Gilliam executed for '88 slaying Death by injection comes 10 years after a $3 robbery-murder

Final appeals are rejected

Killer goes to death still proclaiming that he didn't pull trigger

November 17, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Lyle Denniston, Scott Higham, Michael James, Amy Oakes and John Rivera contributed to this article.

A decade after kidnapping Christine J. Doerfler and shotgunning her to death during a robbery that netted $3, Tyrone X Gilliam was executed by lethal injection last night, proclaiming his innocence and asking God to forgive those who took his life.

The execution ended a 10-year legal fight for Gilliam, 32, who claimed he didn't pull the trigger that ended the life of Doerfler, a 21-year-old Baltimore accountant who dreamed of working with children and entertained her nieces and nephews by impersonating Donald Duck.

Doerfler's brother said family members were too distraught to talk last night.

"It's a tough night for all of us," was all Robert Doerfler Jr. would say.

Tyrone Gilliam Sr. told protesters outside the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore that his son had a message for them: "I will live on through love, through God."

None of Doerfler's family members asked to be present for the execution. None of Gilliam's were allowed to attend. At 10 p.m., Gilliam was escorted into the 16-by-15-foot death chamber last night and strapped to a 300-pound gurney.

Four minutes later, execution commander William L. Sondervan gave the signal to start the flow of lethal drugs -- sodium pentothal to render him unconscious, pavulon to paralyze his muscles and potassium chloride to stop his heart. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, white socks that had "Caresteps" written on the bottom, and holding a blue Nation of Islam cap in his left hand, Gilliam lay on the gurney in the penitentiary hospital.

He smiled when he saw his attorney, Jerome H. Nickerson Jr., and his spiritual adviser, Ashidda Muhammad, who were among the 14 witnesses.

"Allah, forgive them, for they know not what they do," Gilliam said to the witnesses.

Gilliam nodded at Nickerson and Muhammad, then said, "I love you."

He said one last thing: "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is the greatest." Nickerson and Muhammad repeated the statement.

Gilliam shifted back to the center of the table and closed his eyes. His chest heaved three or four times. His lips began to flutter.

At 10: 27 p.m., Gilliam was pronounced dead, the 83rd man to be executed in Maryland history.

For years, the Doerfler family declined to speak publicly about the slaying. Those who know the Doerflers say the family regarded the murder as a private matter. Both parents wrote to Gov. Parris N. Glendening to share their differing views on Gilliam's fate, and they asked that the letters be kept confidential.

Mrs. Doerfler wanted Gilliam's life to be spared; Mr. Doerfler did not.

Gilliam became well-known in national anti-death penalty circles. Raised in the working-class Baltimore County neighborhood of Middle River, Gilliam had had only one conviction -- for robbery -- at the time of the murder. In the months before his death, Gilliam spoke from Baltimore's Supermax prison by telephone to activists around the country.

Gilliam and his attorney fought furiously to block the execution. They claimed in the last few days that one of Gilliam's partners pulled the trigger that night 10 years ago, and that Gilliam didn't deserve to die.

But the arguments were rebuffed every step of the way.

At noon yesterday, Glendening denied a plea for mercy, calling the murder "particularly brutal [and] heinous." Five hours later, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a final appeal.

Minister Louis Farrakhan and Baltimore Cardinal William H. Keeler, who opposes the death penalty, sent letters urging Glendening to grant clemency to Gilliam, who belonged to Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.

At 5 p.m., Gilliam was told that his appeals had been denied. A prison spokesman said Gilliam took the news calmly. "He's fully prepared to die," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr.

In the hours before his death, Gilliam stayed in a cell about 35 feet from the execution chamber, where he was visited by his father, his mother, his grandfather, a Roman Catholic priest and two Islamic ministers.

Gilliam refused his last supper, a choice between roast beef and fried chicken.

"He felt pensive," Sipes said. "He knew he was going to be executed, and he wanted to spend the time with his family and his spiritual advisers."

Gilliam spent much of the day on the phone.

"He's been speaking with attorneys, religious leaders and his family," Sipes said early in the evening. "He fully recognizes that he will be executed. He seems to be very much at peace with what's coming."

Death penalty protest

Outside the prison, more than 200 death penalty opponents lined East Madison Street, shouting, "One, two, three, four, stop the killing of the poor." They carried signs that read "Stop State Killing," "Death Penalty Equals Murder" and "Stop Glendening Before He Kills Again."

"I have to do my little part to say no," said protester John Furst of Parkville. "There's a general level of ignorance in the population, and executions are going to continue to happen, unfortunately. But I'm not going to just sit at home and do nothing."

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