Convicted murderer who fought to die now set for execution - East Valley Tribune: News

Convicted murderer who fought to die now set for execution

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Posted: Saturday, May 19, 2007 7:18 pm | Updated: 6:37 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

PHOENIX - Death row inmate Robert Charles Comer has been fighting to die for seven years. Now, more than two decades after committing the crimes for which he was condemned, Comer is about to finish his struggle. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to become the first person executed in Arizona since November 2000.

"An eye for an eye," Comer once said in court. "I mean, I ended a whole bunch of innocent people's lives and changed their lives forever. Even though they're still alive, their lives are destroyed. I owe that to them. I owe it to myself, man. I was totally wrong."

The 50-year-old was sent to death row for a 1987 crime spree at a campground at Apache Lake east of Phoenix.

Comer and then-girlfriend Juneva Willis invited a fellow camper, Larry Pritchard, to their campsite for dinner. After they ate, Comer shot Pritchard in the head with a .38-caliber revolver.

Comer forced Willis to look at Pritchard, telling her, "See what I've done. I'm a cold and callous killer."

At another campsite, Comer later used wire and duct tape to bind a Chicago couple he had met earlier in the day. He raped the woman repeatedly, once in front of her boyfriend. Comer and Willis were arrested the next day.

"It was an especially cruel and depraved crime," said Kent Cattani, chief counsel in the capital litigation section of the Attorney General's Office.

Comer described his crimes as revenge for how he said guards at Folsom State Prison in California treated him while he served time in the 1980s for rape and assault with a deadly weapon.

Comer said he and other inmates were beaten, and that guards tortured him with a cattle prod. After his release, he said he began using methamphetamine and knew he was bound to end up in prison again.

"My hate, my hate just started building and building and building," he said, according to transcripts from a 2002 competency hearing. "Instead of dropping that and go seeing a shrink, I just let it keep building. Got my own justice."

Comer declined interview requests from The Associated Press. The surviving victims and Pritchard's relatives also declined to comment.

Comer's lawyer, Michael Kimerer, said Comer has been somber as his execution approaches, but that he is just hoping all goes as planned.

"He is glad that it is proceeding on schedule and really just wants to basically have these last few days he has to be with himself and talk to his family members and not really be involved in the legal process," Kimerer said.

Since Comer has been in prison, his daughter has grown up and had two children of her own, his mother and one of three brothers died, and his father remarried. His best friend in prison was executed in 1999.

Psychiatrists, lawyers and Comer himself say he has been transformed from once being known to Arizona prison guards as the most dangerous inmate in the state to a more mellow, mature and thoughtful man.

"I see a whole lot of things different these last few years than I used to as a kid," Comer said at the 2002 hearing. "A couple of years ago, I'd have chopped your head off just for, I don't know, looking crosswords at me. Now I look back on it, it's, well, who the hell am I fighting?"

If Comer's execution by injection is carried out Tuesday, he will be the first inmate to be put to death in the state since Donald Miller was executed on Nov. 8, 2000, for helping murder an 18-year-old woman.

Comer has said in recent years that he just wants to die for his crimes and has fought in court to have the sentence carried out.

Comer spent much of his lengthy court battle just proving he was competent to choose execution. That's because he made the choice to die in 2000, shortly after he appealed his death sentence to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The contradiction confused the court, which refused to allow the execution to proceed without a competency hearing. Comer was found to be competent, and the court agreed in March to allow his execution to proceed.

Another reason for the delay in Comer's execution was a 2002 Supreme Court decision that said juries rather than judges should decide death penalty cases, forcing Arizona to change its law. It took another two years for the court to say the ruling did not apply retroactively, clearing the way for dozens of death-penalty cases in the state.

Arizona has executed 86 people, 22 of them since resuming the death penalty in 1992 after a 29-year hiatus.

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