James Homer Elledge

Executed August 28, 2001 by Lethal Injection in Washington

46th murderer executed in U.S. in 2001
729th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Washington in 2001
4th murderer executed in Washington since 1976

Since 1976
Date of Execution
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
Date of
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Date of
Method of
to Murderer
Date of
Lethal Injection
James Homer Elledge

W / M / 55 - 58

Eloise Jane Fitzner

W / F / 47

Stabbing w/knife

In a full confession, Elledge stated that he made arrangements for dinner with Eloise Fitzner and another woman. They agreed to meet at the church where he worked as a custodian. When they arrived, he gave them a tour, eventually directing them to the Bible-Study Room, where he pulled a knife and bound them with rope. When Eloise struggled, Elledge strangled her, then stabbed her in the neck. Elledge claimed she had interfered with a relationship he had a year earlier. The other woman was taken forcibly to a mobile home and sexually assaulted. The following day, Elledge released her. She immediately went to police. Elledge confessed, pled guilty, and waived appeals. At the time of his arrest, Elledge was on parole for a 1975 first-degree murder conviction in King County. He had other prior convictions, including a 1965 armed robbery conviction in New Mexico.

State v. Elledge, 26 P.3d 271 (Wash. 2001) (Direct Appeal).

Final / Special Meal:
His requested final meal of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, waffles, sweet roll, OJ, milk and cold cereal was declined.

Last Words:
Elledge's final words would be to say he was sorry for Fitzner's murder.

Internet Sources:

Attorney General of Washington Death Penalty Cases - James Homer Elledge - Background of the Case

Background of the James Elledge Case

On April 18, 1998, James Homer Elledge invited Eloise Fitzner and her friend, referred to in court proceedings as "S.C.," for a night out that was to include gifts and dinner. Plans were made to meet around 8:30 p.m. at the Lynnwood church where Elledge worked. After a tour of the church, Elledge guided the women to a Bible-study room and closed the door. He pulled a knife and expressed anger over Ms. Fitzner’s alleged interference in his marriage. Elledge was unhappy with a letter Ms. Fitzner wrote to his then-girlfriend approximately one year earlier, in which Ms. Fitzner urged the woman to leave him and accused Elledge of sexual advances towards Ms. Fitzner.

In the Bible-study room, Elledge bound the two women’s wrists and ankles. He then put S.C. on a riser facing the wall, with a sweatshirt over her head. S.C. could hear struggling behind her and attempted to see what was going on. When Elledge caught her, he threatened to kill S.C. next if she did not turn around. Elledge then strangled Ms. Fitzner with his hands. Uncertain whether she was dead, he also fatally stabbed her in the neck. After concealing the body, Elledge abducted S.C. and drove to his home in Ms. Fitzner’s car.

On April 19, S.C. was released after Elledge threatened to find her if she contacted the police. S.C. immediately called police and an investigation began. On April 21, Elledge called police from a Tacoma hotel room and surrendered. In subsequent interviews with the police, he confessed to killing Ms. Fitzner and described the slaying in detail. At the time of his arrest, Elledge was on parole for a 1975 first-degree murder conviction in King County. He had other prior convictions, including a 1965 armed robbery conviction in New Mexico.

Elledge Asked His Jury to Impose the Death Penalty:

From the time he voluntarily surrendered to police, Elledge has acknowledged murdering Ms. Fitzner. He first pled guilty in Snohomish County Superior Court on May 27, 1998, after which the State filed a notice of special sentencing seeking the death penalty. At the special sentencing proceeding on Oct. 20, Elledge expressed remorse for the killing and asked the jury to impose the death sentence, asserting that "this wicked part of me needs to die." On Oct. 21, the jury decided that there were not sufficient mitigating circumstances to merit leniency and the court sentenced Elledge to death.

