Delaware man executed for ax slaying

A Delaware man convicted of killing a woman with an ax has become the first prisoner in Delaware to be executed since 2005.

Robert Jackson III was pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m. Friday in the execution chamber of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, about 10 minutes after receiving a lethal injection.

Jackson, 38, was convicted of killing Hockessin resident Elizabeth Girardi in 1992 during a botched burglary. According to trial testimony, Girardi was killed after she returned to her home and found Jackson and an accomplice leaving her home with stolen jewelry and other items. While the accomplice ran, Jackson used an ax he found in a woodshed to strike Girardi repeatedly in the head.

After Warden Perry Phelps asked Jackson if he had any last words, witnesses say he appeared to be looking around the witness area for Girardi’s son and daughter.

“Are the Girardis in there? Christopher and Claudia, if you are in there, I’ve never faulted your anger,” he said. “I would have been mad myself.”

Jackson, lying down with his arms and legs in restraints, then proclaimed his innocence one last time, and seemed to point the finger at Anthony Lachette, his accomplice in the burglary.

“I didn’t take your mother from you. Tony’s laughing his ass off right now because you’re about to watch an innocent man die. This isn’t justice.”

At that point, witnesses say it was obvious the end was near.

“When his last words were completed he never opened his eyes again,” said WDEL reporter Amy Cherry, one of the media witnesses. “There was some heavy breathing, some blubbering of the lips and some very deep breaths. Then his chest did stop moving.”

Jackson’s execution came after a flurry of failed appeals and then, finally, after Gov. Jack Markell denied a request for a reprieve.

Markell made the denial late Thursday night. He called a reprieve an extraordinary remedy, and said the request was based on waiting for decisions from other courts. A federal appeals court refused to stop the execution earlier Thursday night and Jackson lost two appeals on Wednesday before a federal judge and the Delaware Supreme Court.

Jackson was the first inmate to be executed in Delaware using the drug pentobarbital. Like other states, Delaware switched to using pentobarbital after a nationwide shortage of another key execution drug.

His attorneys challenged the use of the drug because they say it causes an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering.

Jackson’s execution was News Journal reporter Esteban Parra’s third as a witness.

“Obviously, we can’t tell if he was suffering,” Parra said. “But there were no signs, no movement or anything like that.”

Outside the execution building about an hour earlier, more than a dozen people held a candlelight vigil to protest the execution.

“Killing is wrong, whether it’s the person who kills somebody or the state who kills somebody,” said Agnus Briem of Ocean View. “And I want my feelings known that I’m opposed to the death penalty.”

Briem says life in prison would be a suitable punishment.

Stephanie Campbell, also of Ocean View, agrees.

“I stand for peace in every way,” Campbell said. “And to me this is un-peaceful, it’s unloving. It’s disrespectful of life.”

Just a few feet away, Rose Wilson of Townsend was the only person supporting the execution.

“What about the woman (Girardi)? I’m here speaking for her,” Wilson said. “She doesn’t have a voice now.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.