Robert Wesley Knighton

Executed May 27, 2003 by Lethal Injection in Oklahoma

35th murderer executed in U.S. in 2003
855th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
8th murderer executed in Oklahoma in 2003
63rd murderer executed in Oklahoma 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
Robert Wesley Knighton

W / M / 48 - 62

Richard Denney
W / M / 62
Virginia Denney
W / F / 64

Knighton escaped from a Missouri halfway house where he was serving a sentence for Manslaughter. Along with his 20-year-old girlfriend, Ruth Renee Williams, and a 17-year-old friend, Lawrence Brittain, he began a crime spree through Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas. The group stopped near the Oklahoma farmhouse of Richard Denney, 62, and his wife Virginia, 64. When Richard Denney offered directions and help to the group, Knighton overpowered the couple and shot and killed them in their home. He then robbed the house. Brittain later pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder and is serving two concurrent life sentences. Williams also pleaded guilty as an accessory and received concurrent 15-year prison sentences. Both testified at trial against Knighton. Knighton was also identified as the killer of two Missouri men during the crime spree, Frank T. Merrifield and his stepson, Roy E. Donahue. Knighton had served 17 years in prison for the slaying of a Missouri man in the 1970s.

Knighton v. State, 912 P.2d 878 (Okl.Cr. 1996) (Direct Appeal).
Knighton v. Oklahoma, 519 U.S. 841 (1996) (Cert. Denied).

Final Meal:
A large pepperoni pizza, a strawberry milkshake, a large order of onion rings and banana cream pie.

Final Words:
In a brief, almost inaudible final statement, Knighton thanked his attorneys and said he was sorry for what he had done. He then spoke to Sue Norton, the adopted daughter of victim Richard Denney, who forgave and befriended Knighton during his trial. "I'll see you again someday. God bless you," he said. She replied with a thumbs-up as the execution began.

Internet Sources:

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Inmate: Robert W. Knighton
ODOC# 65017
Birthdate: 02/05/1941
Race: White
Sex: Male
Height: 6 ft. 00 in
Weight: 195 pounds
Hair: Gray
Eyes: Blue
Location: Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Mcalester

Shawnee News-Star

"Man Executed for 1990 Double Homicide." (May 28, 2003)

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) -- A man who killed at least five people became the eighth person executed in Oklahoma this year when he was put to death Tuesday for murdering a Noble County couple in 1990.

Robert Knighton, 62, was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m., seven minutes after the fatal drug injection began. In a brief, almost inaudible final statement, Knighton thanked his attorneys and said he was sorry for what he had done. He then spoke to Sue Norton, the adopted daughter of victim Richard Denney, who forgave and befriended Knighton during his trial. "I'll see you again someday. God bless you," he said. She replied with a thumbs-up as the execution began. Knighton became unconscious shortly afterward and his stomach heaved. He appeared to snore for several minutes. His body shook and his face reddened a few times before he stopped breathing. "He just went to heaven," Norton, of Arkansas City, Kan., told her husband, Gene.

Knighton shot and killed Richard and Virginia Denney at their farm near Tonkawa on Jan. 8, 1990, during a three-day crime spree that began with the murders and robbery of two men in Clinton, Mo. He and two co-defendants came away from the Denney residence with $61 and a beat-up pickup truck.

Norton's sister, Maudie Nichols of Oxford, Kan., watched the execution with other family members. She was Denney's biological daughter. She said she forgave Knighton six years ago "because it was the only way I knew to live with my life and not just live in pure hatred." But she said also she felt it was right that he be executed. "It's the law and it's what we need and it's what we uphold," she said. Her stepsister, Maggie Lange of Enid, said justice was done. "Me, I'm happy," she said, holding a picture of the Denneys. "He took my mother's life while she was drinking a cup of coffee."

Knighton served 17 years in a Missouri prison for manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery before going to a halfway house in Kansas City, Mo., where he befriended Lawrence Brittain, a teenager on probation for auto theft. They escaped and the two, along with Knighton's girlfriend Ruth Renee Williams, stole a van in Kansas City and drove to Clinton, Mo., where Knighton shot Frankie T. Merrifield and his stepson, Roy E. Donahue, after the group had been drinking together. They left with money, beer and three weapons, including a .38-caliber revolver used to kill the Denneys.