Appeals and Mandatory Review:

The state Supreme Court conducted its mandatory review of the Elledge case and on July 5, 2001, upheld the verdict and death sentence. The Court found that Elledge "knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently" waived his rights to appeal both his conviction and sentence and was mentally competent to do so. The Court then verified that: 1) there was sufficient evidence to justify the finding that there were not sufficient mitigating circumstances to merit leniency; 2) the sentence of death was not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases; 3) the sentence of death was not brought about through passion or prejudice; and 4) the defendant was not mentally retarded. On July 17, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Thibodeau signed the death warrant setting Elledge’s execution date for Aug. 28, 2001.


As a young man, James Homer Elledge went to prison in Santa Fe, N.M., for robbing a Western Union office, where he also kidnapped a female attendant. After his parole, he wound up in Seattle in 1974, where he killed Seattle motel manager Bertha Lush by beating her to death with a ball-peen hammer, in an argument over his bill. In the years that followed, he won parole 3 times, most recently in August 1995.

The 55-year-old Everett man surrendered to police in Tacoma three days after stabbing and strangling Eloise Jane Fitzner, 47, in a church basement on April 18, 1998. Elledge promised gifts and dinner to lure his victims to the basement of The Lighthouse church in Lynnwood, where he worked as a custodian. Once there, Elledge pulled a large knife and ordered the women not to scream or he would slit their throats. Both women were bound with rope, blindfolded and their mouths taped shut. The 39-year-old woman said she could hear Eloise struggling and Elledge dragging something from the room. The woman said Elledge told her he had "taken care of" Eloise, because she interfered with his attempts to get close to her.

Elledge then took the 39-year-old woman to his mobile home in Everett, where she was sexually assaulted. He released her the next morning, and she reported the abduction and attack to Seattle police. Eloise's body later was found in the church basement. An autopsy showed she could have survived the stab wound to her neck had she not been strangled. Elledge called the Tacoma Police Department's homicide division at 9:30 a.m. three days after the murder to say he wanted to surrender and was staying at a motel. When the detectives pulled into the parking lot, Elledge walked out with his hands up. Earlier the same day, Tacoma police found Eloise's car, which Elledge had stolen after he killed her.

People who know Elledge said they were stunned by these events. Former Lynnwood City Council member Bill Hubbard roomed with Elledge between January and March 1997, when he lived at the same Lynnwood apartments as Eloise. "Eloise lived two floors above us," Hubbard said. "She was a very sweet person...active in her church at University Presbyterian Church." Elledge often did repair work at Eloise's apartment but never accepted payment, Hubbard said. Hubbard said he knew of Elledge's murder conviction and talked with a church elder at The Lighthouse before allowing Elledge to move in. Elledge proved to be a responsible roommate and confided in Hubbard about his past, Hubbard said.

Hubbard said Elledge told him his sister had died when he was young. He also told Hubbard that his wife died in the 1960s while trying to help someone in a car crash and that their 2 girls were raised by relatives. "Jim just never quite recovered from that whole thing," Hubbard said. In March 1997, Elledge's daughter died, but he wasn't able to attend the funeral services because he didn't have the money to travel to the South, Hubbard said Elledge told him. "Considering everything he'd been through, he was showing signs of progress and mainstreaming back into society," said Hubbard, adding that he hadn't seen Elledge for several months.

Elledge later confessed that he walked into the basement of the church with precut sections of nylon rope and plans to kill a woman he simply didn't like. Elledge admitted he was carrying a large, folding knife and a long-simmering grudge against Eloise. In a tape-recorded statement to police, Elledge admitted purchasing rope, and precutting it into sections for binding the wrists and ankles of Eloise, and another woman, 39, from Seattle. The longtime convict, who is on parole for the 1975 beating murder of another woman, also described in detail how he used his knife to threaten Eloise and the Seattle woman into silence, and then tying them up. "The defendant told police that Fitzner did not attack him or resist him in any way," according to court papers. "He said that 'She ... she was trying...she was trying to cooperate. But she didn't know what she was cooperating for." The Seattle woman has told police she was abducted to Elledge's Everett mobile home, sexually assaulted and later set free. Prosecuting Attorney Jim Krider said before the trial, "So far, the criminal justice system has failed the public in protecting the from Mr. Elledge." The task for prosecutors now is to make sure "that the system does not fail again," he added.

