Brundidge man executed for 1984 murder

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 16, 2000

Staff Writer

More than 15 years after he was convicted of killing a man, Robert Lee Tarver Jr. died in Alabama’s electric chair.

The 52-year-old man, originally from Pike County, was pronounced dead at 12:11 a.m. Friday at Holman Prison near Atmore after his final appeal for a stay was denied.

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He was convicted in the 1984 killing of Cottondale businessman Hugh Kite, who was locking his bait shop and grocery for the night.

According to Associated Press reports, an aggitated Tarver talked with guards as he was strapped into the chair and looked at his victim’s children twice, but made no attempt to communicate with them. He refused to make a final statement.

Tarver and also waived a final meal on Thursday and spent the day visiting family. He reportedly left his watch to his son and personal papers and other items to his sister.

For members of Tarver’s family and the family of the victim, the date of execution has been an agonizing ordeal.

It has also been a problem Attorney General Bill Pryor is addressing.

During a recent stop in Pike County, Pryor called the appeal process "frustrating" and believes strongly in "streamling" death penalty appeals.

"We’re the only state with two full levels of full review," Pryor said. "Sixteen, 18, 20 or more years of delay is not unusual."

Clay Crenshaw of the Attorney General’s Office said Pryor’s reform would give the Alabama Supreme Court discretionary authority on death penalty cases, just like it has in those cases in which the death penalty is not imposed.

"It would be a good reform because it would speed things up," Crenshaw said.

Tarver, who maintained his innocence, was initially scheduled to be executed Feb. 4, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay less than three hours before he was to be strapped into the electric chair. That stay was granted so justices could consider whether or not they would hear arguments that the electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment.

Tarver contended Alabama’s electric chair is "antiquated" and exposed him to a risk of "excessive burning, disfigurement and…pain and suffering."

On Feb. 22, the justices voted 5-4 not to hear the arguments, which gave the Alabama Supreme Court authority to set a new execution date.

But, Tarver was not giving up his right to appeal.

His attorney filed another appeal on April 6 that claimed blacks were unfairly excluded from the jury during Tarver’s 1985 trial. In the appeal, Tarver’s attorney Bryan Stevenson of Montgomery claimed Russell County is 40 percent black, but 13 of 14 qualified blacks were struck from the jury which voted 7-5 to recommend Tarver be sentenced to life in prison without parole. That recommendation was overruled by Circuit Judge Wayne Johnson, who sentenced Tarver to death.

Tarver’s appeal included an affidavit signed by fromer Russell County assistant district attorney Mark Carter in which Carter stated race was a factor in the jury selection.

Carter, however, admitted he had "no specific recollection" about the jury selection process that occurred more than 14 years ago. In rejecting the appeal, Russell County Circuit Judge George Greene stated Carter was referring to "a vague policy" that race was indeed a factor in the selection of Tarver’s jury.

On Thursday, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the racial discrimination claims failed "to meet the definition of newly discovered evidence." State officials said courts rejected the racial discrimination claims in 1990 during the post-conviction process.