The fugitives found the Denneys' rented farmhouse as the van was running out of gas. Denney, 62, came out of his house as the three pulled into his driveway. Knighton forced him into the house at gunpoint and shot Denney once in the chest, then shot and killed Virginia Denney, 64. Brittain was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison on each count. Williams was charged with two counts of accessory after the fact and received a 15-year prison sentence on each count.

Last week, the state Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-0 against sparing Knighton's life. The state attorney general's office argued there was no way Knighton deserved clemency.

Knighton requested a final meal of a large pepperoni pizza, a strawberry milkshake, a large order of onion rings and banana cream pie.

Oklahoma Attorney General News Release

News Release - W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General - Court Sets Execution Date for Knighton (4/11/03)

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals today set May 27 as the execution date for Noble County death row inmate Robert Wesley Knighton. Attorney General Drew Edmondson requested the date March 24 after the United States Supreme Court denied Knighton's final appeal.

Knighton, 62, was convicted and sentenced to death for the Jan. 8, 1990, murders of Richard and Virginia Denney during a three-day crime spree in which Knighton also killed two people in Missouri.

Knighton and co-defendants Ruth Renee Williams and Lawrence Brittain left Kansas City, Mo., and drove to Clinton, Mo., where they shot and killed two men before robbing them and continuing to the Denney's home in Tonkawa.

Richard Denney, 62, came out of his house just as the defendants pulled into his driveway. He was shot once in the chest by Knighton after being forced into his house at gunpoint. His wife, Virginia Denney, 64, was also shot once in the chest.


The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals today set May 27 as the execution date for Noble County death row inmate Robert Wesley Knighton. Attorney General Drew Edmondson requested the date March 24 after the United States Supreme Court denied Knighton's final appeal.

Knighton, 62, was convicted and sentenced to death for the Jan. 8, 1990, murders of Richard and Virginia Denney during a three-day crime spree in which Knighton also killed two people in Missouri. Knighton and co-defendants Ruth Renee Williams and Lawrence Brittain left Kansas City, Mo., and drove to Clinton, Mo., where they shot and killed two men before robbing them and continuing to the Denney's home in Tonkawa. Richard Denney, 62, came out of his house just as the defendants pulled into his driveway. He was shot once in the chest by Knighton after being forced into his house at gunpoint. His wife, Virginia Denney, 64, was also shot once in the chest.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Robert Knighton, Oklahoma - May 27, 2003

The state of Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Robert Knighton, a white man, May 27 for the 1990 murders of Richard and Virginia Denney in Noble County. Knighton allegedly shot the couple amidst a crime spree after he left a halfway house in Missouri.

Sadly, like so many death row inmates in the United States, Knighton’s struggles with crime as an adult mirror his traumatic and difficult experiences as a child. His mother married six times and had numerous live-in boyfriends while raising him, and his father abused him. His school diagnosed him as having a learning disability, and he left home at age 15.

As an adult, Knighton has shown serious signs of mental illness, characterized by anxiety attacks and suicidal tendencies. He claims he received inadequate psychiatric care while serving time in the Missouri State Penitentiary, where he was medicated with addictive drugs such as Meprobamate, Valium, and Xanax.

Sue Norton, the adopted daughter of Richard Denney and a member of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, opposes the death penalty and is fighting to save Knighton's life. During Knighton’s trial, Norton realized that the death penalty only perpetuates the cycle of violence in society, and gives little comfort to victims’ family members. “The execution [of Robert Knighton] will not bring back Daddy and Virginia. It will not heal me, but will re-victimize me and my family and others.” Since then, she has written and visited Knighton, helped him develop a deeper faith, and above all, forgiven him for the murders of Richard and Virginia Denney.

The death penalty only justifies acts of senseless violence, and every execution creates another set of victims. Please contact Gov. Brad Henry and the state of Oklahoma and request clemency for Robert Knighton.