Elledge has prior convictions for robbery and 1st-degree murder for beating a Seattle motel owner to death in 1975. The woman he killed roughly 2 decades ago was struck 28 times with a ball-peen hammer, according to court papers. Eloise's killing and the other woman's abduction touched of a brief, but intense, manhunt for Elledge. He surrendered to Tacoma police after trying at least twice to commit suicide in his hotel room, according to court papers. Elledge told the police that he killed Eloise because he was angry with her for meddling in his relationship with his wife about a year ago. On the taped statement he gave police Elledge can be heard admitting that because of something he describes as 'evil' in his nature, he is sometimes filled with rage he can't control.

UPDATE: James Elledge was executed early this morning at the Washington State Penitentiary. His course toward death was a speedy one, and Elledge, 58, hastened it at every opportunity. James Homer Elledge went quietly to his execution early this morning, getting the sentence he pleaded for after murdering a woman in the basement of a Lynnwood church. Elledge told a friend earlier that he had no intention of making a final statement, however in a prison interview last year, Elledge said said one reason he wanted to die was because he was a Christian, and was remorseful for his sins. He has steadfastly maintained that he deserved to die. He instructed his lawyer to present no evidence in the penalty phase of his trial that might encourage jurors to spare his life. Those close to him said he viewed his impending execution as a sort of redemption

. The victim's brother planned to spend the evening with his mother and to wait up until he heard it was over. He had hoped Elledge's final words would be to say he was sorry for Fitzner's murder. At the trial, Elledge told jurors those words wouldn't bring Fitzner back. "He had an opportunity to choose his words very carefully then, so I just don't think that was an oversight on his part," Mr. Helland said. Prosecutors and some jurors said the brutality and pre-meditated nature of the crime, as well as a long criminal history, which included a 1974 murder, clearly justified both the decision to seek the death penalty and the verdict. Jury forewoman M.L. DeMorett said in a recent letter that Elledge deserved to die for a cold, calculated murder. "We looked for areas where the system may have failed him," she said of jury deliberations. "Comment was made that he had several chances in life to get beyond the past. He still lost control and killed another person, took another life." The 2 detectives who investigated Fitzner's disappearance and found her body chose to attend the execution, as did the Snohomish County prosecutors who persuaded jurors to impose the death sentence. Lynnwood police Detective Jim Nelson said he feels little sympathy for Elledge. "I feel a lot worse about her than I do about him. He knows what's coming, he's had a chance to make his peace with whatever he feels he needs to do. And he did this to himself. He committed his second murder, he's been given chance after chance."

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

James Elledge - Scheduled Execution: 8/28/01, 3:01am EST.

James Elledge is awaiting execution by the state of Washington, with his death presently scheduled for August 28. Elledge pled guilty to the April 1998 murder of Eloise Fitzner, receiving a death sentence later that summer.

The Washington State Supreme Court recently affirmed Elledge’s death sentence despite Elledge’s willing confession and guilty plea at trial. The Court has also acknowledged the potential influence of the mitigating evidence which was never presented at trial. Elledge requested that his attorney not present mitigating evidence on his behalf during the appeal phase following his trial. Counsel chose to respect the wishes of his client, yet it seems unfortunate and somewhat misleading that the jury was never made aware of several significant aspects of Mr. Elledge’s past.

While serving an earlier prison sentence, Mr. Elledge saved the life of a prison guard during a violent inmate riot. Elledge’s early years were filled with abuse and neglect. He started abusing alcohol as a young child and was sent to a juvenile facility at age ten for breaking and entering. His father was often hospitalized for mental illness, leaving his mother alone with five young children. She also turned to alcohol in the painful time that followed. Elledge was traumatized at a young age by the death of his sister. The family continued to suffer as Elledge’s father killed himself when James was thirteen, subsequently followed by the suicides of two half-brothers. James Elledge left home at fifteen to lead a life of repeated incarcerations and hospitalizations for mental illness. Elledge pled insanity at a 1975 trial, and though his claim was rejected, the court stated that his mental illness should be considered a mitigating factor.

