SAN QUENTIN, Calif. - California executed its oldest death row inmate early Tuesday, minutes after his 76th birthday, despite arguments that putting to death an elderly, blind and wheelchair-bound man was cruel and unusual punishment.
Clarence Ray Allen was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m. at San Quentin State Prison. He became the second-oldest inmate put to death nationally since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976.
Allen, who was blind and mostly deaf, suffered from diabetes and had a nearly fatal heart attack in September only to be revived and returned to death row, was assisted into the death chamber by four large correctional officers and lifted out of his wheelchair.
His lawyers had raised two claims never before endorsed by the high court: that executing a frail old man would violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and that the 23 years he spent on death row were unconstitutionally cruel as well.
The high court rejected his requests for a stay of execution about 10 hours before he was to be put to death. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Allen clemency Friday.
Allen went to prison for having his teenage son's 17-year-old girlfriend murdered for fear she would tell police about a grocery-store burglary. While behind bars, he tried to have witnesses in the case wiped out, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to death in 1982 for hiring a hit man who killed a witness and two bystanders.
"Allen deserves capital punishment because he was already serving a life sentence for murder when he masterminded the murders of three innocent young people and conspired to attack the heart of our criminal justice system," state prosecutor Ward Campbell said.
Allen expressed his love for family, friends and the other death-row inmates in a final statement read by Warden Steve Ornoski. Allen ended his statement by saying, "It's a good day to die. Thank you very much. I love you all. Goodbye."
The family of one of Allen's victims, Josephine Rocha, issued a statement saying that "justice has prevailed today."
"Mr. Allen abused the justice system with endless appeals until he lived longer in prison than the short 17 years of Josephine's life," the statement said.
Last month in Mississippi, John B. Nixon, 77, became the oldest person executed in the United States since capital punishment resumed. He did not pursue an appeal based on his age.
Allen's case generated less attention than last month's execution of Crips gang co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams, whose case set off a nationwide debate over the possibility of redemption on death row, with Hollywood stars and capital punishment foes arguing that Williams had made amends by writing children's books about the dangers of gangs.
There were only about 200 people gathered outside the prison gates before Allen's execution, about one-tenth of the crowd that came out last month.