The Death House.Com

"Five- Time Killer Executed in Oklahoma," by Robert Anthony Phillips. (May 27, 2003)

McALESTER, Okla. - Robert Wesley Knighton, who murdered four persons in Oklahoma and Missouri during a 1990 crime spree, was executed by lethal injection at the state prison Tuesday night. Knighton, 62, who had been imprisoned most of his life, robbed and murdered Richard and Virginia Denney in their Oklahoma home also two men in Missouri. And, even before those murders, Knighton had served 17 years in prison for the slaying of a Missouri man in the 1970s. Knighton was the 35th condemned killer executed in the United States in 2003 and the eighth in Oklahoma this year.

Thanks Victim's Daughter

Knighton was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. - seven minutes after the lethal dose of chemicals began to flow into his body. Susan Norton, Richard Denney's adopted daughter, witnessed the execution, having forgiven Knighton and befriended him on death row over the years. Moments before his execution, Knighton told Norton that "I'll see you again somebody," and "God bless you." Knighton also said he was was sorry for all he had done.

Accomplices Finger Knighton During the murder spree that sent him to Oklahoma death row, Knighton was accompanied by two other persons. They were his girlfriend, Renne Williams, 20, and Lawrence Brittain, 17. Brittain later pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder and is serving two, concurrent life sentences. Williams also pleaded guilty as an accessory and received concurrent 15-year prison sentences. In return for the sentences, both testified against Knighton. Knighton was subsequently found guilty of the murders of the Dennys and sentenced to death. Knighton, Williams and Brittian decided to run away from Kansas City because Brittain was about to be imprisoned in a more restrictive jail setting. Knighton told Brittian, according to testimony, that there would be robberies and murders. Their killing spree began in January 1990.

Giving Knighton Gun A Big Mistake

Knighton stole a van and, accompanied by Williams and Brittian, drove to his mother’s house. The next day, the trio drove to the home of a friend of Brittian’s, Frank Merrifield, in Clinton, Mo. Merrifield was inside drinking with a friend, Ray Donahue. Court documents stated that Merrifield showed Knighton a pearl handled, .22 caliber pistol and invited Knighton to shoot it. He did - but into Donahue’s head. Knighton then turned the pistol toward Merrifield and shot him dead. The trio then stole the guns and money from the dead men. A .38 caliber revolver taken was later used to kill the Denneys two days later, prosecutors said.

Gave Brittian Chance To Kill The Denneys were murdered in the home on Jan. 8, 1990. Knighton, Brittian and Williams pulled into the driveway of the Denney's Noble County home searching for a vehicle to steal. Richard Denney, court documents stated, attempted to talk Knighton out of killing him. Knighton wanted to give his young friend a chance to prove himself. So, he invited Brittain to shoot Richard Denney. When Brittain declined, Knighton shot Richard Denney, 62, in the chest, court documents stated. Then, Knighton shot Virginia Denney, 64, in the chest. He then shot Richard Denney a second time, reportedly saying "at least the old woman had time to say her prayers."

One Daughter For Execution, Another Against After killing the Denneys and leaving with $61, the trio stole the couple's pickup truck and were later stopped and arrested in Texas. John M. Stuart, who handled Knighton’s appeals, said before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to reject clemency for Knighton, that he hoped the panel would have mercy - based on the fact that Norton had forgiven her father's killer. "This is the first time in his life that the feels like he's doing something right," Norton told KOCO Channel 5 news in Oklahoma City before the execution. "It took him this to realize he spent over 50 of his years living totally against God."

Richard Denney's biological daugher, Maude Nichols, was in favor of Knighton being executed. "I think anybody that does any kind of crime should have to stand accountable for waht they do," Nichols told the television station. "I don't make the laws." Nichols also attended the execution.

CNN Law Center

"Oklahoma Executes Man for Killing a Farm Couple." (Reuters May 28, 2003)

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (Reuters) -- Robert Wesley Knighton was executed Tuesday for the killing of a farm couple who had offered to help him. Knighton was executed for the 1990 murders of Richard and Virginia Denney during a three-day rampage in which he was also accused of robbing and killing two men in Clinton, Missouri, after escaping from a halfway house in Kansas City.

Knighton, 62, died at 6:32 p.m. CDT, seven minutes after receiving an injection of lethal chemicals that stopped his heart and his breathing, prison spokesman Jerry Massie said. "I'm sorry for all I've done," Knighton said in his last words, Massie reported. "I'll see you again some day." "God bless you," Knighton said to a victim's daughter, who befriended him.

