Linwood Briley, described by a prosecutor as a 'killing...


RICHMOND, Va. -- Linwood Briley, described by a prosecutor as a 'killing machine' who joined with his brothers to murder 11 people, died Friday night in Virginia's electric chair for shooting a country-western disc jockey in the back.

Briley was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. EDT, killed by two 55-second bursts of 2,400 volts of electricity. The execution was witnessed by eight citizens, including Briley's attorney, Deborah Wyatt, but no media representatives.


'He made it a little easier on everyone by being exceedingly brave and he maintained his innocence,' said Wyatt. 'Those were his last words.'

She then boarded a van with the other witnesses and left the prison area without further comment.

Robert Landon, director of the Virginia Corrections Department, also viewed the execution. 'He said he was innocent,' said Landon. 'He said he was not guilty.'

About 500 demonstrators, equally divided among those favoring and opposing capital punishment, gathered outside the prison. Firecrackers were set off at the time of the execution and one pro-death penalty demonstrator waved a Confederate flag.


One demonstrator was arrested for being disorderly and carrying a concealed weapon, a knife, police said.

The body was taken from the prison at 11:22 p.m. EDT in a Corrections Department ambulance to the Richmond city morgue.

Briley, who led the nation's largest death row escape, spent his final hours visiting with his mother, 10-year-old son and Wyatt, who called him a 'brave and strong man.'

Briley, 30, had declined earlier to have a clergyman walk with him to the electric chair 30 paces from his windowless cell but a chaplain was present at the execution.

He had planned to skip his final meal but was given a steak and baked potato by prison officials.

Briley, who kept a boa constrictor and piranhas in his home as pets, led a gang that included two of his brothers and was linked to 11 killings in the Richmond area in 1979. The three brothers were arrested in the wake of a triple killing of a pregnant woman, man and child, but Briley was sentenced to die for killing Richmond disc jockey John 'Johnny G' Gallaher.

'These people are in a class by themselves,' said prosecutor Warren Von Schuch, a Richmond assistant commonwealth's attorney. 'They are incredibly, inhumanly mean. They are killing machines.'


'Somewhere down the line,' Von Schuch said, 'there's something in (the Brileys) that infuriates them about weakness in other people.

'There was a degree of toughness,' he said. 'You had the pets - a boa constrictor, the piranhas. You rape a man's wife in front of him ... they were just tough people. They were opposed to having weaknesses of any sort.'

Gov. Charles Robb was petitioned by Briley's attorney, the NAACP and a black ministers' group to intervene but aides said the governor saw nothing to cause him to halt the 11 p.m. EDT execution. The Supreme Court refused four times to hear Briley appeals, the last two denials occuring this week.

Briley, a leader in the nation's biggest death row escape May 31, was the 26th man executed in the United States since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. His was the 15th execution this year.

Among the visitors Briley saw in his final hours at the State Penitentiary were his mother, Bertha, who would not answer questions, and Wyatt. 'He's a very brave and strong man,' she said.

Briley, who was single, also was visited by his 10-year-old son, whose name was not revealed.


He also received telephone calls from his brothers, Anthony, who is serving a life term, and James, who is being held on death row at another prison.

Wyatt had to go to federal court to get permission for one last visit. Virginia officials did not want her to see Briley on his last day.

U.S. District Judge Dortch Warriner allowed a 30-minute meeting, but only if she was searched and Briley was handcuffed.

The meeting only lasted 20 minutes because 'he was manacled in such a way that he was in pain,' said Wyatt.

In a sarcastic tone of voice, she said Briley was, 'considering the circumstances, terrific.'

Wyatt urged Robb to visit Briley, saying she thought the convict could be a 'useful and enjoyable' member of society. Robb was out of the city but returned before the execution.

'He's a very interesting, calm and impressive individual,' she said of Briley. 'I don't know of anyone who has made his acquaintance and has come out without that impression.'

Asked how Briley was holding up before the execution, Wyatt said, 'He's a very brave and strong man. He's obviously not in the best of spirits. He is as brave and strong as I can possibly imagine.'


The governor's office was flooded with letters in opposition to the death penalty, but many came from members of the human rights group Amnesty International and from out of state. The Virginia NAACP and a ministers' group representing 300 black churches also sought mercy.

Linwood and James Briley led four other condemned killers from death row in May. The Brileys were the last to be captured, cornered in a Philadelphia garage 19 days after they escaped.

Gallaher was playing bass with a band at a Richmond nightspot the evening he was killed.

The Brileys and accomplice Duncan Meekins captured Gallaher and took him to Mayo Island on the James River. Meekins testified Briley shot Gallaher as he struggled to stand after being robbed and pushed from the car.

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