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Daily Press Newport News (VA)
September 24, 1998
Author: The Associated Press
Kenneth Manuel Stewart Jr., convicted of killing his estranged wife and infant son on Mother’s Day 1991, was executed Wednesday night in Virginia’s electric chair.
Stewart, 44, became the first state prisoner to die in the electric chair since April 1994. He was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center. Asked by Warden David Garraghty if he had a final statement, Stewart said: “No, sir, I don’t.”
Stewart met with his parents and brother earlier Wednesday, prison officials said. He entered the death chamber with his left eye bandaged. Michael Bass [correction: David Bass], a state Department of Corrections official, said Stewart’s left eye was glass as the result of a childhood accident, and it had to be removed as “a personal effect.”
After being hit with the first jolt of electricity, Stewart’s body tensed and smoke spiraled upward from the electrode on his right leg. When a second cycle of electricity was administered, smoke again came from his right leg and thigh, and the odor of burning hair and flesh filled the death chamber.
Three death penalty protesters holding candles waited outside the prison as the execution hour approached.
Less than four hours before the execution, Gov. Jim Gilmore denied Stewart’s request to order a brain scan and a separate petition for clemency.
“Stewart’s actions before, during and immediately after the murders strongly support the jury’s conclusion that Stewart acted deliberately and consciously, and that he premeditated the execution-style murders,” Gilmore said in announcing that he would not intervene.
Before Wednesday night, Virginia’s electric chair had not been used since the state law was changed to give death-row inmates the choice of electrocution or chemical injection. Stewart chose electrocution.
Stewart was convicted of capital murder in the May 1991 slayings of his estranged wife, Cynthia, and 5-month-old son, Jonathan. He shot each twice in the head, then arranged the bodies in bed so that the boy was cradled in his mother’s arms.
Stewart said he had been upset about restrictions placed on his visits with Jonathan, whom he could see only at their home in Bedford County when Mrs. Stewart was present. The night before the murders, he took too large a dose of an antidepressant and was drinking, he said.
He took along a pistol to kill himself if his wife rejected his plea for reconciliation, said his lawyer, Michele J. Brace.
Stewart said he cannot recall the slayings. But he said he believes there was a reason he left the bodies as he did.
“I think it was in a loving way. … It might sound a little sick and terrible, but his mother brought him into the world and he went out with his mother,” he said.
Before he left the murder scene, Stewart turned the oven off, put the dogs outside and carefully locked up the farmhouse. His lawyers said both the violent crime and his bizarre actions afterward raise questions about whether he might have been suffering from a temporal lobe epileptic seizure, which would have indicated he was unaware of what he was doing.
Brace asked Gilmore to order a brain scan to determine if Stewart could have been having an epileptic seizure when he committed the murders.
Stewart’s clemency petition said he chose the electric chair over lethal injection because the latter procedure would have him strapped to a gurney with arm boards sticking out from each side. Stewart said it was improper for him to die on something shaped like a cross.
“Stewart sincerely believes that it is wrong for a sinner like him to die in the same position as the Son of God,” the petition said.