In recent years, Elledge married a day-care worker at his church and became known throughout his community as a gentle and caring individual. He continues to be a devout Christian who believes in a God who “has forgiven me for what I’ve done”. He is clearly repentant for his crimes and more than willing to accept whatever punishment is handed down.

For a state that has executed four people in twenty years, it is the general belief, even among death penalty supporters, that the punishment should be reserved for only the most terrible criminals. If Elledge dies, he will have received his death sentence from a jury that was never informed of his mitigating circumstances. One juror in James Elledge’s trial stated that if he had known any of what was later reported in the media, “I could have seen it changing my mind.” Legal advocates wonder if Elledge’s decision to block the jury from hearing such favorable evidence allowed the imposition of a “state-sanctioned suicide”.

A dissenting judge in Elledge’s appeal disputed the court’s finding that the death penalty was commonly imposed in cases similar to Mr. Elledge’s. Judge Sanders challenged this finding based on the fact that the death penalty was commonly proposed, but most often not imposed, in the cases considered comparable by the state court. Sanders feels it is unfair to use “cases in which death was never imposed at all to support imposition of death in later cases.”

By preventing the presentation of any mitigating evidence at trial and waiving all his final appeals, Mr. Elledge consents to a punishment that may affect the way state prosecutors decide to apply the death penalty in the future. Elledge’s submission only fosters the state’s inconsistent imposition of capital punishment. It is vital to speak out against the execution of James Elledge, even if only to ensure that future punishments are handed down fairly, and not merely at the state’s convenience.

OPB Radio

A double-killer from Snohomish County , Washington is a step closer to becoming the fourth man executed by Washington State since the reinstatement of the death penalty. A closely-divided Clemency and Pardons Board recommended yesterday that the execution proceed. Correspondent Tom Banse reports.

Convicted murderer James Elledge wants to die. But should society grant his wish? Elledge is scheduled to die by lethal injection later this month at the Walla Walla Penitentiary. The only thing that could still save his life is a campaign by death penalty opponents. And they're running out of avenues for appeal. Washington's four Catholic bishops dispatched prison ministry director Kevin Glackin-Coley to Olympia to plead for mercy.

Glackin-Coley: Mr. Elledge has clearly stated a degree of remorse about this crime which has led him to believe -- in his own words – that there's an evil part of him which needs to die and therefore by extension, he needs to die. We believe that a commutation to life without the possibility of parole would give him an opportunity to deepen in that remorse in a way that could help him recognize the ability to heal and to become a productive person within prison. Glackin-Coley directs his appeal to the members of the state Clemency and Pardons Board. The church and a dozen other anti-death penalty groups are intervening in the case against the wishes of the convict. James Elledge had his personal attorney restate his guilt.

Public defender Bill Jaquette: He wants the penalty imposed because he shares the judgment of the jury and the Supreme Court that that's the just and reasonable punishment in this case. Elledge is being executed for the carefully planned murder of a woman he lured to a Lynnwood church basement in 1998. Jaquette did not present any mitigating evidence at sentencing on orders from his client, even though the attorney concedes it might have spared the killer's life. The jury never heard about Elledge's horrific upbringing or that he once protected the life of a guard during a prison riot.

Jaquette: He'd had an advocate trying to produce one result. If he'd had an advocate trying to produce the other one, he might have had a different result. He may well have convinced one juror not to execute him. Critics seize on this twist as evidence of how hard it is to apply the death penalty in a fair and consistent manner. Gonzaga University Law School professor Speedy Rice contends the citizens are condoning a "state-assisted suicide."

