Delaware man executed for woman's 1992 ax slaying

DOVER, Del. - July 28, 2011

Robert Jackson III was put to death by lethal injection at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna and pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m.

Jackson's execution came after Gov. Jack Markell denied a request for a reprieve late Thursday. Earlier in the night, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a stay of execution. A small group gathered outside to protest against the death penalty.

The 38-year-old's execution is the first time Delaware has included pentobarbital as one of three drugs used to carry out an execution. Delaware switched to the drug after a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, the previous drug the state used to sedate an inmate before administering two other death-causing drugs.

Eight other states have already used pentobarbital to carry out executions according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Jackson's execution followed a series of legal challenges that stretched into the hours before he was executed. His lawyers argued that Jackson should be allowed to challenge the state's switch to pentobarbital as an execution drug, saying it posed a risk of pain and suffering.

The courts sided with attorneys for the state of Delaware, however. They said it was time to execute Jackson, who was convicted in the 1992 killing of 47-year-old Hockessin resident Elizabeth Girardi.

"In a perfect world, none of this would have happened," said Girardi's daughter, Claudia Desaulniers, before the execution. She and her brother Christopher planned to attend as witnesses.

Desaulniers, who was 15 when her mother died, said she thinks about her mother every day, calling her a "loving person." She said even now she startles at unexpected noises in her home, like a floor creaking, worried she might be the victim of a crime.

According to testimony presented at trial, Girardi was killed after she returned home on April 3, 1992, and found Jackson, then 18, and an accomplice leaving her home with stolen jewelry and other items. While Jackson's accomplice ran, Jackson used an ax he found in a woodshed to strike Girardi repeatedly in the head.

Jackson's accomplice, Anthony Lachette, testified against him at trial, where it was revealed the pair planned the burglary to get money to buy marijuana. Lachette pleaded guilty to burglary and conspiracy and was released from prison in 1996.

Two different juries recommended the death penalty for Jackson, the first after deliberating less than two hours. Jackson told a second jury in 1995 that he was a changed person and apologized to Girardi's family.

"I can't explain what happened," he said, according to one news account at the time. "I don't know what happened - a mistake."

The jury voted for the death penalty 11-1.

Jackson is the 15th person put to death by Delaware since 1992 when the state began executions after a decades-long hiatus. The last inmate to be executed by the state was Brian Steckel, who was executed in 2005 for raping and strangling a neighbor, Sandra Lee Long, who burned to death in a fire that Steckel set. While awaiting trial in Long's 1994 murder, Steckel sent more than 75 taunting and threatening letters to people involved in the case, including Long's mother.

A total of 19 other inmates, all men, are currently on death row in the state.

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