Barring some last-minute hitch, Robert Charles Comer will die May 22. The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a warrant for the execution of Comer, 50, for the 1987 murder of a camper near Apache Lake. It will be the state’s first execution in seven years.
Tuesday’s order comes a month after a federal appeals court ruled that there is “no dispute” that Comer is mentally competent. The appellate judges said that means he is legally entitled to direct that further appeals on his behalf to overturn his conviction or sentence be abandoned.
Comer’s crime occurred when the state’s method of execution was the gas chamber.
But a change in the law entitled him to instead choose to be put to death by lethal injection.
Testimony during Comer’s trial showed he and his girlfriend, Juneva Willis, were at the Burnt Coral campground near Apache Lake when Comer fatally shot another camper and stole the man’s belongings.
Later that night, Comer and Willis kidnapped a couple, and Comer raped the woman.
Willis eventually pleaded guilty to kidnapping as part of a plea deal for a nine-year sentence and testified against Comer.
He did not show up for his trial and was convicted of first-degree murder and multiple counts of kidnapping, assault, robbery, rape and sexual abuse.
Much of the appeal centered on the fact that he was brought into court for sentencing naked except for the covering of his genitals. His body was slumped and his head drooped.
That led attorneys appointed on his behalf to argue he was entitled at the very least to a new sentencing, possibly allowing him to escape execution.
But in hand-written pleadings to the appellate court in 2005, Comer asked the judges to let him “do what I am allowed to do by law, and that is to end the pursuit of the appeal of my death sentence and rid myself of the fanatical anti-death penalty nuts.”
Defense attorney Michael Kimerer, who had been brought into the case solely to deal with the competency issue, noted that Comer had the legal right to plead guilty at his trial.
Comer, in his note to the court, said that means he can exercise that right at any time.
“I have a right to stop the appeals,” Comer wrote. “I have a right to atone for my sins against society.”