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    Witness to execution: 'It was too humane'

    The victim's mother says, "I would like to see Old Sparky back,'' after her daughter's murderer dies quietly with no final statement.

    By BRYAN GILMER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 2000


    STARKE -- As the curtains parted Friday in the state's execution chamber, Dan Patrick Hauser already had closed his eyes.

    He lay strapped to a hospital gurney, wearing a gray Buddhist robe and covered with a sheet from the chest down. But for slight twitches of his eyelashes and the rise and fall of his chest, he was motionless.

    "You may now make your final statement," the warden told him.

    Hauser did not react, so the warden signaled to an anonymous executioner behind a one-way mirror. The poison dripped through the intravenous tube into Hauser's arm. He swallowed deeply.

    The 22 witnesses, drenched by hard rain on their way into Florida State Prison, waited quietly on the other side of the plate glass window.

    The window began to fog as the red digital clock above Hauser's head marked off several minutes.

    Behind a curtain in the death chamber, a hidden heart monitor traced a flat line at 6:07 p.m. A physician's assistant emerged to slip the disc of his stethoscope under the fabric of Hauser's robe. A prison doctor pronounced him dead at 6:08 p.m.

    "It was too humane," said Pamela Belford, the mother of the woman Hauser murdered in 1995, 21-year-old Melanie Rodrigues of Fort Walton Beach.

    "It was like he just fell asleep," she said. "I would like to see Old Sparky back."

    The state adopted lethal injection as its main method of execution this year, holding onto the electric chair only as a secondary method for inmates who choose it.

    The Legislature feared a constitutional challenge would overturn the electric chair as cruel and unusual punishment.

    Hauser, 30, the fifth state prisoner to be executed by lethal injection, was unlike most condemned prisoners, who fight their death sentence to the end and then make emotional statements at the execution.

    Hauser pleaded no contest to first-degree murder, asked his public defender not to argue against the death penalty, then waived the right to have a jury set his punishment.

    He gave detectives a detailed confession of how he chose Rodrigues at the Fort Walton Beach topless bar where she danced, took her back to his Econolodge room and then slowly strangled her with his bare hands.

    He fired his lawyers and waived every appeal he could. Still, intervention against Hauser's wishes in the past week delayed his execution three days.

    Hauser's biological mother and lawyers with Capital Collateral Counsel, which represents death row inmates, persuaded a federal judge to consider the argument that Hauser was manic depressive and using the state to commit suicide.

    U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle postponed the execution three hours before it was to happen. Hauser already had eaten his ceremonial last meal of Asian dishes Tuesday and visited with his Buddhist spiritual adviser and adoptive parents.

    Hauser used the extra time to write pleadings urging judges to throw out CCC's filings.

    On Thursday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found Hauser's arguments persuasive. He was scheduled for execution at 6 p.m. Friday.

    "He is relaxed, calm and responsive," said Department of Corrections spokesman C.J. Drake minutes before Hauser's death. "He'll engage you in conversation. He's not nervous at all, not apprehensive."

    Hauser didn't ask for another last meal, and the prison didn't offer. He spent down his account at the prison canteen on candy bars and crackers, Drake said.

    Hauser's parents already had left town, so they did not visit again, either.

    Hauser, who converted to Buddhism in prison, spent the afternoon talking with his spiritual adviser, Kinloch C. Walpole of Alachua, through the bars of his cell.

    He declined to take a Valium the prison offered at 5 p.m.

    "He's a coward, as far as I'm concerned," Belford, mother of the murdered woman, said after the execution. "He's not even a man. He ain't nothing."

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