Executed March 9, 2001 by Lethal Injection in North Carolina
B / M / 30 - 39 B / F / 29
18th murderer executed in U.S. in 2001
701st murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in North Carolina in 2001
17th murderer executed in North Carolina since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Willie Ervin Fisher
Angela Vernetta Johnson
Following a heated altercation with girlfriend over the care of their daughter, Johnson filed domestic battery complaint against Fisher. Late one night he forced his way into home where she lived with her mother and attacked her, stabbing her in chest, then dragging her outside despite efforts of her family, continuing to stab, beat and kick her. Her 14 year old daughter was also stabbed trying to protect her mother. Fisher finally stopped and fled after a neighbor fired a gun into the air. He called police and turned himself in the following day. No prior criminal record. Intoxication defense rejected.
B / M / 30 - 39
B / F / 29
State v. Fisher, 445 SE2d 866 (N.C. 1994).
Fisher v. Lee, 215 F3d 438 (4th Cir. 2000).
North Carolina Department of Correction
Willie Ervin Fisher, 38, was convicted Feb. 4, 1993 in Forsyth County Superior Court. He received the death sentence for the April 2, 1992 murder of 29-year old Angela Vernetta Johnson. At Fisher's trial, witnesses said he broke into the Forsyth County house where Johnson lived with her mother and attacked her, then chased her outside, ripped her clothes off and stabbed her repeatedly. When Johnson's 12-year-old daughter hit Fisher with a broomstick, he stabbed the girl, then used the broomstick to stab Johnson again. Fisher made a videotaped appeal for clemency that was sent to Easley earlier this week. "I can't express enough how sorry I am, how I regret everything that has happened," Fisher said. He said he blamed only himself for Angela Johnson's death, but if allowed to live, he said, he would work behind bars "doing God's will, not my own." Fisher also asked Johnson's mother for forgiveness and told his and Johnson's son, Willie Jr., that Johnson was "watching over you and she's watching over me as well." Moore said Fisher had been drinking and smoking crack cocaine before the April 1, 1992, attack.
The Lamp of Hope (Associated Press & Rick Halperin)
March 9, 2001 - NORTH CAROLINA - Willie Ervin Fisher, who stabbed his girlfriend to death with a knife and a broken broomstick, was executed Friday evening at the end of a long day of judicial parrying over his fate. About 19 hours after his execution was originally to have occurred, Fisher, 39, was put to death by injection at Central Prison. He was pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m., Corrections Department spokeswoman Tracy Little said. The U.S. Supreme Court, without dissent, had denied a stay of execution Friday afternoon, the 2nd time this week it had rebuffed Fisher's appeals. The execution was supposed to have occurred at 2 a.m. Friday, but was blocked by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr., who said Gov. Mike Easley -- a former state attorney general -- might have had a conflict of interest when he denied Fisher clemency Thursday evening. The state Supreme Court lifted the stay at about 4:45 a.m. and the execution was rescheduled, pending the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.
Little said Fisher had slept most of the morning, then visited with his sisters, Sally and Anna Fisher, and niece Ria Fisher in the afternoon. He also saw a social worker and his attorneys. Outside the prison gates, where death penalty opponents had gathered Thursday night, no sign of protests could be seen a couple of hours before the rescheduled execution. Manning granted his stay after Fisher's lawyers questioned whether Easley could make an impartial decision about clemency because he had opposed Fisher's appeals while he was attorney general. Prosecutors responded by citing a 1998 federal appeals court ruling in a similar case involving Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, in which the appeals court overturned a lower court's restraining order and allowed an execution to proceed. "Ironically, if Fisher's argument is correct, under the North Carolina constitution, there is no one who could grant clemency to him, or for that matter, to any other capital defendant in this state," prosecutors said in their petition to the state Supreme Court. "Gov. Easley is the only person under our constitution with the power of clemency; he must be permitted to exercise it if he so wishes." Easley said he had carefully reviewed Fisher's case and decided not to commute his sentence to life in prison, citing the "heinous nature" of Angela Johnson's murder in 1992.
At Fisher's trial, witnesses said he broke into the Forsyth County house where Johnson lived with her mother and attacked her, then chased her outside, ripped her clothes off and stabbed her repeatedly. When Johnson's 12-year-old daughter hit Fisher with a broomstick, he stabbed the girl, then used the broomstick to stab Johnson again. Defense lawyers also unsuccessfully argued to Easley that jury selection in Fisher's trial was biased because Fisher is black and the jury was made up of 11 whites and 1 black. They also argued the murder was committed after Fisher went on a drinking binge and smoked crack cocaine, and that his trial attorney, David Tamer, didn't present a proper defense. Those claims were rejected by the state and U.S. supreme courts.
