RICHMOND, Va. – The brutal murders of a well-known Richmond couple and their young daughters as they were preparing to host a New Year's party sent shock waves through Virginia's capital city. More than 11 years later, some hope the execution of a man convicted in their deaths will close a painful chapter of this community's history.
"I do not think we should be saddled with the cost of keeping that heinous murderer alive," said Steve Tarrant, who lived near the slain family and still gets emotional when he talks about watching their bodies being carried out of their home. "I think his execution will help effect a closure," the 76-year-old said.
Ricky Gray is scheduled to be put to death Jan. 18 for the murders of 9-year-old Stella Harvey and 4-year-old sister, Ruby. Gray and his nephew Ray Dandridge were looking for a home to rob on New Year's Day 2006 when they spotted the Harveys' open door and walked in. The girls and their parents, Bryan and Kathryn Harvey, who were cooking a chili dinner for gathering they were hosting, were found in the basement of their burning home, bound, beaten and stabbed, with their throats cut.
Gray, now 39, also confessed to participating in the killing of 21-year-old Ashley Baskerville, her mother Mary Baskerville-Tucker and stepfather Percyell Tucker in their Richmond home less than a week later, but wasn't tried in that case. Gray and Dandridge said Ashley Baskerville had served as a lookout for them during the Harvey slayings.
The families' killings put the city on edge for weeks. After more than a decade, many still struggle to discuss the crimes.
"I am still incapable of describing what happened in that basement without getting choked up," said Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring, who prosecuted Gray. "I don't know if you ever get closure from something like that. I think if you're lucky, over time you forget, but I don't know if you ever reach closure."
After the slayings, Gray told police: "I just want to die."
Now he's asking Gov. Terry McAuliffe to spare his life, saying that the childhood sexual abuse he suffered — and subsequent drug use — provides an understanding of his behavior that wasn't offered to jurors.
Gray's attorneys say he was repeatedly raped by his older brother and beaten by his father as a child and used powerful drugs to numb the effects of the abuse. Gray claims he doesn't really remember the Harvey slayings because he was high on PCP. Gray's attorneys are also challenging the state's plans to use lethal injection drugs from a secret compounding pharmacy, saying they will result in a cruel and painful death.
Kathryn Harvey was co-owner of a popular Richmond toy store, the World of Mirth, and Bryan Harvey was a guitarist and singer for the rock duo House of Freaks. Bryan's sister, Paige Harvey, declined to comment and said her family doesn't wish to speak to the media.
Tarrant, who lived across the street from the Harveys, described them as the "ideal" family — "straight from a 1950-era TV family show."
Gray was sentenced to death for the murders of the Harvey children and to life in prison for the killings of their parents. Gray was never tried for the Baskerville-Tucker killings, but would have been if prosecutors didn't reach an appropriate verdict in the Harvey case, Herring said.
Dandridge, Gray's nephew, pleaded guilty for the Baskerville-Tucker killings and is serving a life sentence.
Perycell Tucker was a forklift operator and Mary Baskerville-Tucker worked at a dry cleaner. Her sister, Daisy Adams, called her the kind of person who "would have given you the clothes off her back." Adams said she hopes to watch Gray's execution, and believes it will bring her some relief after 11 difficult years.
"They holler about him suffering. What do they think about those kids that suffered?" Adams said.
Gray's attorneys said recently that while he should be punished for his crimes, he shouldn't be executed for the "long-lasting and terrible consequences of the abuse that shaped his life." Attorneys Rob Lee and Jonathan Sheldon said Gray has been "an exemplary prisoner and has demonstrated that he would continue to live peacefully behind bars if a commutation were granted."
They have declined to make Gray available for an interview.
Dozens of mental health professionals and other advocates have also urged McAuliffe to grant Gray clemency.
In a statement released by his lawyers, Gray said "remorse is not a deep enough word" for how he feels.
"I've stolen Christmas, birthdays, and Easters, Thanksgivings, graduations, and weddings, children. There's nothing I can do to make up for that," Gray said. He added: "I'm sorry they had to be a victim of my despair."
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report from New York City.