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Tuesday, August 28, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Elledge is executed for slaying

Seattle Times staff reporters

WALLA WALLA — James Elledge was executed early this morning at the Washington State Penitentiary — the fourth man to die since the state restored the death penalty 20 years ago.

He was the second killed by lethal injection and the third in recent years to welcome his execution.

Elledge was pronounced dead at 12:52 a.m., according to assistant state Attorney General Gregory Rosen.

His course toward death was a speedy one, and Elledge, 58, hastened it at every opportunity — pleading guilty to murdering Eloise Fitzner in a Lynnwood church three years ago, urging a jury to sentence him to death and asking the governor not to grant him clemency.

"It's good that there'll be an end to this," Fitzner's brother, Mike Helland, said yesterday. He planned to stay with his elderly mother in a Spokane convalescent home until they heard the execution had been completed.

"I think we were dealing with it pretty well, but all of the commotion and the process (leading up to the execution) caused us to relive things," he said.

There were no family members witnessing the execution, only media representatives, lawyers and two Lynnwood police officers.

A 3-year process


April 18, 1998: James Elledge lures Eloise Jane Fitzner, 47, and another woman to the Lighthouse Free Methodist church in Lynnwood, where he worked part time as a janitor, promising them dinner and gifts. He ties up the women with nylon rope and strangles and stabs Fitzner. He takes the other woman to his trailer in Everett, where he sexually assaults her, police say.

April 21, 1998: Elledge surrenders to police at a South Tacoma motel.

May 27, 1998: Elledge pleads guilty to aggravated-first-degree murder. Snohomish County Prosecutor Jim Krider announces he will seek the death penalty.

Oct. 21, 1998: After a day-and-a-half-long trial to determine whether Elledge will be executed or face life imprisonment, a Superior Court jury takes only 90 minutes before deciding Elledge should be executed. "There is a very wicked part of me, and this wicked part of me needs to die," Elledge tells the jury.

July 5, 2001: In a 7-1 decision, the state Supreme Court upholds Elledge's death sentence after a mandatory review of his case, finding that it met the necessary criteria for the death penalty and that Elledge waived his right to appeal "knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently."

July 30, 2001: Several organizations opposed to the death penalty, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, file a clemency petition on Elledge's behalf with the state Clemency and Pardons Board. They claim the jurors who sentenced Elledge to die might have chosen life imprisonment had they heard about his difficult childhood, his possible mental illness and how he once helped prevent a prison escape.

Aug. 6, 2001: The state Clemency and Pardons Board votes 3-2 to recommend that Gov. Gary Locke deny clemency for Elledge and allow the execution to proceed as planned.

Aug. 17, 2001: Locke declines to intervene and grant clemency to Elledge. "After reviewing the entire record and giving the matter great thought, I have concluded that there are no extraordinary circumstances in this case that would require my intervention," Locke wrote in a letter to a death-penalty opponent who had petition for clemency.

Aug. 28, 2001: Elledge is executed at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

He had no last words. Eight media witnesses, along with the Lynnwood officers, his defense attorney and Snohomish County deputy prosecutor John Adcock, were escorted into the observation chamber at 12:32 a.m. Elledge was on a gurney, a blue sheet covering him. Witnesses could see only his face. He breathed deeply as the chemicals were released, and his jaw relaxed slightly. His eyes were closed. The curtain was dropped and a few moments later Veltry Johnson, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said the execution was complete.

Outside the prison, death penalty protesters joined hands after Elledge's death was announced and were led in a short prayer by Kevin Glackin-Coley of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Walla Walla County Coroner Stephen Ames said he took the body out at 1:05 a.m. He said there would be no autopsy, as Elledge had requested.

He described Elledge's body as that of a "normal, healthy male." Blood samples were taken to verify the lethal injection, the results of which will not be ready for several weeks, he said. He listed the cause of death as homicide, noting that it was an execution.

The body was then given to the Colonial-Dewitt Funeral Home in Walla Walla. The funeral-home manager said Elledge's immediate family members are paying for his body to be cremated, which will be done either today or tomorrow.

Elledge's execution attracted far less attention from the media and protesters than previous ones, partly because the system worked so quickly in his case. The state Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in a 7-1 decision just last month, following a mandatory review.

"This one's been very quiet," said Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. "And that's a problem, because it becomes all too easy for us to forget that officials acting in our name are killing for punishment."

Kaufman-Osborn moderated an anti-death-penalty discussion yesterday in a dormitory lounge at Walla Walla's Whitman College. More than 100 people attended. "Knowing that someone's dying across town, I can't sit and do nothing," said 21-year-old Barbara Steel, a senior at the school.

But others in the southeastern Washington city of about 30,000 seemed to be unaware that an execution was taking place at the 115-year-old prison. While protesters at Westley Allan Dodd's hanging in 1993 held a 24-hour vigil in ankle-deep snow, demonstrators this year organized a three-hour candlelight vigil.

Last night, while a handful of people waited in an area outside the prison designated for death penalty supporters, more than 100 opponents of the death penalty, with hand-painted signs stating, "revenge is bitter," and "2 wrongs do not make 1 right," read poetry, hugged and prayed in a separate area 50 yards away.

