STARKE, Fla. -- Willie Jasper Darden, whose 14-year stay on death row galvanized a world crusade against capital punishment, died in the electric chair today still maintaining he did not kill a merchant during a $15 robbery.
It was the nation's second electrocution in six hours and the 96th since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976.
Wayne Felde, 38, a Vietnam veteran who claimed that war's horror led him to kill a police officer in 1978, was electrocuted at Angola, La., at 1:14 a.m. EST. Darden, 54, died at 7:12 a.m.
Just before he was electrocuted, Darden told witnesses he had a clear conscience.
'I tell you I am not guilty of the charge for which I am about to be executed,' he said.
'My fight has not been against capital punishment but the injustice that sent me here. I say to my friends and supporters around the world I love each and every one of you. Your love and support has been a great encouragement to me in my struggle for justice and freedom. I go this morning with a clear conscience. I bear no guilt or ill will for any of you. I am at peace with myself, with the world, with each of you. I love all of you and God bless you.'
Darden, eyes downcast, was led into the beige execution chamber - each arm held by a guard and his hands manacled -- at 7 a.m. He did not resist.
He occasionally looked up to the witnesses a few feet away separated by a plexiglass shield, and sat expressionless as the guards strapped him into the electric chair.
He looked up, scanned the witnesses, and spotted the Rev. Joe Ingle, who sat through the night with him and served as an official observer, standing in the rear corner of the witness chamber. He held up a gold medallion.
Darden winked at Ingle and smiled. When asked if he had any last words, he gave his final statement.
The execution of Felde was Louisiana's first since last summer, when eight inmates were put to death between June and August at the state prison at Angola.
Darden was electrocuted less than seven hours after the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, rejected his final plea for a stay at 12:25 a.m. The high court late Monday had refused Felde's plea by a 7-2 vote.
Darden was convicted of murdering a furniture store owner in a $15 robbery in 1973 while on furlough from prison, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for the 1968 attempted rape of a 70-year-old woman.
Darden had been on death row since January 1974, longer than any U.S. inmate, and he survived an unprecedented six death warrants.
Monday, two federal courts refused to spare Darden's life, and the Supreme Court later denied a final plea from Darden for a stay of his seventh date with the electric chair. Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun dissented. The appeal was based on the argument that Darden's trial jury received improper instructions. Brennan and Marshall also dissented in Felde's appeal.
Darden refused to select a final meal and was served the 'traditional' fare of steak and eggs, orange juice, hash browns and coffee. Felde had ordered a last meal of pizza, shrimp and ginger ale.
Death penalty foes maintained that Darden has an alibi to prove his innocence and contended that he was railroaded because he is black.
Pope John Paul II and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov made appeals for Darden's life. Amnesty International mounted a worldwide campaign for clemency, organizing protests and presenting Gov. Bob Martinez with 10,000 petition signatures from the Netherlands last week.
Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson tried unsuccessfully late Monday to phone Darden. Jackson called Darden 'another example that injustice is still alive and well and that equal opportunity is still denied black Americans even in death.'
About 50 people, including one man who said he camped overnight, stood just inside the Florida State Prison gate on a clear, 40-degree morning to protest the execution. About seven death penalty supporters stood nearby.
The anti-death penalty demonstrators carried signs and passed out bumper stickers and sang 'We shall overcome' when they learned of the execution.
Earlier, about 25 demonstrators held hands, sang and prayed in Tallahassee Monday in hopes of persuading Martinez to meet with a Baptist minister and a housewife who say they have evidence Darden could not have killed James Carl Turman on Sept. 8, 1973.
Turman surprised his killer during an attempted sexual assault against his wife, Helen, at their Lakeland furniture store. A 16-year-old employee was shot and permanently disabled when he rushed to Turman's aid. Helen Turman and a neighbor identified Darden as the killer during his trial.
Police and prosecutors said Darden was the prime suspect in at least five other slayings committed during his furloughs from the Avon Park Correctional Institution in 1973.
In Louisiana, Felde was electrocuted for murdering Shreveport rookie policeman Glen Tompkins in October 1978. Tompkins was killed as he drove Felde to jail on a drunk and disorderly charge. He and another officer searched Felde, but missed the gun he carried in his pants.
Felde, of Sheboygan, Wis., was an escaped convict from a Maryland prison, where he had been serving time for manslaughter.
Felde, crippled in one leg by an officer's bullet during his capture, walked steadily to the death chamber. He looked each witness in the eyes and said: 'You can kill the messenger, but you can't kill the message. Sooner or later, you will have to acknowledge it for what it means, not for what you want it to mean.'
Felde claimed post-combat stress and exposure in Vietnam to the defoliant Agent Orange subjected him to harrowing flashbacks.