Rice: Who's in control of the execution of James Elledge? Well, from the beginning James Elledge has been in control of this. And he's now the third person who's chosen this route of using the state to accomplish the goal of death. Two of the five members of the Clemency Board express grave reservations about the impending execution. But the other three say the law as written has been followed. The Snohomish County prosecutor offers reassurances that the death penalty is highly appropriate for this defendant's long record of murder, violent attacks, and attempted escapes. James Elledge's fate now rests with Governor Gary Locke. Democrat Locke has never stopped an execution and there's little reason to believe now that he would commute this death sentence.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter

"Some Killers More Than Ready to Die; But Opponents Say When They Volunteer for the Death Penalty, the Whole Process is Held Hostage," by Rebekah Denn. (Tuesday, August 7, 2001)

James Elledge tried to kill himself twice after committing murder in 1998. Failing in both attempts, he asked a jury to let him die. It has taken longer than he wanted, but Elledge is getting his wish. He's scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Aug. 28 for the murder of Eloise Fitzner.

Elledge would be the fourth person executed since the state reinstated its death penalty in 1981. And he would be the third who wanted to die, presenting no defense and refusing appeals. These are the so-called death penalty "volunteers," who have taken the fastest and surest route to execution in Washington.

James Elledge didn't let a jury hear mitigating facts in his case. The state Supreme Court has no legal problem with killers seeking execution. In all three cases, it ruled that mentally competent defendants are not required to put up a fight -- because they have a fundamental right to direct their own defense.

But the issue raises concerns that death-penalty volunteers are short-circuiting a system meant to ensure that only the worst possible criminals face execution. "I think it's frightfully dangerous that it's happening, and, more importantly, I think it's grotesquely irresponsible for the courts to allow it to happen," said Thomas Hillier, director of the Federal Public Defender's Office for the Western District of Washington. He said some killers are using the system to help themselves commit suicide. Triple-murderer Jeremy Sagastegui, he noted, claimed he committed his horrific crimes so the state would execute him. Sagastegui's mother tried unsuccessfully to save his life, saying the jury should have heard evidence that he was mentally ill and had been abused as a child. Sagastegui was executed by lethal injection in 1998.

Triple-murderer Westley Allan Dodd, who was executed by hanging in 1993, also fought for a speedy execution for raping and killing three children. Elledge told his attorney not to present any reasons to spare his life, and the jury heard none.

Dodd and Sagastegui's crimes were ghastly by any standards. Sagastegui was babysitting for Mellisa Sarbacher in November 1995 when he raped, stabbed and drowned her 3-year-old son, Kieven, and then shot Sarbacher and her friend, 26-year-old Lisa Vera-Acevedo when they returned home to Finley, a town southeast of Kennewick.

Dodd killed William Neer, 10; his 11-year-old brother, Cole; and 4-year-old Lee Iseli. Dodd, who had a record of pedophilia, pleaded guilty to stabbing the Neer brothers in a Vancouver park on Sept. 4, 1989, and strangling Iseli in Portland the following month. He raped one of the boys and sexually molested another.

But in Elledge's case, attorneys argued unsuccessfully that the crime itself resembled many killings that do not earn the death penalty -- but his death wish pushed the sentence over the edge. Prosecutors say Elledge's criminal history, which included a 1974 murder, contributed to the decision.

A recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer examination of Elledge's life showed that, although Elledge chose not to let the jury hear mitigating facts about his past, such facts did exist -- such as records that Elledge had suffered from mental illness, or that he had once risked his life to save the life of a prison guard. The issue of "volunteer" defendants raises contentious questions among defense attorneys, who have no explicit national guidelines on where their obligations lie. Bob Mahler, a Seattle lawyer and former executive director of the North Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center, finds the volunteer issue troubling on several counts, saying that "the whole constitutional process is held hostage by one individual."

The state's argument that defendants have the ultimate right to direct their own defense doesn't hold up, he said, because the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution compels the court system to treat death-penalty cases differently from other cases in all other respects. At the least, he thinks, independent attorneys should be appointed to seek out potential mitigating evidence for jurors to hear.

"The sentencer in Washington state is the jury, not the defendant. ... Neither the defense lawyer in the case, nor the trial judge, should permit the defendant to usurp the jury's critical function in these cases," he said. Beyond that, the life or death decision in each case gets used later by the state Supreme Court when it conducts its mandatory review of whether each death sentence is proportional to cases where death is not imposed. "So one defendant's refusal to present mitigating evidence ends up skewing the balance for others who come in his wake."

