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    Haunted, victim's mother keeps vigil to watch killer die

    By BRYAN GILMER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


    STARKE -- Pamela Belford traveled seven hours to this bleak, north Florida town Tuesday to see the state kill the man who murdered her daughter.

    But just before she got here, she got a mobile phone call that a judge had put the execution on hold because of a late appeal. She checked into her room at the Best Western Motor Inn to wait.

    The unemployed Panhandle woman and her fiance, Joe Bates, spent the next three days doing crossword puzzles, watching the A&E channel and waiting for another phone call. She went to a Native American store to buy a "dream catcher" to chase her nightmares away. And she located a Wal-Mart to buy a clean change of shirts.

    Capital Collateral Counsel, an agency that represents condemned inmates, caused the delay by arguing the abstract legal premise that Dan Patrick Hauser was not sane when he fired his lawyers. Hauser has said he wants to die.

    "CCC, Idiots of America or whatever they're called don't know what they're putting me through, my family through," Belford, 46, said Thursday. "I think they just want to see their name in the paper."

    Late Thursday, Belford got the news she was hoping for: a federal appeals court ended the delay. The state prison rescheduled the lethal injection for today at 6 p.m.

    "I was waiting for confirmation," Belford said upon hearing the news, and exhaled. "I'm ecstatic."

    The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that CCC lawyers have no authority to file appeals when Hauser has refused CCC's help and chosen to represent himself.

    It is the same thing the Florida Supreme Court said last week when it threw out a similar appeal. That afternoon, U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle received hundreds of pages of filings from CCC just 26 hours before the Tuesday execution time. He delayed it to give himself time to read the paperwork.

    "The district court abused its discretion" by delaying the execution so long, the higher court wrote Thursday.

    Belford had been saying the same thing.

    "I'm nervous," she said Thursday morning, for once taking a break from one cigarette before lighting another. "They're dragging this thing out. Everything is so up in the air. Now we'll see what happens today."

    The couple left Fort Walton Beach in a rented car -- her 1978 Ford pickup wouldn't make the trip -- Tuesday morning hoping to arrive at Florida State Prison just in time to see Hauser die.

    "We tried not to leave too early so we didn't have to spend time sitting around," Bates said Thursday, bitterly looking down at his second Denny's breakfast in Starke.

    CCC never disputed the only important fact to Belford: that Hauser strangled Melanie Rodrigues to death in his Fort Walton Beach motel room. He did it New Year's Day 1995, weeks after her 21st birthday.

    Even Hauser called the appeals "a last-ditch, hail Mary attempt to scare this court into backing an anti-death-penalty crusader's attempt to define justice as they see fit."

    "That's one thing Hauser and I do agree on," Belford said. "I want him to die. He wants to die. And the state wants him to die."

    At the Best Western, her usual nightmares got worse. Thursday she woke from the scene of a monster, all teeth, she said, "munching on a child who looked like Melanie looked when she was a little girl."

    Belford and Bates stopped off at a Native American store near Starke. Belford bought a "dream catcher," a circle with a webbing of thread and beads said to trap nightmares while letting good dreams through.

    She can only wonder how Hauser has slept during his nights in the death watch cell 11 miles away from her.

    "I hope Melanie is haunting him," Belford spat.

    Unlike some murder victims' families, Bates and Belford don't believe the execution will somehow make it all better, but they are ready to watch it happen.

    "It won't bring back my daughter," Belford said. "But it will make sure he doesn't kill someone else's child."

    "I wish they would get it over with," Bates said with a sideways glance at his fiancee, "so she and I can start our life together."

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