JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- George 'Tiny' Mercer was executed by lethal injection early Friday for killing a Kansas City area waitress given to him as a 'birthday present' by fellow motorcycle gang members in 1978.
The 44-year-old convict -- the first inmate in Missouri to be executed since 1965 -- was given the lethal combination of drugs at 12:03 a.m. (1:03 a.m. EST) and pronounced dead at 12:09 a.m.
Mercer, who had been a death row inmate at the Missouri State Penitentiary since Nov. 9, 1979, was sentenced to death for the rape and strangulation of Karen Keeton, 22, of Lake Lotawana in suburban Kansas City. She was a tavern waitress who was taken to Mercer's home in Belton by a motorcycle gang and turned over to him as a 'birthday present.'
Mercer made a 'V' sign with two fingers to his wife, Chris, before the injection of Pavulon, sodium pentothal and potassium chloride was administered, said Dick Moore, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections. The inmate earlier had been given a light sedative upon request.
After the injection was given, Mercer's head immediately jerked then fell back, the spokesman said.
Mercer, with a heavy black beard, wore a black head band and was covered up to his neck in a white sheet. He held a bible in his left hand.
In his last words, the inmate told the warden, 'Goodbye, take care of my shipmate' -- an apparent reference to another inmate at the prison. He also mumbled a few words that were not understood.
Before the injection, Mercer's wife was talking to him and smiling. She started crying after he was put to death and walked away from the witness window.
Keeton, an attractive blonde, was slain while the killer's 11-year-old daughter was present in the Mercer home. Witnesses said Mercer shouted 'die' as he choked Keeton, who lay nude on a bed. Her body was hauled away in a pickup truck and dumped in a field in nearby Kansas.
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution in denying a stay Thursday about nine hours before Mercer was to be transferred to the death chamber on the penitentiary grounds.
The nine-member court voted 7-2 to reject the appeal, with Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissenting.
Bill Armontrout, penitentiary warden, said Mercer appeared 'stunned' when he informed him of the court's decision but 'didn't show any outward emotion.'
In addition to being the first person executed in Missouri in 23 years, Mercer was the first put to death in the state by lethal injection instead of lethal gas. He also was the first criminal executed in the nation in 1989 and the 105th to die since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976.
For his last meal, Mercer ordered a barbecued steak, barbecued ribs, french fried potatoes, a burrito and tacos, a salad with vinegar and oil dressing, and a large soft drink.
Nineteen people, including eight news reporters, witnessed the execution, with another six officials stationed outside. Mercer's wife and a friend from his motorcyling days were the convict's only invited witnesses. They saw the execution from a different room than the state's official group of witnesses. Mercer specifically asked that no clergyman be present.
Mercer spent Thursday visiting with his wife and friend. The convict, with a ponytail hairstyle, frequently boasted of the logo of a motorcycle company that was tattooed across his back. He spent some of his day reading a Bible and motorcycle magazines, his favorite reading matter.
Prison officials served inmates at the maximum-security prison their dinner at 4 p.m. and locked them in their cells during the late afternoon. The action was a security measure to prevent unruly behavior in the institution as the hours dwindled for the approaching execution.