Seattle Weekly

"Witness to an Execution; I Watched James Elledge Die in Walla Walla," by Michael Hood.

September 6-12, 2001 - It was only nine o'clock and they weren't going to kill him until after midnight.We were in a makeshift media room inside the walls of the state penitentiary at Walla Walla. We'd had to prove our identities, empty our pockets, walk through a metal detector, and be patted down to wait here for the execution of twice- convicted murderer James Homer Elledge, now known to the Department of Corrections as "the ISCP" (Inmate Subject to Capital Punishment). A few of us would be culled from the herd of our peers to witness the lethal injection, as DOC procedures require.

Elledge, 58, admitted that he killed Eloise Fitzner, 47, who was, from all reports, a nice, if naive, church lady. With promises of gifts and dinner, he lured her and a friend to Lynnwood's Lighthouse Free Methodist Church, where he worked as a janitor. His rage had simmered for over a year after she'd tried to sabotage his relationship with a woman whom he later married. In the church basement, he tied up and duct-taped the women, strangled and stabbed Fitzner, and stuffed her in a closet. The police say Elledge then sexually assaulted the other woman and released her, and she went directly to the authorities.

"There's something wrong with my nature," he later told authorities. It wasn't the first time he'd confessed to murder. He'd been serving a life sentence for beating a 63-year-old woman to death in 1974 with a ball peen hammer when a member of the Lynnwood church befriended him. When he was paroled in 1995, church members welcomed him into their fold, found him a room, gave him a job, and included him in parish life. In return for their loving kindness, they got a bloody betrayal and a lawsuit from the surviving victim. Elledge told the court, "There is a very wicked part of me, and this wicked part of me needs to die." Against his wishes, death-penalty opponents petitioned the Clemency and Pardons Board, arguing that the jury should have been told that in 1987 Elledge saved a prison guard's life during a prison riot, and that he once tipped off prison officials to the escape plans of other inmates. The board voted against clemency, and Governor Gary Locke, a former prosecutor who had the final call, denied it as well.

On this long Walla Walla night, two people could still stop this seemingly inevitable sequence of events: Locke and Elledge himself. There's a live telephone in the death chamber for any "legal impediments" to the execution--like a last-minute gubernatorial clemency. Since Elledge had waived his rights, they were his to reclaim at any time. Neither man had a change of heart. Executions are relatively rare in Washington; this is the fourth since the penalty was reinstated in 1981. Child-killer Westley Allan Dodd was hanged in 1993, as was triple murderer Charles Campbell in 1994; triple murderer Jeremy Sagastegui was lethally injected in 1998.

PEEKS UNDER THE SHROUD of secrecy draped over the capital punishment process are carefully controlled by the state, personified here by our evening's natty, chatty, and informative master of ceremonies, Department of Corrections information officer Veltry Johnson.

The details of Elledge's last day were few and mundane, but details are what we were there for. It was like the Fox News coverage of Gary Condit--too much time, too little news. Questions from bored newsies went from the tedious to the ridiculous. Q: What is he wearing? A: Orange prison-issue "felony pajamas," T-shirt, sneakers. Q: Brand of sneakers? A: That information is not available. Q: His mood? A: Somber. Q: Is he cooperative? A: Very. His last meal, that hallowed tradition for the condemned, took on vital significance. We were apprised that Elledge had chosen scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, waffles, sweet roll, OJ, milk. And cold cereal: Was it Wheaties? Special K? Inquiring minds of the free press needed to know. We were scrounging for irony here, but the shroud came down again--Johnson couldn't or wouldn't say. Then a bombshell. Elledge had declined his last meal--AND the prison lunch offered him that day. Why? "No reason given," said Johnson. What then, did Elledge have for his 6 a.m. breakfast, essentially his last meal? Johnson began the litany of boiled eggs, oatmeal, and hash browns he was to chant throughout the evening. A reporter pushed to find out what Elledge didn't eat by refusing lunch. There was a lot of eye-rolling, and Johnson said he'd check into it.

