Former chief supports execution

Published 9:40 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

Grady Reeves didn’t mince words on Friday.

“He got exactly what he deserved,” Reeves said of convicted murderer Holly Wood, 50, of Troy, who was executed Thursday at Holman Prison in Atmore. He was the fourth Alabama inmate to be executed this year.

“I heard on TV some of his family was down there hollering and praying. Well, she (his victim) didn’t have a chance to do that.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Reeves is the retired Troy Police chief. With more than 20 years of service under his belt, he saw his fair share of brutal crimes.

“I was probably involved in two dozen or so since 1973 that ended up with the death penalty conviction,” he said, adding that of those convictions many have been converted to life without parole and in other cases, the inmates remain on death row, waiting resolution of their appeals.

Wood’s case is the first execution he can remember from Pike County in the last 50 years, or more. But then again, Reeves said, Wood’s case is among the more brutal crimes he can remember, as well.

Woods was convicted of killing his former 34-year-old girlfriend Ruby Gosha on Sept. 1, 1993. He broke into her home and shot her in the head with a shotgun while she slept.

“It was just a really vicious, vicious crime,” Reeves said.

Woods, who was 33 at the time of the crime, had petitioned for a stay, claiming he was mentally disabled with an IQ of 70 or less and that trial lawyers had wrongly failed to tell the jury about his mental limitations. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal.

Reeves said he believes justice ultimately was served in this case, albeit the process was lengthy. “I would say, of the cases sitting on death row, the evidence is overwhelming in 98 percent of them,” Reeves said.

Prison officials said Wood died by injection at 6:21 p.m.

His death was witnessed by two of his sisters, Johnnie Pearl Wood and Mae Ole Wood Herndon, who at one point knocked on the glass separating the witness room and the execution chamber and shoved aside some of the chairs in their room. The commotion peaked just as Wood’s head fell backward and he appeared to lose consciousness.

Wood never seemed to acknowledge that he saw or heard what was going on in the witness room about 10 feet away.

When Holman warden Tony Patterson had asked Wood earlier if he had any last words, Wood shook his head “no.” Wood then raised his head and talked quietly with corrections officers inside the chamber until his head dropped.

In the witness room, his sisters cried and prayed from the beginning, but began shouting, and knocking on the window and shoving chairs when their brother appeared to lose consciousness.

“Oh my God,” ‘’Oh Lord have mercy,” ‘’my brother, my Lord, oh my God, my brother” and “don’t leave me like this,” the sisters shouted.

Corrections officers in the witness room tried to calm the women and led them back to their seats. They were escorted quietly from the witness room shortly before their brother was declared dead.

After leaving the witness room, the sisters left a handwritten note with corrections officers for The Associated Press saying their brother was mentally disabled and that Gov. Bob Riley should have stopped the execution.

“The law failed to protect the mentally disabled. … The legal system in Alabama is flawed,” the note said.

For his part, Reeves agrees the system is flawed. But he said the flaws fail to take into account the feelings and considerations of the victims of crimes. “The victims are forgotten in the process,” he said.

Riley had issued a statement earlier after rejecting a clemency plea.

“For his brutal crime, he was tried and convicted by a jury and the jury recommended he be sentenced to death. This conviction and death sentence have been upheld by higher courts and I see no reason why this office should overturn the sentence,” Riley said in the statement.

Wood was the fourth person executed in Alabama this year and the 10th in the last two years. The state resumed executions in 1983 after a court-ordered moratorium.

The clemency petition said state psychiatrists have said Wood is mentally disabled and that his reading, spelling and arithmetic skills are in the second- to fourth-grade range. The petition had asked Riley to stop the execution partly because his attorneys failed to tell jurors that he was mentally disabled in the sentencing phase of trial.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to allow Wood’s execution to proceed, arguing that Wood has been on death row for 16 years and that his claims have been considered previously by federal and state courts.

The attorney general’s office also said that before his arrest, Wood held several jobs and was able to function in society. It also argued that Wood showed mental acuity in the way he planned and carried out the killing of Gosha.

Two of Gosha’s children, Willie and Latisha Goshe, witnessed the execution in a separate room from Wood’s sisters and declined to be interviewed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.