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

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

For reasons unknown to police, Red Dog never made it to Baltimore. Instead, he drove north to the suburban Wilmington home of Mr. Pennington in New Castle County. Mr. Pennington was an acquaintance who worked at the Tally Ho Motor Lodge with Red Dog's wife, Bonnie.

The Pennington slaying

It was early Sunday when Red Dog roused Mr. Pennington and forced the pajama-clad, 30-year-old night auditor into a basement workshop. He bound Mr. Pennington's wrists and ankles with duct tape and forced him to lie on his back on the

floor.

Red Dog, who is said to possess great strength when in a drunken rage, took his knife and nearly decapitated the mild-mannered Mr. Pennington. The wound was 6 inches deep.

Prosecutors say Red Dog didn't want to get his boots stained with blood, so he took them off and walked around the corpse in his socks.

During the next 12 hours, Red Dog terrorized a 52-year-old woman he kidnapped shortly after killing Mr. Pennington. He raped her in her home and then forced her to drive him to southern Delaware, where he raped her again, four times in all.

She escaped, and a statewide manhunt for Red Dog began. Four days later, police caught the fugitive as he walked across Winchester Bridge in Wilmington, 100 miles north of where he had last been seen. Red Dog was tired and hungry. There also was a strange odor about him. He later confided to his lawyer that he had smeared himself with deer feces to throw off the police dogs that were trailing him.

Red Dog says he does not remember details of the Pennington murder. He can't think of a motive either, shifting the blame for his violent ways to an impoverished childhood on the Fort Peck Sioux Reservation in Montana and to life in prison.

"Out of the 64 people I grew up with, there's only four of them left," he told TCI Cablevision's Ms. Matusiak. "Most of them died by committing suicide or were killed in prison. The majority of the people on reservations have done time. So you're raised up, you know, with a lot of hatred toward the system. And you're being inducted into a system that twists your personality even further."

Delaware Deputy Attorneys General Steven P. Wood and Peggy J. Hageman, who prosecuted Red Dog, say they have spent countless hours trying to find a motive for the Pennington murder. They have come up empty-handed.

"I think it just happened," says Mr. Wood. "I think that for whatever reason, in general it was time for Red Dog to kill somebody. And for whatever reason, that somebody became Hugh Pennington. Whatever it is that fuels his murderous rage boiled over again. It could have been you and it could have been me."

Edward C. Pankowski Jr., Red Dog's lawyer and an opponent of capital punishment, has tried in vain to talk his client into appealing the sentence.

Death wish

"All along he wanted to get the death penalty," says Mr. Pankowski, a former prosecutor who switched sides and joined the public defender's office. "I was an obstacle in his path. I still am."

Red Dog was to have received his lethal injection last July, as ordered by Judge Barron. But, under Delaware law, there was an automatic appeal of the death sentence. It wasn't until November that the Delaware Supreme Court upheld Judge Barron's ruling. The execution was rescheduled for March 3.

If Red Dog wanted to appeal his case further, he could pursue action at the state level or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of Delaware's new death penalty law.

In an unusually swift action, Delaware lawmakers revised the state's death penalty statute in October 1991 after a New Castle County jury stunned spectators when it failed to return a death penalty verdict against four men convicted of gunning down two armored car guards.

The jury's decision to give the men life in prison did not surprise longtime courtroom observers. No New Castle jury had returned a death penalty since 1974.

The armored car murder verdicts incensed the public because the killings were so coldblooded, says Mr. Wood. Legislators decided it was time to amend the law so that other murderers wouldn't escape the death penalty so easily.

On Oct. 24, 1991, two days after the jury returned its verdict, the Delaware General Assembly passed a bill taking the sentencing phase of a trial out of the jury's hands and putting it into the judge's.

The new law covered all defendants waiting to be tried or to be sentenced after its effective date. That included Red Dog, who was arrested in February that year but did not go on trial until the spring of 1992.

Had Red Dog been sentenced by a jury -- and not Judge Barron -- under the old Delaware statute, March 3 might be just another day on his prison calendar.

"In my opinion," says Mr. Wood, "he would not be facing execution,"because a jury probably would have sentenced Red Dog to life in prison.

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