HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Charlie Brooks, convicted of murdering a car salesman six years ago, today was strapped into a hospital cart, told his girlfriend 'I love you' and then was executed by injection with her standing at his side.
Brooks, 40, was the first black among the six men executed since the Supreme Court ended its moratorium on capital punishment in 1977, and the first prisoner in the nation to be executed by injection.
'I pronounce this man dead,' Ralph Gray, assistant director of health services for the Texas Department of Corrections said at 12:16 a.m. CST.
Seven appeals on Brooks' final day were filed by his attorneys and by organizations opposed to the death penalty, but all were denied.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans eliminated his last hope at 11:55 p.m. Monday, while Brooks -- strapped to a hospital gurney -- was already in the execution chamber at the prison.
Witnesses said six straps held Brooks to the bed. His bare right arm was strapped to a board protruding from the bed, and doctors inserted a needle into the arm. Blood spattered on the white sheets.
The tube from the needle ran into another room where an anonymous executioner -- not a physician -- fed first a saline solution and then, at 12:09 a.m., injecting sodium thiopental, which numbed the pain center of the brain and stopped involuntary breathing. Seven minutes later, Brooks was declared dead.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote denied Brooks' appeal, as did a federal court judge in Fort Worth, the New Orleans Court the Texas Gov. William Clements.
Summing up the opinions of those who denied the appeals, the circuit court said, 'Our granting of yet another stay at this late hour for further review of claims so often considered and of such little merit would be abdication of our duty.'
Brooks and accomplice Woody Loudres on Dec. 14, 1976, were taken on a test drive of a car by David Gregory, 26, an auto mechanic and used car salesman in Fort Worth. The two took Gregory to a hotel, bound and gagged him, and shot him in the head. It was never proven who pulled the trigger.
Loudres was also given the death sentence, but he won an appeal and then in a plea-bargain won a 40-year prison sentence. He will be eligible for parole in seven years.
The victim's mother, Norma Morrison, who did not stay up for the execution, said she believed Brooks deserved to die.
'I would like for the message to be strong and clear that if you kill someone, you pay,' she said. 'He executed my son.'
Jack Strickland, Tarrant County $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) prosecutor of Brooks, joined the forces of mercy during the last two weeks, arguing that Brooks should not be executed because of the 40-year term given the accomplice, and because no one knew who fired the shot.
'It may well be the state of Texas executed the wrong man,' Strickland said today.
Groups on both sides of the death penalty question held vigils outside the prison, and anti-death penalty groups held vigils in Houston, Dallas and at the state capital in Austin. Other peaceful demonstrations were held around the country.
A crowd of about 200 waited into the night outside the state prison, some carrying signs urging public executions and more executions. Everyone fell silent when the witnesses emerged from the prison.
One witness said the death was 'very peaceful.' Another said Brooks briefly gasped for air and then fell silent.
Brooks' girlfriend, Vanessa Sapp, with whom last week he exchanged wedding vows but did not legally marry, was in the execution chamber with him.
'His last words were 'I love you'' to girlfriend Vanessa Sapp, said Darrell White, the Walker County sheriff who was one of the witnesses.
'He was rolled in and was looking back at his girlfriend,' said another witness, Terry Scott Bertling, editor of the Huntsville Item.
'He looked at Vanessa and said, 'be strong,'' Mrs. Bertling said.
Brooks' ex-wife Joyce Brooks and their two sons waited outside the execution chamber. The complained that prison officials did not tell them until too late Monday that they could visit Brooks, and that they were not allowed to be witnesses.
'A news reporter saw it,' said Derrick Brooks, 21,' and I didn't get to see it. And I'm his flesh and blood.'
Chaplains Larry Sharrieff and Akbar Shabazz led Brooks through a Muslim ritual, saying a prayer in Arabic with the words: 'I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. I bear witness that Mohammed is the messenger of Allah. Verily to Allah do we belong. Verily until him do we return.'
Sharrieff then said, 'May Allah admit you to Paradise.'
Brooks, a bright youngster, started getting into trouble with the law after his father's death when Brooks was 13 years old. Once in prison, he converted to the Moslem religion and said he had changed, become more peaceful.
He said he did not want to die, but as a Muslim believed in the death penalty.
Dick Reavis, a Texas Monthly magazine reporter and a witness, said after the drug was injected, 'He was nervous, as if he was waiting to feel a change. He looked up and he yawned. It was a long deep yawn. After that he wheezed, maybe 15 seconds. I would say that by the time he finished the yawn he was gone.'
'It was very peaceful,' White said. 'He showed no signs of discomfort.'
Brooks had dined on steak, French fries, peach cobbler and iced tea for his final meal. He spent his last day visiting with the prison's Islamic chaplain, Akbar Shabazz, Islamic chaplain Larry Sharrieff of Fort Worth and Brooks' niece, Berry Mitchell of Fort Worth.