Friday, December 2, 2011

The Impending Execution of Gary Welch

Gary Roland Welch sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Oklahoma on 5 January 2012. He was convicted, along with Claudi Conover, of murdering Robert Hardcastle. I provide a summary of the case extracted from Welch v. Workman (2011).
Welch and his co-defendant, Claudie Conover, were charged with murdering Robert Hardcastle on August 25, 1994. At around 4:00 p.m. that day, Welch and Conover drove to the home of Johnny Rogers. Stephen St. John, Rogers' brother-in-law, testified he was present when they arrived. St. John saw his brother-in-law walk to Welch's car and heard Welch ask for a “bump” (a drug injection). When Rogers said he had none, Welch got out of the car and, pointing a knife at Rogers, said “Give me a god damned bump!” Welch turned the knife on St. John and told him to “look the other way.” Welch continued to demand drugs until Conover patted him on the back and said “let's get out of here.”

Approximately one hour later, Conover appeared at Larry Davis' home located in a duplex owned by Hardcastle. Davis and his wife lived in the front part of the duplex while Hardcastle resided in the back. Davis testified his friend was cooking dinner and Conover accepted an invitation to join them. Davis noticed a car parked toward the back, but saw only Conover at the time.

At some point, Davis went into the kitchen to help cook. While there, he heard banging noises coming from Hardcastle's residence. When he returned to the living room, Davis said he “wondered if [Hardcastle] was winning his wrestling match.” Conover jokingly replied, “I wouldn't worry about it. Somebody's probably getting a spanking over a deal.” A few minutes later, Davis heard his living room window break. Turning, he saw Hardcastle running by the window yelling, “I don't have any” or “I didn't do it.” Hardcastle then ran to Davis' porch; there was blood on his hands, forearms, face and bare chest. Both Conover and Davis went towards the door but when Conover went out first, Davis shut the door and returned to his distraught wife.

Patricia and Donnie Nading testified they were driving their children to football practice when, in Patricia's words, they “noticed a commotion at the side of the road.” They saw three men run across the street in front of them. As the Nadings pulled even with the men, they saw Hardcastle crouched in a fetal position in the roadside ditch while Conover punched him and Welch stabbed and punched him. The Nadings pulled up to the next house and Donnie used the neighbor's telephone to call the police. While on the telephone, he spoke from a window with an unobstructed view of the activity. He saw the men continue to beat Hardcastle, as another car stopped and backed up toward the fracas. He saw Conover leave the victim and stride to the car. Banging on the back window and screaming profanities, Conover told the driver to leave. In the meantime, Welch continued to stab Hardcastle until, at one point, Welch left to retrieve a beer bottle five to seven feet away. Welch smashed the bottle and used it to stab and slash at Hardcastle.

While Conover was yelling at the first driver, a second car pulled up driven by Rachelle Campbell. She saw Conover leave the first car and run toward a nearby house. The next thing she knew, a car pulled out and stopped to pick up Welch. Conover was driving; he drove the car toward her at a high speed, causing her to back into a ditch to avoid a collision. As the car drove by, Conover yelled profanities and told her to get out of the way. As the two men drove away, Campbell saw Hardcastle, covered with blood, come out of the ditch.

Officer Jim Gambill was the first officer to arrive at the scene. He had known Hardcastle since they were children. Hardcastle said, “Jim, Gary Welch did this shit to me.” He then asked for water and collapsed. Gambill radioed the ambulance and asked the paramedics to hurry, then radioed in to report Welch as a suspect. Hardcastle died a few minutes later.

As they made their escape, Welch and Conover were seen by an officer who testified the car and its occupants matched the descriptions provided over the radio dispatch. Because the officer was in an unmarked car, he called for a marked backup and followed them. When the backup arrived, the officers stopped the car and arrested Welch and Conover. The officers then retrieved a broken knife which had been thrown out of the vehicle prior to its stop. At booking, a knife scabbard was taken from Welch's belt and another knife was found in the car. Welch had sustained a wound which totally penetrated his left forearm but he refused treatment that night. At one point he passed out in his cell. The next day, Welch was transferred to the hospital where he underwent surgery on the wound.

A search of Hardcastle's duplex revealed a major fight had taken place in the kitchen and inside the front door. The autopsy report stated Hardcastle bled to death after receiving at least ten stab wounds, three of which penetrated his lungs, and numerous incision (slice) wounds. Some of the wounds were consistent with the broken knife thrown from the vehicle and the superficial wounds were consistent with those caused by a broken beer bottle.

At trial, Welch testified he fought Hardcastle in self-defense. He explained that two weeks before the incident Hardcastle, who knew Welch did “skin illustrations,” had spoken to him about getting a tattoo. Welch decided to visit with Hardcastle about the tattoo while Conover visited with Davis. According to Welch, he and Hardcastle had a pleasant visit until Hardcastle asked Welch to show him the knife he was carrying. When Welch handed Hardcastle the knife, Hardcastle opened it and began to clean his fingernails. Then Hardcastle's attitude abruptly changed. Welch stated that Hardcastle held the knife in a threatening way and said “you've been stepping on my old lady's toes,” but he had no idea what Hardcastle was talking about. Hardcastle then thrust the knife at Welch, wounding him in his left arm as he raised it to protect himself.

Welch claimed they began to fight while Hardcastle repeatedly tried to stab him. As Welch attempted to defend himself, Hardcastle eventually “went down” while still holding the knife. Welch escaped through the front door and hid behind the cars in the driveway. Hardcastle came out of the house and ran to the front duplex. Seeing Conover come out on the porch, Welch revealed his position and called to Conover for assistance. Hardcastle ran towards Welch, who fled across the street and then, in his own words, “turned, you know, to face the problem.”

Obviously rejecting Welch's account of the situation, the jury found him guilty of first degree murder.
I find there is no reasonable possibility that Gary Welch is factually innocent of the murder of Robert Hardcastle. Regarding his execution, I therefore stand mute.

Gary Welch has been executed by the people of Oklahoma.


PolyWogg said...

Thanks for the summary SJ...I was reading it and thinking, "How in the heck is SJ going to find problems with three unrelated witnesses virtually witnessing the killing directly?". In Texas, he would have qualified for the express lane...and the best he could come up with was self defense against a crazy guy over a tattoo?


tsj said...

I usually find no believable evidence of actual innocence. Our system usually gets it right. I'm concerned about the frequency with which we get it wrong. I'm concerned the error rate is on the order of 10%.

Since we have 2.5 million people behind bars, we have 25,000 people wrongfully incarcerated for each 1% error. Even 25,000 would be a distressing number. I'm concerned, however, we have ten times that.

My preference is that I would find no evidence of actual innocence in any case I look at.

GreatSouthernLand77 said...

Killing to say killing is wrong does not make sense. I'm proud to say I live in a country that abolished the death penalty years ago. It's a pity so many states in America have failed to do the same. Abolish the death penalty. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Anonymous said...

Such a waste. His pioneering work with the Shamen will be sadly forgotten.

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