NO ONE MADE US, the media witnesses, do this. We all applied and were picked by some mysterious process. Eight all together, we represented wire services, two TV stations, the Seattle and Everett dailies, and small-town papers. I covered it not only for Seattle Weekly but also for Agence France-Presse, a French international wire service always hungry for the gory details of American barbarity. As we waited in a nondescript room once used by the parole board, Veltry Johnson, ever the host, led a wide-ranging conversation about executions past, notorious inmates, and capital cases. There was plenty of the nervous black--sometimes called gallows--humor that reporters, medics, and cops indulge in at times like this. And plenty of waiting. Execution was ordered for August 28 and scheduled for a little after midnight. Legally, Johnson pointed out, it could have been carried out at any time during that 24 hours. We groaned and waited some more. Midnight came and went. So did the deadlines for the morning papers. Reporters looked pained, cell-phoning shrugs through the ether to cursing editors. Finally, the phone rang: Elledge was ready. Stripped of our watches and tools of the trade (lest our notebooks and ballpoints contain cameras or microphones), we were given prison-issue pens and paper and led through a maze of gated, locked, and razor-wired chain-link fence along the 20-foot cement outer walls bearing stenciled signs:

Out of Bounds - Inmate presence is unauthorized and will be considered an escape - Lethal force will be used.

The high-ceilinged, double-duty viewing room has two curtained windows, one for each choice provided the condemned: one near the ceiling for hangings, another low for lethal injection. The death house has a gallows unused since triple murderer Charles Campbell was stretched in 1994. Elledge got to choose not only that he would die, but how he would die. Before Campbell's execution, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun criticized Washington state for its gallows. "Hanging," he wrote, "is a crude and imprecise practice," noting that "the only three jurisdictions in the English-speaking world that impose state-sponsored hangings are Washington, Montana, and South Africa." Montana has since gone to injection, and South Africa has abolished capital punishment.

Washington has spent lots of money over the years defending its gallows. Campbell, the last man hanged, appealed his case for years, claiming that hanging is cruel and unusual. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals barely rejected his claim by a 6-5 majority, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. In 1994, a federal judge ruled that 410-pound Mitchell Rupe was so heavy he'd be decapitated if he were hanged. (In Rupe's third sentencing trial last year, jurors deadlocked on his death sentence, effectively sentencing him to life without parole.) In 1996, the state Legislature passed a law that prisoners sentenced to death will receive lethal injection unless they ask for hanging.

We sat down on folding chairs, a wooden handrail between us and the window. We were joined by four men from whom we'd been scrupulously separated--two Snohomish County detectives and deputy prosecutor John Adcock. The other was William Jaquette, Elledge's court- appointed attorney and friend. After shrinks found Elledge competent, Jaquette represented his client's death wishes, which was difficult because of his passionate opposition to the death penalty. Everybody in a free society, Jaquette says, has the right to choose and direct his own defense. But, he told a reporter, "the death penalty makes killers of us all. "It is bad law, a terrible law," he says. "It's such a waste of human energy." Elledge believed his Christian faith required him to die as redemption for his crimes. Jaquette tried to convince him he was legally and theologically wrong. Elledge was unmoved.

Jaquette says he represented his client as his professional ethics require, and he's taken a lot of heat from death penalty opponents. The clemency petition declared, "Mr. Jaquette and the prosecution have acted as one throughout this case . . . this has resulted in a complete failure of the adversarial balance essential to our criminal-justice system." "He shouldn't have had this as an option," Jaquette says.

WE SAT ON THE EDGES of our seats like kids waiting for a puppet show. Then the curtain went up, revealing the shitty little room with its exposed electrical conduits, elevated now to the dramatic status of "death chamber." A small one-way glass window behind Elledge's head concealed the anonymous "injection team." These "licensed medical practitioners" are chosen by prison superintendent John Lambert, their identities known only to him. Elledge lay on his back on the old wooden gurney. The clear plastic intravenous lines coming out of the wall behind him led to catheters stuck in his arms under a dark blue sheet covering him feet to chin. His arms sat on rests angled away from his sides, hands completely covered with black tape. With his eyes and mouth closed, he looked already dead. His scraggly beard was shaved, leaving one of those bushy 1970s mustaches favored by cops. His thin, graying hair was combed forward and looked blow-dried; his skin appeared very white. He was laid out like a corpse at a mortuary viewing.

