Death row inmate Gilbert Ray Postelle claims he has totally changed since killing four people while high on methamphetamine 16 years ago.
“I try to be a positive influence on everybody that comes in contact with me,” he said at his clemency hearing Wednesday. “I just feel like I'm all the way around a better person.”
He asked the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to spare his life. Instead, the board voted 4-1 to deny clemency despite concerns about his age at the time and his troubled childhood.
“This case is a very difficult one,” said board member Richard Smothermon, a former prosecutor. “And I would imagine not only am I struggling with it but others on this board are struggling with it.”
The vote means Postelle's execution will be carried out as scheduled Feb. 17 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester unless he gets a stay in court.
In Oklahoma, a governor can only commute a death sentence if the parole board recommends clemency.
Postelle and other death row inmates asked a federal judge for stays after murderer John Marion Grant reportedly vomited and convulsed during his execution Oct. 28. They complain Oklahoma's lethal injection process amounts to prohibited cruel and unusual punishment.
Postelle, 35, was convicted of murdering four people on Memorial Day 2005 outside a trailer in Del City. He was sentenced to death for two of the murders and to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the other two.
The board was told he acted along with his brother and their father in a blitz attack. The board was told they used assault rifles and shot 59 times.
Their target was the trailer's resident, Donnie Swindle. The father had accused Swindle of causing his motorcycle accident the year before.
“Kill everybody there,” the father told his sons on the way, according to a trial witness. Afterward, the father hugged both and said, “That's my boys.”
Jurors gave Postelle death sentences for fatally shooting Wright and Alderson after hearing testimony he hunted them down as they tried to flee. He later said Wright “was over there screaming in the corner, and I got her … a whole bunch of times and she shut up,” according to testimony at his trial.
In his video appearance Wednesday before the board, Postelle said he only recalls bits and pieces about that “horrible day” because of his meth use.
“It's like watching a movie. I can't even tell you how the decision was made to take these people's lives. … I do understand that I am guilty and I accept that. My life at that time was filled with chaos and drugs.”
Smothermon said the inmate's remarks show he does not accept responsibility for what he did.
“I do not believe he does not know what happened that day,” Smothermon said. “And I would much rather hear, 'Here's what I did and here's why I'm sorry.' And, for that reason, my answer is 'no.'”
Also voting to deny clemency were Larry Morris, Kelly Doyle and Scott Williams. Voting to recommend clemency was the board chairman, Adam Luck.
Postelle's attorney, Robert Nance, told the board his mentally ill mother literally starved him for a time and his father got him addicted to methamphetamine. He was 18 at the time of the fatal shootings and had an IQ in the 70s.
“He was clearly under the sway of his father,” Nance said.
Postelle's daughter, Kaylei Johnson, 18, wept after the vote. “I love my dad with all my heart. I don't know what I would do without him,” she had told the board in a plea for mercy. “My dad didn't get to have a normal or regular childhood.”
The brother, David Postelle, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for his involvement in the shootings. Their father, Brad Postelle, was declared incompetent to face trial because of brain injuries from the motorcycle accident and later died.
In an ironic twist to the tragedy, the board was told the father was wrong about the accident.
Attorneys for the state said the father caused the wreck. Nance suggested the father's unfounded belief about the accident was a paranoid result of methamphetamine use.
During the board meeting, relatives of the victims spoke out about complaints about Oklahoma's execution process.
“When we hear that there should be concern over whether the killer is afraid or feels pain all we think of is her nails gone because she was clawing her way trying to get to safety,” said Janet Wright, mother of Amy Wright.
“The only advice I have for you is don't worry about how or when you die, Gilbert,” said Swindle's mother, Mary Jo Swindle. “You should be worrying about after you die.”
In a statement issued after the board's decision, Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of Oklahoma City, said, “Please pray for an end to the death penalty. Pray for the respect of all human life from conception until natural end.”
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