Montana prepares for first execution since '43

DEER LODGE, Mont. -- David Keith, the son of wealthy parents who turned to a life of crime and drug abuse, is rejecting efforts to block his scheduled Dec. 1 execution -- Montana's first since 1943, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Keith, 32, has refused to fight his death sentence and is discouraging others, including the American Civil Liberties Union, from intervening in his behalf. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder for a one-day crime spree in 1984 that culminated months of thefts he used to finance his cocaine-by-injection habit.


'He has no intention of being saved from this,' said Dennis Jones, a part-time reporter who is the only journalist Keith will talk to. 'He believes he killed a man and he needs to pay for it.'

Spokeswoman Cathy Bender at the state prison in Deer Lodge added, 'We're proceeding as if it will happen Dec. 1.'


Keith pleaded guilty in 1985 to two charges of kidnapping for abducting a 13-year-old boy after he took drugs during an armed robbery of a Missoula drugstore. Keith fled to the airport at Polson, Mont., where he traded the boy for another hostage, retired Air Force pilot Harry Shryock, 63.

Keith forced Shryock into a private plane and demanded that sheriff's officers allow them to take off, though police flattened the aircraft's tires and Shryock purposely stalled the engine. During negotiations with officers, a police sniper shot and wounded Keith, who then shot and killed Shryock.

Jones, as a part-time news correspondent for the Missoulian, witnessed the negotiations and Shryock's murder. Jones said Keith initially claimed the killing was an involuntary reaction to being shot by police.

'He knew and I knew that wasn't true,' Jones said Wednesday. 'A period of time elapsed (before Keith shot Shryock).'

Lake County's former prosecutor initially reached a plea bargain calling for Keith to only plead guilty to kidnapping, which eventually would have made him eligible for parole. A judge rejected the deal and during a subsequent hearing, against the advice of his attorney, Keith pleaded guilty to all charges.

'The irony of this whole thing is that he was born into a very affluent family in Spokane. His father was a partner in a law firm. He went to private schools. He had all the advantages you could want,' Jones said.


Jones said during the months before the killing, Keith had lived in Montana and committed dozens of burglaries. He would travel to Spokane, Wash., to sell the stolen goods to obtain money for drugs. He said Keith's wife, Candace, bought Keith the gun he used in the drugstore robbery and murder.

Candace, the couple's 8-year-old son and Keith's twin stepchildren now live in Spokane, he said.

Keith's Dec. 1 execution date was set last month, and since then ACLU have visited Montana working on a possible appeal to the Board of Pardons and Gov. Ted Schwinden in hopes of stopping the execution. But Jones said Keith asked him to inform the public he does not want the execution stopped.

Keith had his choice of death by hanging or lethal injection, and it is not clear why he chose lethal injection because he originally wanted his organs donated for science. But because of the effects of drugs on the body, it now appears only his corneas will be donated, Jones said.

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