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Vietnam veteran executed for pipe-bomb slaying

ATMORE, Ala. -- Vietnam veteran Herbert Lee Richardson, who claimed he suffered from post-war stress and Agent Orange exposure, went calmly to his death in the Alabama electric chair for the pipe-bomb killing of an 11-year-old girl.

'I have no ill feelings and hold nothing against anyone,' Richardson, 43, said early Friday after he was strapped into the electric chair at Holman Prison around midnight CDT. He was pronounced dead at 12:14 a.m. after one jolt of electricity.

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The execution appeared very 'calm, clean, sterile,' said witness Brandie Thomas, a news director at an Enterprise radio station.

Last month it took two jolts of electricity to kill Horace Franklin Dunkins after the electric chair, dubbed 'Yellow Mama' by inmates because of its garish color, was incorrectly wired.

'I think everyone is aware of the problems we had with the last execution,' said prison Commissioner Morris Thigpen. 'This one, in comparison, went extremely smoothly.'

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Richardson requested to be blindfolded as he was led to the chair and he never saw the execution chamber or the witnesses to his death.

He refused a last meal Thursday and spent his final day visiting with his wife and family members. He also took communion with an Assemblies of God minister.

The Vietnam veteran became an accomplished painter of religious art in his 11 years on death row.

Prison spokeswoman Debbie Herbert said the only protester she saw outside the prison was a Catholic nun who had visited another prisoner andheld a lit candle during the execution.

Richardson became the 116th person to be put to death in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 - the sixth in Alabama -- and the 12th American to be executed in 1989.

Richardson was convicted of the 1977 pipe-bomb murder of 11-year-old Rena Mae Callins, the niece of a Dothan, Ala., woman who stopped dating Richardson when she learned he was married.

Richardson's lawyer said he suffered from post-traumatic stress related to the Vietnam War.

'Besides his stress disorder, he had Agent Orange exposure,' lawyer Bryan Stevenson of the Alabama Capital Representation Resource Center in Montgomery said Thursday.

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But the Supreme Court, with two justices dissenting, refused late Thursday to stay the execution. On Wednesday, Gov. Guy Hunt denied Richardson's request for clemency.

Richardson was convicted in 1978 of killing the little girl. Prosecutors said Richardson, angry at the girl's aunt, Doris Callins, made the bomb after reading a book on disposal of explosives from the Dothan public library.

He put the bomb in a soda can and placed it on the aunt's front porch, and Rena Mae and a second girl found the device, according to the victim's mother, Margie Callins.

Rena Mae picked it up and handed it to the other child, the mother said in a recent interview. The other child, possibly hearing the bomb ticking, handed it back to Rena Mae, who drew her arm back to throw it but it exploded like a hand grenade, causing severe head wounds to the girl.

The other girl was not hurt but still receives counseling because of the death she witnessed, said Ed Carnes, of the Alabama attorney general's Office.

Richardson testified that he only wanted to scare the family, not hurt anyone.

Vigils began Thursday for Richardson, Alabama's first Vietnam veteran to be executed, officials said.

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'If it takes place, it will be the first time in our state that a Vietnam veteran suffering from the effects of his service in the Vietnam War is executed,' Lucia Penland, of the Alabama Prison Project, said before the execution. 'He was what most of us consider an All-American boy with a bright future.'

Stevenson said Richardson's military record shows he entered the Army in Wilmington, N.C., and served in Vietnam from 1965-67 as a power generator specialist near An Khe servicing helicopters. 'He wasn't actually in combat,' Stevenson said.

The defense lawyer said Richardson was discharged in Oakland, Calif., 'under honorable conditions' because he had crying spells that Army doctors could not explain.

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