David Beckley, 20, a sophomore at Whitman College said, "It's enough that he's already taken other people's lives, why should we take his, too?"

Amanda Arnold, 19, a Walla Walla resident, said, "I support him and I think he's doing the right thing to choose to die. I have a lot of respect for someone who `fesses up and gets his punishment."

A final breakfast

Earlier, Elledge had requested a last meal — two waffles, two bags of cold cereal, a sweet roll, scrambled eggs, bacon, two cartons of milk and orange juice. But yesterday morning he ate the regular prison breakfast — apple juice, oatmeal, boiled egg, hash browns, toast, coffee and milk — and then declined to take another meal.

Prison officials said Elledge's mood through the day was "somber," according to Johnson, the corrections department spokesman. Elledge was given an extended, two-hour period of free time and made some phone calls. He did not receive or write any letters.

He had one visitor — his lawyer, Bill Jaquette.

Sometime between 4 and 4:30 p.m. Elledge was taken to the holding cell above the execution chamber; he waited there with Jaquette and a prison chaplain. He took no personal effects, Johnson said. He declined a sedative.

Elledge had requested that his body not be autopsied, but Johnson said he wasn't sure if the Walla Walla coroner would honor that request.

At 58, Elledge is the oldest man Washington has put to death in more than 70 years. He was at least two decades older than most of the 76 men who had been executed at the prison since 1904.

Ten other men are now on the state's death row.

When Elledge met Fitzner, he was on parole for another murder — the 1974 beating death of a 63-year-old woman who managed a Seattle motel where he was staying. They had argued over the rent.

After he was released from prison in 1995, he began attending the Lighthouse Free Methodist church, which eventually hired him as a janitor and found him a home in a Lynnwood apartment with one of the church's regular congregants.

Fitzner, 47, lived in the apartment above. Elledge harbored a grudge against her, because he believed she had tried to interfere in his relationship with his girlfriend, a woman he later married.

On April 18, 1998, he decided to kill Fitzner, later telling police that an "evil" inside him boiled over that day.

He lured Fitzner and one of her friends to the church, telling the women he had gifts for them there. He tied them up, then strangled and stabbed Fitzner, hiding her body in a crawl space. He then took the other woman back to the Everett trailer he had since moved into and, authorities say, sexually assaulted her.

Turned himself in

Elledge turned himself in to police three days later, after twice attempting suicide. He denied the sexual assault but confessed to the murder.

"I hope that I get the justice that Eloise got. And that's death," he told them. "I want it so bad you can't believe it."

He pleaded guilty to murdering her and told a Snohomish County jury, "There is a very wicked part of me, and this wicked part of me needs to die."

Jurors deliberated for just 90 minutes before deciding on a death sentence, and Elledge waived his right to appeal.

He asked to have his execution date scheduled as quickly as possible after the state Supreme Court upheld his sentence.

Jaquette, a Snohomish County public defender, honored Elledge's wishes and forcefully argued for the death penalty all along, despite his own opposition to capital punishment and his belief that he could have won a life sentence for Elledge.

Clemency sought

Last month, death-penalty opponents filed a clemency petition claiming that jurors should have heard information that might have persuaded them to spare his life, even though Elledge didn't want such evidence introduced.

The jury didn't know, for instance, that Elledge had been credited with saving a prison guard's life during riots in 1987, or that he had tipped off officials to the escape plans of other prisoners a decade earlier.

But a slim majority on the state Clemency and Pardons Board believed it was acceptable for such information to be withheld from a jury and voted 3-2 earlier this month to recommend that Gov. Gary Locke deny the request. Locke did so Aug. 17.

Catholic Archbishop Alex Brunett of Seattle made an additional call for clemency last week, but Locke's office said the governor would not intervene.

"He feels that the law was followed in this case, and again points out Elledge volunteered (for execution)," said the governor's spokeswoman, Dana Middleton.

Two of the three other men Washington has executed since reinstating the death penalty have been so-called "volunteers," waiving their rights to appeal.

Dodd, hanged in 1993 for murdering three boys in the Vancouver, Wash., and Portland areas in 1989, sent a letter to the state Supreme Court saying the justices would be accomplices in his next murder if the state didn't kill him.

Jeremy Sagastegui, who killed a 3-year-old boy, the boy's mother and a friend of hers, acted as his own lawyer and told jurors in his opening statement, "I liked it. I enjoyed it."

Triple-murderer Charles Campbell was the only one to fight his sentence, and did so for years before being hanged in 1994.

His and Dodd's hangings drew massive attention, far more than Sagastegui's 1998 lethal-injection execution. But Sagastegui, killed after the state switched its primary mode of execution from hanging to the less-controversial method of lethal injection, attracted more notice than Elledge, said Speedy Rice, a Gonzaga University law professor who petitioned for clemency in both cases.

"The first two guys, they were hanged. Sagastegui was a triple-murderer and he goaded the press. This guy Elledge is very quiet," Rice said. "He's not talking; he's not looking for publicity or glory. He's just a sad, old, pathetic guy."

Janet Burkitt can be reached at 206-515-5689 or jburkitt@seattletimes.com. Gina Kim can be reached at 206-464-2761 or gkim@seattletimes.com.

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