LIVINGSTON, Texas – Condemned inmate Patrick Knight is ready to die, and die laughing.
Knight, 39, convicted of the fatal shooting of his neighbors almost 16 years ago outside Amarillo, has been considering dozens of jokes he's been receiving in recent weeks since drawing attention for his desire to tell a joke as part of his final statement from the Texas death chamber gurney.
He's scheduled for lethal injection Tuesday evening in Huntsville.
"Death is my punishment, I've accepted that," he said last week from death row. "I'm not afraid of dying."
Knight was condemned for the abduction and fatal shooting of Walter Werner, 58, and his wife, Mary Ann, 56. Knight lived in a trailer on property next door to them.
After the couple left for work Aug. 26, 1991, Knight and a friend, Robert Bradfield, broke into their home and waited. When they returned, the couple was held captive in their basement through the next day, then were bound, gagged and blindfolded and taken in their own van to a spot about four miles away. There they were forced to kneel on the ground and each was shot in the back of the head. Their bodies were left in a ditch.
Knight went back to his trailer and went to sleep.
With Texas the nation's leader in capital punishment, he said he decided to solicit jokes to help his buddies on death row deal with their stress.
"We need something to ease the tension," he said of his real-life attempt at gallows humor, which is being panned by Randall County District Attorney James Farren.
"My impression is he's similar to most of the hoodlums that are on death row, who have no regard for your rights or property, nor mine, and no regard for human life," said Farren, whose office prosecuted Knight's 1993 capital murder trial.
Knight's been getting about 20 letters a day, with many of them including jokes. A friend also was collecting jokes for him on a Web site, but as of last week he had not received any recent online offerings because he must rely on postal mail for them, since Texas inmates don't have computers and Internet access.
Knight's appeals have been exhausted and his lawyer had no plans to raise any last-minute issues. The U.S. Supreme Court in February refused to review his case.
His execution would be the 18th this year in Texas and the fourth this month. At least 10 more condemned Texas inmates have executions scheduled in the coming weeks, including two in July and five in August.
When police investigating the disappearances questioned him, he initially denied any involvement, but later confessed and led authorities to their bodies. He already was on probation for a burglary.
"I was a 23-year-old kid and they were older," Knight said from death row, saying the couple had complained about his loud music and noisy cars. "We just didn't get along.
"I got on their nerves. I was just young and stupid. I regret so much, because they were such good people."
He said accomplice Bradfield, who was 19 at the time, looked up to him as a big brother. He made drugs and alcohol attractive and available to Bradfield, who wound up with a pair of life prison sentences.
"If it wasn't for me, he wouldn't have been drinking and doing all the drugs," Knight said.
He also said he didn't remember much about the slayings because he was drunk and high.
"I'm not denying my involvement in the crime, but I would like to know exactly what happened," Knight said.
Farren said relatives of the Werners, the victims in the case, have kept a low profile throughout the history of the case and would not comment on Knight's plans for his final statement. Knight said would ask for forgiveness and promised a joke that would not embarrass his victims and not be vulgar or profane.
"I'm a Christian," he said.
Scheduled to die next — on July 10 — is Rolando Ruiz, the convicted triggerman in a murder-for-hire insurance scheme that left a San Antonio woman dead in 1992.