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    King, on last day, prepared to die

    Amos Lee King Jr., facing execution today, still maintains his innocence in the death of Natalie Brady.

    By KELLEY BENHAM, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 26, 2003

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    [Times photo: Kinfay Moroti]
    "It's time to go," says Florida State Prison assistant warden Allen Clark, left, to death row inmate Amos King on Tuesday.
    STARKE -- With 30 hours to live and a watch ticking on his wrist, Amos Lee King Jr. said what he has always said, again and again for 26 years.

    "Did you kill Natalie Brady?" a reporter shouted at him Tuesday.

    "No," King said softly in his last interview. "I did not."

    He has been here before, facing reporters and cameras in what should be his last full day alive.

    Sentenced to die in 1977 for the killing of an elderly Tarpon Springs widow, King has avoided execution six times. He faces another execution date at 6 p.m. today. This time, after courts rejected a number of appeals Sunday, King said he is prepared -- as much as he ever can be -- to die by lethal injection.

    "To the victim's family," he said, "I'm sorry about all this, and that we have to be here."

    King, 48, said he had written those family members a letter saying he did not kill Mrs. Brady, knowing they did not want to hear it.

    "They need to know the truth," he said.

    King, wearing an orange prison shirt, was shackled at the wrists and ankles and flanked by guards. He did not stutter, as he does when he is nervous. He said he was not afraid.

    He has had a long time to reflect on his life and prepare for his death.

    When Mrs. Brady was killed, King said, he was 22 and already tired of jail. He grew up in a large but troubled family, attended Largo Middle School and Pinellas Park High School. He discovered drugs early.

    "I was just a hood," King said.

    He ended up at a minimum-security work release center in Tarpon Springs, serving four years for stealing a shotgun. He said he was trying to repair his life in anticipation of his release.

    "I had become exhausted with the person I had been," he said. "I was trying to turn it all around ... I just wanted to lay low and go straight for a change."

    On March 17, 1977, the sweet woman everyone called "Tillie" was found raped, stabbed, beaten and choked inside her burning home.

    About the time ambulances arrived at her house, King was discovered missing from his bed. He later stabbed prison guard James McDonough 15 times. The guard said he found King outside the prison in bloody pants. King says his pants were not bloody, and that the guard attacked him first. The pants never have been found.

    Clinging to his innocence keeps him going, King said. He reads, studies law, writes letters. More than two decades on death row have made him smarter, more mature and more stable, he said.

    "I'm exhausted from doing time, wasting life," he said. "I want to do anything positive, anything to call my own shots."

    He stays involved in the intricacies of his case -- the motions and appeals that have made him the longest-serving death row inmate from Pinellas County. Late last week, he stayed up all night writing a motion to the Florida Supreme Court, using formal legal language and an oversized, almost childish handwriting.

    The state Supreme Court denied his motion Monday, along with several others filed by his attorney. He went back Tuesday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

    He will spend several hours meditating and writing. He has requested Thai food for his last meal. It's a ritual he knows well. He already has eaten his last meal twice.

    "You're going whether you're ready or not," he said. "Some guys go quietly, and some go kicking and screaming, but you're going."

    When it was time for the interview to end, the assistant warden nudged him from his chair. He said, "Thank you," and nodded politely with his shackled hands folded in front of him. He walked out with a guard on each arm, taking short steps down a long corridor lined with guards in every doorway, back toward his cell next to the death chamber. He was followed by the sound of gates slamming.

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