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Convicted killer who yearned for 'Old Sparky' executed

STARKE, Fla. -- James William Hamblen, who once said he could 'hardly wait to sit in 'Old Sparky,'' was executed in the electric chair Friday for the 1984 murder of a lingerie shop owner during a robbery.

Hamblen, 61, wearing dark blue pants and a light blue shirt, was strapped into the electric chair at 7 a.m. in the Florida State Prison and declared dead 12 minutes later.

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Hamblen's last words were directed at one of his attorneys, Judy Dougherty, who claimed Hamblen had been plagued by mental illness.

'Judy, can you hear me?' he said. 'You know I had a few choice comments I was going to make but I blew it. I had one of those revelations so I would address all my comments to you. You know the trouble I had with that four-letter 'L' word. So like George (Bush), 'Read my lips.''

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He then mouthed 'I love you.'

'The rest of that revelation told me just to keep my mouth shut and not give anybody anything,' Hamblen said. 'I blew it, I know. You're terrific.'

He then said 'OK' to his executioners, who placed the chair's headpiece on him. Before his last words, Hamblen smiled and stuck his tongue out at the three dozen witnesses while he was being strapped to the chair.

The Supreme Court had refused to block Hamblen's execution after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected his attorney's argument that he should not be executed because he was mentally ill when he pleaded guilty to the killing.

Hamblen was the 140th person executed in the United States and the 24th in Florida since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. There are 319 men currently awaiting execution in Florida and four women.

Corrections Department spokesman Bob Macmaster said Hamblen's last wish was that 'the husband of the victim be able to sit somewhere other than across the pasture (in front of the prison).'

'They are good people and they deserve better than this,' Macmaster said, quoting Hamblen.

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The husband of Lauren Jean Edwards sat in a car parked across the street from the prison during the execution but did not talk with reporters.

Macmaster said Hamblen was laughing and joking with prison guards about an hour before the execution. His last meal was steak, eggs, french fries, toast and tomato juice, which he ate about 4:30 a.m.

Hamblen was condemned for killing Edwards April 24, 1984, during a robbery at the ladies' boutique she ran in Jacksonville. Court records say he forced her into a changing room and shot her in the head after seeing her trip a silent alarm.

Hamblen had driven to Florida from Texas after murdering his ex- girlfriend there, court records say.

'He was mentally ill all his life,' Dougherty said following the execution. 'Florida law holds that seriously mentally ill persons like Mr. Hamblen should not be executed. Yet no court ever heard the evidence. He was a veteran who served honorably in time of war (the Korean War). He deserved better.'

One of Hamblen's other attorneys, Susan Carey, said, 'He had a lot of regrets about things that had happened to him in his life and the pain he caused.'

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During an August 1989 newspaper interview, Hamblen felt depressed and said, 'I can't hardly wait to sit in 'Old Sparky.' I'm curious about it.' He also said he thought the idea of execution was 'spiffy.'

Hamblen also denied that he was insane.

'I might be wacko ... but within the legal. I'm completely confident I know what I am doing.'

Hamblen was one of three prisoners whose executions were stayed earlier this summer while the courts considered whether the electric chair was malfunctioning.

Defense lawyers claimed the state risked subjecting inmates to a torturous death, violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, after flames and sparks shot out of the headpiece during the May execution of Jesse Tafero.

The state tested the chair and determined it to be working properly.

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