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Paralyzed victim to view execution

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000


Today, Mark Parker will ride flat on his back on a three-hour van trip to Starke that he's been waiting to make for 16 years.

He was a 19-year-old rookie corrections officer at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando when Thomas Provenzano, an angry loner armed to the teeth, put a bullet in his spine and consigned him to a life using a wheelchair.

Provenzano also shot two bailiffs in that 1984 rampage, killing William Arnie Wilkerson on the spot and crippling Harry Dalton, who died seven years later with brain damage.

Today, the last surviving victim of the shootout plans to sit in his wheelchair, watching through the glass, as the Department of Corrections sends lethal chemicals into Provenzano's heart. The former electrician is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. at Florida State Prison for Wilkerson's murder, barring a stay of execution.

Parker, who watched the courts delay Provenzano's scheduled execution four times last year, calls it the "s-word."

"I don't say that word," Parker said Monday. "I don't let anyone say it around me."

Parker, who is paralyzed from the neck down, has undergone nine surgeries since the shooting. He has been waiting to watch Provenzano, 51, die.

"I'd have rather seen him in the electric chair," Parker said. "He sentenced me to a life in an electric chair. Fortunately, mine has wheels."

To Parker, death by lethal injection -- the execution method the state adopted when the constitutionality of the electric chair came under attack -- seems too gentle a passing. Like putting a pet to sleep, he said.

Parker was only four months into his job as a corrections officer when Provenzano entered the Orange County Courthouse, carrying a 12-gauge shotgun, .38-caliber revolver, an assault rifle and ammunition concealed beneath a camouflage jacket.

Parker was unarmed. When Provenzano shot Dalton, who had tried to search him, Parker ran for help and was caught in the crossfire between Provenzano and Wilkerson. The bullet severed his spine.

Parker feels blessed to be alive -- he figures the bullet should have killed him -- though he knows it's a very different life than he thought he would lead. On the very day he was shot, he had an appointment with an Army recruiter, and was contemplating a career in uniform.

Instead, he now stays home surfing the Internet and playing computer strategy games, most recently one called "Jagged Alliance," in which he plays a mercenary liberating a fictitious South American country. He operates his computer with a stick that fits between his teeth.

"I've gotten so used to it after 16 years, I can play video games just as fast as people who can use their hands," he said.

Parker doesn't expect to regain the use of his limbs, but should God bless him with a miracle, he said, he wants to know what shag carpet feels like under his toes, and what one of his 400 CDs feels like in his hand.

"I will continue to live," he said. "I won't live the way I expected to when I was 19, but I will go on."

For the trip to Starke from his home in Winter Garden, where he requires 24-hour care, Parker will lie in the back of his van in his wheelchair, which flattens down, and try to get some sleep.

He said he probably shouldn't be going, since he has a wound from his last surgery that hasn't quite healed, and because he gets pressure sores on his skin from sitting upright too long. But he has waited 16 years for this day, he said, and he has plenty of time to get better afterward.

If the execution proceeds as planned, Provenzano will become the fourth Florida inmate to die by lethal injection. His supporters claim he should be spared because he has the delusional belief that he is Jesus Christ and doesn't understand what is happening to him. The pope, too, has asked for mercy.

Parker is impatient with those arguments.

"Tell me in the Bible where you see Jesus walking around carrying three concealed weapons," he said.

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