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Not in My Name

...but they're dead just the same...

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#132 - James Edward Smith - TX - 6/26/1990

He asked for a last meal of dirt.  Really.

Victim:  Larry Don Rohus (44)            3/7/1983

Smith was executed for gunning down an insurance agent he robbed in 1983.

By the prisoner's way of describing it, he jumped ship and returned to the spiritual world.

He wanted to make the leap two years ago, but his mother intervened in his case. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his mother, Alexine Hamilton of Indianapolis, had no legal basis for trying to save his life.

Smith denied, later admitted and then again denied committing the robbery-murder of Rohus, 44, of Missouri City. Yet he had insisted for years he be executed rather than linger on death row only to face the inevitable. Smith repeated his assertion he had not killed Rohus just before he was executed. "I myself did not kill anyone, but I go to my death without begging for my life. I will not humiliate myself. I will let no man break me."

He also said, "When the general populace wakes up to the realities of executions, they will realize that the price to pay is a dear one." Then he smiled, winked and said, "Hare Krishna."

Smith labeled death penalty foes as "vultures waiting until the last minute to peck around the body" and said they had wasted his time by getting his execution stayed in 1988.

Smith, who worked as a cabdriver in Houston, had also been a tarot-card dealer in New Orleans, a voodoo priest and Hare Krishna follower.

A native of Jefferson, Ky., he was the third of 10 children and left home at age 17.

He came within hours of being executed in May 1988, but death penalty foes convinced Hamilton to try to block the execution. The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay while it considered a similar case in Arkansas. But two months ago, when it ruled in the Arkansas case that condemned prisoners may waive appeals and ask to be put to death, it refused to hear arguments in her case. Then Hamilton again asked the U.S. Supreme Court to find her son incompetent, although she acknowledged he had told her not to intervene.

An unconventional and irreverent convict, Smith seemed to delight in shocking news reporters. Death might be an open door in one interview, and another time would be "like a prune - a natural function of life." Death penalty foes, he said, are "a fallacy, sham, hypocrisy" who have "perpetrated a greater crime on inmates on death row."

A strong believer in the metaphysical, Smith scoffed at those who could not understand his philosophy or at least acknowledge his right to think differently.

In an affidavit he filed in 1988 to try to explain why he wanted to die, Smith quoted the decision of a judge in a 1979 case, in which a Nevada prisoner also was seeking to die: "To deny him that (freedom to choose) would be to incarcerate his spirit, the one thing that remains free and which the state need not and should not imprison."

The prosecutor who tried Smith has described him as the most evil man he ever prosecuted.

Rohus, who was married and had a 1-year-old son, was at work at Union National Life Insurance Co. in Houston when Smith walked into his second floor office with a gun and demanded money. Rohus handed over several thousand dollars in cash and checks in a plastic bag. Witnesses said after he pleaded for his life, he was ordered to step forward and was shot once in the chest. He fell to the floor and Smith shot him again.

When Smith fled the building, employees and several construction workers chased him until he was cornered and subdued.

During his trial, Smith bolted from the courtroom and several court employees chased him across downtown Houston before a police officer caught him.

Rohus' widow, Deborah Rego of Charlotte, N.C., said she was ready to put the nightmare behind her. "I knew today was coming," she said. "You prepare yourself as best you can, but it is a time of stirring up old memories. The memories won't be put away until this is over. Killing him won't solve everything, but he gave up his right to live when he pulled the trigger."

Rego, who has remarried, said that if she could face Smith, she would ask him why he had to shoot her husband. "It's obvious it was not just for the robbery," she said. "He had his money and he probably could have just turned and ran and never been caught.' She acknowledged being bitter, not only toward Smith but toward defense attorneys who tried to block his execution. "He had no right to come in and do what he did and change my life forever," she said.

Though Smith claimed to be innocent of the murder, an office clerk testified that she saw Smith kill Rohus.

Several construction workers also testified that they chased Smith from Rohus' office to a nearby apartment complex, where they held him until police arrived.

Smith asked for a last meal of dirt, apparently for a voodoo ritual. Dirt not being on the prison system's list of approved foods, Smith settled for yogurt.

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Sandy Robertson on Smith murder

Did he ever explain in detail how he could claim to be not guilty when he was seen to shoot the man and apprehended right after?

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