FLORENCE, Ariz. – A condemned inmate who fought to drop his appeals, saying he owned it to his victims and society, was executed Tuesday morning by injection.
Robert Charles Comer, 50, the first inmate to be put to death in Arizona since November 2000, smiled throughout his execution, which began at 10:03 a.m. PDT. The smile faded as he let out his breath. He was pronounced dead at 10:08 a.m.
Comer was convicted in a 1987 crime spree in which he killed a fellow camper east of Phoenix. He also was convicted of repeatedly raping a female camper that night, once in front of her boyfriend.
He was strapped to a gurney and covered from the shoulders down with a sheet when the curtains were pulled back to allow witnesses to see him Tuesday. He looked around and mouthed "Hi, how are you" toward witnesses who weren't visible to the media.
Warden Carson McWilliams then asked him if he had any last words. Comer said, "Yes, Go Raiders."
Since 2000, Comer had wanted to die for his crimes, saying he owed it to his victims, himself and society. Comer spent a lengthy court battle just proving he was competent to make that choice.
At his 2002 competency hearing, Comer admitted killing Larry Pritchard after eating a campfire dinner with him and said it was about time he paid for it.
"I killed Larry Pritchard. Stuck a gun in his ear and pulled the trigger, he's dead," Comer said, according to transcripts from the hearing. "An eye for an eye. I mean, I ended a whole bunch of innocent people's lives and changed their lives forever. Even though they're still alive, their lives are destroyed. I owe that to them. I owe it to myself, man. I was totally wrong."
"I don't know what everybody's so scared about," he added then. "Death is not that damn bad."
Comer ate his last meal Monday night. He asked for fried okra, four dinner rolls, two pieces of banana bread and plenty of butter and salt. He turned down a continental breakfast offered Tuesday morning, officials said.
K.C. Scull, who prosecuted Comer nearly 20 years ago, said he was satisfied that the sentence was carried out.
"I don't get any particular pleasure out of this that happened," said Scull, who retired as prosecutor in 2000. "I am glad that the law was followed and it's finally over with."
In the final years before his execution, Comer was said to be a different man from the one who was brought into a courtroom strapped to a wheelchair for his sentencing. He had struggled with guards and was bloodied, barely conscious and naked except for a towel on his lap.
Comer spent the next 13 years making knives and shanks, fighting with prisoners and guards and setting fires in his own cell. He was cited 43 times between 1988 and 2001 for such infractions.
But since 2001, he hadn't been disciplined once. Guards, psychologists, lawyers and Comer himself said he had matured and become more thoughtful during his prison time, particularly after his best friend in prison was executed in 1999.
Comer was the first inmate to be put to death in the state since Donald Miller was executed on Nov. 8, 2000, for helping to murder an 18-year-old woman.
Arizona has executed 86 people, 22 of them since resuming the death penalty in 1992 after a 29-year hiatus.
More than 110 inmates, including two women, are awaiting their executions in Arizona prisons.
Slightly more than a dozen people demonstrated about a mile away from the prison entrance Tuesday. The protesters included members of the Arizona Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and a Roman Catholic peace group. At one point they gathered in a circle and recited a prayer.
"We need to preserve life, not take life," said Margaret Snider, 67, of Phoenix, who was wearing a baseball cap that said "Let us not become the evil we dispense. Abolish the death penalty."
A lone death penalty proponent stood in another area. George Williams, 63, of Mesa, held a paper sign that read "Comer will never murder or rape again!"
Williams said he felt he needed to be there for the victims, even though he didn't know them or Comer personally.