JARRATT, Va. – A man who nearly decapitated a Mecklenburg County store owner during a robbery is set to become the 100th person executed in Virginia since capital punishment was reinstated three decades ago.
Robert Stacy Yarbrough, 30, was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. He was sentenced to death for the 1997 slaying of 77-year-old Cyril Hugh Hamby.
Yarbrough has asked the U.S. Supreme Court and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to block the execution.
Yarbrough's attorneys claim his trial attorney should have presented evidence of Yarbrough's childhood of neglect by a mother addicted to drugs and alcohol, and should have challenged the DNA evidence used to convict him. They also claim the prosecutor unfairly excluded black potential jurors.
Yarbrough and former high school classmate Dominic Jackson Rainey waited at a picnic table across the road from Hamby's Store on May 8, 1997, until all the customers left. After locking the door behind them, they tied Hamby's hands behind his back with an extension cord and string and forced open the cash register.
Yarbrough asked Hamby twice where his guns were hidden, and when he didn't get an answer he put down his shotgun, took out a three-bladed "Uncle Henry" pocketknife and cut the front and back of Hamby's neck in a sawing motion as Hamby pleaded for him to stop. Medical experts estimate it may have taken 15 minutes for Hamby to bleed to death.
Yarbrough took Hamby's wallet, and the men grabbed some beer, wine and cigarettes and fled the store. Days later, they were arrested.
Yarbrough was convicted and sentenced to death in June 1998. The Virginia Supreme Court demanded a second sentencing hearing because the jury was not told that Yarbrough would not be eligible for parole if sentenced to life in prison. The second jury also sentenced Yarbrough to death.
Rainey, who was 17 at the time, was spared the death penalty in exchange for his testimony against Yarbrough. He is serving a 25-year sentence for first-degree murder.
Virginia ranks second to Texas, with 406, in the number of executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. The first execution took place in Utah by firing squad the following year. Virginia restarted its capital punishment program in 1982.
Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of Amnesty International USA's campaign to abolish the death penalty, called the 100th execution a "grim milestone."
"As evidence mounts that this country's death penalty system is flawed beyond repair, Virginia has become a virtual race track for capital punishment," she said. "... This is not a distinction of honor, but a mark of shame."
Five executions were scheduled over two months in Virginia after a moratorium was lifted in April following the U.S. Supreme Court's finding that lethal injection was constitutional.
Kevin Green was executed in May. Kaine commuted triple killer Percy Walton's sentence days before his scheduled June 10 execution because of Walton's deteriorated mental state. Two other men — Kent Jermaine Jackson and Christopher Scott Emmett — are scheduled to be executed in July.