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William Henry Hance executed in Georgia

JACKSON, Ga., March 31 -- William Henry Hance, a convicted murderer who had been diagnosed as being mentally retarded, was executed Thursday in Georgia's electric chair for the 1978 slaying of a Columbus woman.

Hance, 42, clearly nervous with fists clenched was put to death at 10:10 p.m. EST in the electric chair at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson, Ga.

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Until the end, Hance proclaimed his innocence, saying there was never any evidence, witness, motive or clues.

'My innocence can be proven right now,' said Hance, who reportedly was agitated throughout the day prior to his execution. 'This is a strange kind of justice.'

The execution was carried out after he was refused a stay through several avenues of appeal, including a denial of clemency by the U.S. Supreme Court, federal appeals courts, the Georgia Supreme Court, the state Pardons and Parole Board and the Butts County Superior Court.

Hance, a soldier stationed at Fort Benning at the time of the murder, was convicted on Dec. 16, 1978, of killing Brenda Gail Faison, 21, whom he had met at a Columbus bar in February 1978.

Hance, a native of Lexington, Va., drove Faison to a wooded area, assaulted her, then dragged her from his car and beat her with a tire tool, decapitating her.

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Faison's body was found near the military installation, six weeks after she was last seen alive in late February 1978.

Hance was court-martialed and sentenced to life at hard labor in June 1978, for the slayings of two other women, Irene Thirkield and Karen Hickman, whose bludgeoned bodies were found on the military installation.

It was Hance's association with Thirkield that led to his being considered a suspect in the death of Faison.

During questioning by police, he admitted that he killed Faison and Thirkield.

Hance, who is black, also admitted writing letters to Columbus police and military police threatening to kill black prostitutes unless a strangler thought to be responsible for the deaths of seven white women in the Columbus area in the late 1970's was caught.

Following his incarceration, he maintained he was innocent of the crime.

Hance's military conviction was set aside in 1980 after he was tried and convicted of Faison's murder and sentenced to death.

Six previous execution dates set for Hance were canceled because of appeals and procedural errors.

His original death sentence was set aside by a federal appeals court in 1983, but he was retried in 1984 and again sentenced to death.

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The only black juror in Hance's 1984 retrial, Gayle Lewis Daniels, maintains she was intimidated into voting for the death penalty to provide a unanimous verdict.

Daniels now says her lone vote against the death penalty was ignored by the jury foreman and when the jurors were polled in the courtroom, she voted for the death penalty out of fear.

Hance's lawyers maintained that because their client was diagnosed by two psychiatrists as being mildly retarded, suffering from physiological brain damage, his sentence should be commuted to life in prison.

A Georgia law that prohibits the execution of retarded people was passed after Hance was resentenced to death in 1984.

Family members of two of the victims, Faison and Thirkield, had asked that Hance's sentence be commuted to life in prison.

'If Mr. Hance is executed, I think it is a sad state of the justice system here in Georgia,' said Hance's attorney, Thomas Dunn. 'And, again, I just come back to the very people who suffered the most from his crimes have said don't do this in our names.'

In denying clemency for Hance, Pardons and Parole Board Chairman James T. Morris said there was no compelling reason to render a decision inconsistent with the courts.

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'Not only was this a heinous and premeditated offense, there were two other equally grotesque killings that he had confessed to,' sais Morris.

Hance was the 18th person to die in Georgia's electric chair since the state resumed executions in 1983.

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