Oklahoma has become the first U.S. state to perform an execution this year.
Gary Roland Welch was a convicted murderer who was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of Robert Dean Hardcastle in 1994. The 49-year-old was put to death by lethal injection at 6.10pm on Thursday, three weeks after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in prison.
Welch, a McAlester State Prison inmate, was the first Oklahoma inmate to be executed since January 2011, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. With his last words, execution witnesses say he paid tribute to his “brothers” at the prison and said: “So let’s get it on because that’s what we’re here for.”
He then repeated four times, “Valhalla, Odin, slay the beast,” references to a Norse god (Odin) and the realm in which slain heroes are supposedly welcomed (Valhalla).
Since his conviction, Welch had refused to show contrition for his crime, arguing that the 35-year-old Hardcastle attacked him over a drugs dispute. More than once, Welch informed the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board he would not apologize for killing Hardcastle, because he felt he (Welch) had acted in self-defense. He told authorities:
“To me, this was life or death. It was just luck that I survived. My intentions were never to kill him. But I also didn’t intend for him to kill me either.”
However, witnesses at Welch’s trial say they saw him punch and stab Hardcastle, before slashing the victim with a broken bottle. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said:
“Gary Welch had a 15-year history of violent crimes that included multiple assaults on women and police officers, burglary, stabbings and carrying concealed weapons before his conviction for murder. The punishment of death as chosen by a jury of Welch’s peers is reserved for the most heinous crimes. My thoughts are with Robert Hardcastle’s family and what they have endured for the past 17 years.”
Previously, Welch came close to receiving clemency from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. He was denied by a 3-2 vote.