Prior to being transferred to the halfway house, Knighton had been imprisoned in Missouri for manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery. After escaping from Missouri, Knighton and two accomplices stopped near the Oklahoma farmhouse of Denney, 62, and his wife, 64. When Richard Denney offered directions and help to the group, Knighton overpowered the couple and shot and killed them in their home. He then robbed the house.

Knighton was denied clemency unanimously by the state Pardon and Parole Board, despite pleas on his behalf by Richard Denney's adopted daughter, Sue Norton. She witnessed the execution on behalf of Knighton, whom she said had no relatives. The Denney's biological daughter supported the death penalty for Knighton. His last requested meal was a pepperoni pizza and a strawberry milkshake.

McAlester News-Capital

"Sisters Divided; Execution Set Tonight," by Doug Russell. (May 27, 2003)

Maudie Nichols was stunned. The switchboard at the motel had apparently made a mistake Monday evening, connecting her with a call she had never wanted to receive. The man on the other end of the telephone was the man who had killed her father more than 12 years before. "I stuttered," Nichols said this morning. Still, she talked with convicted murderer Robert Wesley Knighton for about a minute and a half before hanging up the phone.

The 62-year-old inmate is to be executed tonight at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He was sentenced to death for killing Richard and Virginia Denney in their rural Tonkawa home. "He asked me to forgive him," Nichols recalled. "I told him I'd done that six years ago. That's the only way I could get on with my life. I had to let go of that - not hate exactly, but it was tearing me up. I had to forgive him." But for Nichols, forgiving her father's killer doesn't mean she wants him spared. "He played the game and now it's time to pay the price."

Knighton, she said, told her that if he could go back in time to 1990 and change things, he would. "But he can't so he said he's ready for his punishment," she said. Nichols, who owns a diner in Oxford, Kan., said she plans to witness Knighton's execution tonight from a special room in the prison set aside for the families of murder victims. Another family member, Sue Norton, also plans to witness the execution, but the sisters won't be sitting together. Norton plans to be in the witness room's front row, offering moral support to the condemned man.

Although both sisters say they have forgiven and tried to understand Knighton, that understanding has taken different routes. Norton approached Knighton in the Noble County jail shortly after he was convicted of murdering the Denneys. She recalled how, during his trial, she had felt conflicted, as if society had wanted her to behave one way and her beliefs dictated another form of behavior. After praying, she found she needed to approach Knighton and tell him "If you are guilty, I forgive you." But her work didn't stop there. "I needed to show him, by example, that there was goodness in the world," she recalled.

Over the next 12 years, Knighton became a Christian and Norton joined groups advocating the abolishment of the death penalty. Norton, who regularly visits and writes to Knighton, said the man she met in the Perry jail is completely different today than he was 12 years ago.

Nichols, too, wanted to understand the man who had killed her father during a four-day crime spree in which two Missouri men were also killed. "Sue tried to understand the personal side," she said this morning. "I took a different route." Nichols went back to school, taking a course on criminal justice. "I wanted to understand the way the system worked and why certain things were done at the trial," she said. Later she took a job at a minimum security prison in Kansas, where she learned a great deal about the prison system and its affect on people from watching the inmates. She felt, she said, that would help her understand Knighton and his actions. She also began looking at the backgrounds of Knighton and his co-defendants. "I wanted to see if it was society's fault," she said. "I don't think so. I think he chose his path."

Then 48, Knighton was in a Missouri halfway house after serving a sentence for manslaughter when he, his 20-year-old girlfriend, Ruth Renee Williams, and a 17-year-old friend, Lawrence Brittain, began a crime spree that ended in Texas while the three were driving the Denney's stolen pickup truck. Before the spree was over, 62-year-old Richard Denney and his 64-year-old wife, Virginia, were dead in Oklahoma and two men, Frank T. Merrifield and his stepson, Roy E. Donahue, were dead in Missouri. Brittain is serving a life without parole sentence for his part in the Denney's killings. Williams was sentenced to 15 years for her part.

