COLUMBIA, S.C., March 6 -- Convicted killer John Arnold has been executed in by lethal injection for murdering 33-year-old Betty Gardner in 1978. Arnold was pronounced dead today at 6.15 p.m. EST. Before going to his death, he issued a two-page statement condemning the U.S. judicial system and proclaiming his innocence. Arnold shared his last meal -- a sub sandwich, tossed salad, french fries and a vanilla milkshake -- with his attorneys. Witnesses said after Arnold was administered the injection, he gasped for air three times, then closed his eyes. Gardner was on her way to her father's farm in Beaufort County, S.C., but never arrived. Her body was found two months later. At the trial, Cindy Sheets, who was 18 at the time, said Gardner was forced to have oral sex with her and Arnold's cousin, John Plath. She said Gardner was beaten with a belt while the acts were performed. Sheets testified Plath stomped Gardner's neck and stabbed her at least 10 times. Gardner was also strangled with a hose while she was on the ground. Sheets said the killing was racially motivated. Arnold's attorneys argued he was the victim of his upbringing. They said he had no direction in his life, and his parents were alcoholics. The state Supreme Court overturned the case against Plath and Arnold in 1981 because of errors made by prosecutors, but both were convicted again. Plath is on death row for the killing, and Sheets was given immunity from prosecution for her testimony.
Arnold, who was 43, was the second South Carolinian to be executed for killing a black, and the 14th person to be executed in South Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. The other man executed for killing a black was Donald Gaskins, also black, who died in the electric chair in 1991. ---
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