Lambert, a balding man in shirtsleeves, came out and said hurriedly into a microphone, "Inmate Elledge has no last words." There's more drama in putting down a dog, anesthetizing a frog, or salting a slug than there was in watching this human die. I stared at his chest with the dark sheet against the light wall to detect a breath. I saw no movement. Some reporters said they saw a breath, some said an eyebrow twitched; we all saw his jaw relax and mouth open. The first drug, two grams of thiopental, a sedative, was so massive that even if they had stopped the other chemicals, it would have been over. Then came a load of pancuronium bromide, which paralyzed him from the neck down; finally, potassium chloride stopped his heart. In these amounts, any one of these drugs would be fatal. They wanted to prevent a "Rasputin phenomenon," an uncomfortable situation named after the mad monk who wouldn't die. We witnessed very little. There was no beginning, and we knew it was over only when the curtain fell and Veltry Johnson told us Elledge had been pronounced dead at 12:52 a.m.

I felt ripped off. It seemed a mockery of the witness requirement--we were supposed to view the alleged humanity of this process, but we had no real access to it. His attorney had left him at 11 p.m. For all we know, in the next hour and a half he could have changed his mind, tried to stop his execution, been wrestled down by guards, had a needle stuck in his arm to shut him up, and then been laid out for us to "witness."

I HAVE NO REASON to think this scenario happened--nor that this Department of Corrections is evil. But I can't say that about Texas, Florida, or some future DOC. The awesome power given the state, with so much secret discretion in this life-and-death duty, is for me the overriding argument against capital punishment. Even if the judicial process could somehow be made perfectly just and fair, the power to put to death should not be in human hands. Two of the last three men executed since the death penalty was reinstated here in 1981 have been "volunteers," waiving their rights to appeal. Is it state-sanctioned suicide? Nancy Nelson, a demonstrator from Seattle, won't let us off that easy. "We, the citizens of this state, are killing him," she says.

Mike Helland, the brother of Elledge's victim, never lobbied for or against Elledge's execution. But the role Elledge played in deciding his own punishment bothers him. "I hope that I get the justice that Eloise got. And that's death," Elledge told police. "I want it so bad you can't believe it." Is the killer getting what he wants? Is death the worst punishment? "He had a choice," Helland says. "That's why my emotions on the death penalty are so confused."

Elledge's execution drew far less attention and protest than the previous three. The judicial system, usually so pokey, went very quickly this time. And Elledge was a quiet, guilt-ridden man who made no waves, said very little. Outside the prison a handful of people waited in an area designated for death penalty supporters: a couple with their 8-year-old daughter, tourists drawn to the lights, and Don Earney of Spokane, who said, "The Lord willing, there'll be an eye for an eye." In the area designated for those opposed, 100 demonstrators held signs that read "Revenge is bitter" and "Two wrongs do not make one right." They prayed, lit candles, and made the arguments against state- sanctioned vengefulness, the state's completion and complicity in the circle of violence, racial disparities, and the unique irreversibility of this punishment. "This one's been very quiet," Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, told The Seattle Times. "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."

A Harris Poll found that national support for the death penalty dropped to 64 percent this year, down from 75 percent in 1997 and 71 percent in 1999. "The recent debate about the quality of justice in murder trials, the overturning of several convictions as a result of DNA tests, and the resulting moratorium on executions in Illinois have clearly had an impact on public attitudes to the penalty," said Harris Poll chairman Humphrey Taylor. The poll also found that 94 percent believed that some innocent people have been convicted of murder. Only if these numbers continue to decline will there ever be a change. Judging by the present U.S. Supreme Court, the probable philosophies of George Bush's court appointees, and the southern Republican stranglehold on the U.S. Congress, the abolishment of the death penalty must happen at the state level.

Nancy Nelson's T-shirt asks the question that we must press the American public to address: "Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing is wrong?"