevision reporter Cathy Matusiak in an interview taped in August. "Uh, let me put it this way: I just don't want to do any more time."

Could someone other than Hugh Pennington have died at the hands of Red Dog that weekend in February? Could it have happened in Baltimore instead of suburban Wilmington?

At the murder scene in the Pennington house, police looking for physical evidence found the usual: strands of human hair, torn clothing and bloody fingerprints. But they also found a piece of paper bearing a Baltimore address.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, 1991 -- the night before the murder -- Red Dog was in southern Delaware. He was high on alcohol and cocaine. It wasn't a good time to be around him. He had been drunk before. On two of those occasions, before moving east to Delaware, he was involved in the killings of three men.

In 1973, Red Dog and two companions were arrested and charged with robbing and shooting to death the owner of a pizza parlor in Wolf Point, Mont. In 1977, Red Dog escaped from a federal prison and later killed two men with a knife in Cudahy, Calif.

Talked with Nanticokes

Red Dog often drove from his home outside Wilmington to southern Delaware to talk with Nanticoke Indians, whom he had impressed with his knowledge of Indian customs and religion.

Sober, Red Dog was "soft-spoken, very agreeable," recalls Kenneth S. "Red Deer" Clark, chief of the 1,000 Nanticokes who live in Delaware's Sussex County and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"He was really one of the nicest guys you'd want to talk to. I thought he had some deep feelings about being a Native American."

But on the evening of Feb. 9, 1991, in a Millsboro bowling alley, Red Dog had something other than Indian culture on his mind.

"Can you live with what I do?" he asked Debra Adams, an acquaintance who later testified in court about a chat she had with Red Dog at the bowling alley.

"What's that?" Ms. Adams replied.

"Terminator," said Red Dog.

"Exterminator?" said Ms. Adams, unsure what Red Dog meant.

"No. Terminator. The enforcer."

"The enforcer?" Ms. Adams asked.

"I hurt people," explained Red Dog.

That same evening, Red Dog mumbled something about having to get to Baltimore, where a friend had a job for him -- a job for the enforcer: to kill someone. Red Dog had a Baltimore address on the back of a piece of paper.

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