Fisher becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death in North Carolina this year and the 17th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1984. Fisher becomes the 18th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 701st overall since America resumed executions on January 17, 1977.
"Just that, regardless of what might be seen or the thought of what might be seen, there is still love, mercy and justice. Because God said that all that He has made is good and once you realize that and believe in that everything will be just fine." Willie Fisher, moments before the people of North Carolina injected him with lethal doses of poison, 9 p.m. EST March 9, 2001 Raleigh.
"The Business of Killing," by Patrick O'Neill. (Independent Weekly March 14, 2001)
The years on death row had brought peace to Willie Ervin Fisher. In the hours before his execution last Friday night, Fisher spent his time comforting an older sister and a niece who had come to visit him at Raleigh's Central Prison. During Fisher's only contact visit since he was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of his girlfriend Angela Johnson, he tried to assure his sister Sally Fisher-Ervin and his niece Regina Fisher that he wasn't worried about dying. "He's not ready to leave," Sally said her brother told her, "but if he has to, he's in God's hands, and he'll be fine."Still the tears flowed--his sister's tears; Regina's tears; the tears of dozens of death-penalty opponents who stood in vigil for two bone-chilling nights outside the prison. The pained looks and sunken red eyes were also evident on the faces of Larry Moore and Cynthia Adcock, the two lawyers who worked feverishly to save Fisher's life. Social worker Stephanie Moore, who had visited Fisher for six years to help with appeals, kept ducking into the prison visiting center restroom to dry her eyes and compose herself. Only Willie Fisher, who was represented at trial by a lawyer who has now been disbarred, was able to face death at age 39 with faith-filled confidence. "He didn't cry at all," Regina said.
Fisher is the 17th person to be executed in North Carolina since executions resumed in 1984. Friends and family members had hoped Gov. Mike Easley, a lawyer and former state attorney general, would spare Fisher's life. Mitigating factors that would have kept Fisher off death row were never presented to the jury, his lawyers said. Easley, who earlier this month gave his seal of approval to the execution of a retarded person, was Fisher's last hope. When she visited Easley on March 13 to plead for her baby brother's life, Sally brought along hundreds of letters and petitions she had gathered in her Winston-Salem community urging the governor to grant clemency. The murder of Johnson happened after Fisher, the youngest of nine children, had abused alcohol and crack cocaine. All who knew Fisher claimed he had never been violent prior to the day of the murder. Sally said her brother was always "an easygoing, sweet person. He was a mama's boy." Last-minute appeals led to a stay of execution late Thursday night.The stay was later lifted by the N.C. Supreme Court, but in the meantime Fisher's family members had to spend the night in the visiting center not knowing the fate of their loved one.
March 9, 2001 - "Killer's Attorneys Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court" - RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Attorneys for a convicted killer asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to review a state ruling that lifted a last-minute stay of execution. Defense attorneys also sought another stay while the review is under way. State officials had delayed the execution of Willie Ervin Fisher until 9 p.m. Friday to give lawyers time to present arguments to the nation's highest court.
Fisher, 39, was convicted for killing his girlfriend by stabbing her 32 times in 1992. He requested clemency from Gov. Mike Easley, a former attorney general who had represented the state during Fisher's appeals. Easley denied the clemency request Thursday evening, citing the "heinous nature" of the slaying. A state judge then issued the stay, ruling that Easley may have had a conflict of interest and may have violated the constitutional principles of separation of powers. The state Supreme Court lifted the stay at about 4:45 a.m.
Prosecutors had argued to proceed with the execution. "Ironically, if Fisher's argument is correct, under the North Carolina constitution, there is no one who could grant clemency to him," they wrote in their petition. They cited a 1998 ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, lawyers for Douglas M. Buchanan Jr. argued that Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore could not impartially consider clemency because he had fought Buchanan's court appeals when he was the state's attorney general. A federal judge issued a restraining order to give Buchanan's lawyers a chance to challenge Virginia's clemency procedures, but the appeals court overturned it and Buchanan was executed. In Fisher's case, defense attorney Larry Moore said: "We certainly made no allegations against Gov. Easley personally. It's a question of him wearing two hats."
Fisher made a videotaped appeal for clemency that was sent to Easley earlier this week. "I can't express enough how sorry I am, how I regret everything that has happened," Fisher said. He said he blamed only himself for Angela Johnson's death, but if allowed to live, he said, he would work behind bars "doing God's will, not my own." Fisher also asked Johnson's mother for forgiveness and told his and Johnson's son, Willie Jr., that Johnson was "watching over you and she's watching over me as well." Moore said Fisher had been drinking and smoking crack cocaine before the April 1, 1992, attack.