Despite their different opinions on capital punishment, Nichols and Norton still talk on the telephone and occasionally visit. They just don't talk about Knighton or the justice system. "Robert Knighton took my dad," Nichols said. "I don't want him taking my sister. If I cut communications with her, he'd be taking my sister too."

Topeka Capital Journal

"Kansas Sisters Disagree on Execution of Man Who Killed Their Parents." (Associated Press May 18, 2003)

WINFIE:LD - When Maudie Nichols and her half sister, Sue Norton, talk on the phone each week, there is one name they know it is best not to mention - Robert Wesley Knighton.

For Norton, who lives in Arkansas City, it is the name of a friend who is about to die. For Nichols, who runs a small diner and lives in Oxford, it is the name of a cold-blooded killer who is about to get what is coming to him. "We've agreed to disagree," Norton said.

Knighton, 62, was convicted in an Oklahoma courtroom of two counts of capital murder for the Jan. 8, 1990, shooting deaths of Richard and Virginia Denney. He is scheduled to be executed May 27, but will get one last chance to avoid being put to death at a May 20 clemency hearing. Richard Denney was Nichols' biological father and adopted Norton when she was just 2 or 3 years old. Virginia was the girls' stepmother.

In January 1990, Knighton left a Kansas City, Mo., halfway house and embarked on a four-day crime spree, according to court records. Accompanying Knighton was his 20-year-old girlfriend, Rene Williams, and his 17-year-old friend, Lawrence Brittain. Knighton is suspected of killing two Clinton, Mo., men before they arrived at the Denneys' isolated rural Oklahoma home near Tonkawa. According to court testimony, Knighton shot the couple to death and took $61 in cash and the couple's truck. Texas police arrested the trio the next day, still driving the Denneys' truck. Williams and Brittain testified against Knighton at his trial and pinned both shootings on him.

During Knighton's trial, Norton decided to visit him in a holding cell and told him that she had forgiven him. Norton, 55, doesn't deny that Knighton, whom she calls B.K., has done some bad things, but she said she thinks he has been a victim, too. Before he killed the Denneys, Knight had spent 31 of his 48 years in prison for various crimes. He had become used to living in an institution, Norton said, and couldn't cope with his new freedom. Nichols, 48, agrees her parents' killer lived a rough life but said she doesn't see that as an excuse. "I have compassion for the man -- he's been through hell," she said. "But I also think if ever he got out he'd kill more people. He's a killer."

In the years since Knighton was sentenced to die by lethal injection, Norton has befriended the convict and even fought to have his sentence changed to life without the possibility of parole. Norton said she thinks it is wrong for people to forgive some sins but not others. "Two people are already dead," she said "Killing another person is not going to bring my folks back."

Norton will attend the execution and sit on Knighton's side, across the aisle from Nichols, who will be on the victims' family's side. Nichols is not happy with her sister's decision to fight for Knighton. "Sue has the right to believe anything she wants to," Nichols said. "But I want people to know that there are people in this family that think (Knighton) is right where he belongs." Norton's has been a vocal crusade against the death penalty. She recently appeared on "The John Walsh Show," where she told of her friendship with Knighton and shared her plans to pay for his funeral when he's executed.

Knighton thanked Norton for her compassion via satellite from his cell in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He credited her with helping him build his faith in God. Norton has traveled around the country telling her story. A book about her relationship with Knighton is in the works. On the home front "I've never regretted my decision," Norton said. "It has caused a lot of heartache, though." It is especially difficult for Nichols, who thinks Norton is enjoying the spotlight just a little too much. She also points out that Norton's biological father is still alive and objects to Norton's claims that "her parents were murdered." But Norton said only certain members of her family have complained that she's basking in the limelight. She said it wasn't any easier to forgive Knighton just because Denney was her adoptive father. "I have a biological father but I don't have childhood memories with him," Norton said. "Daddy (Richard Denney) is the man who taught me to ride a bike and how to change a flat when I was learning to drive. That's a lot of years covered."

Norton said she has shed her anger over the death of her parents and that's how she achieved forgiveness. The sisters' mother lives in Winfield and is battling cancer. It's difficult for her to see Norton on television defending a killer and claiming that her parents are dead, Nichols said. "Her mother is still alive," Nichols said. "She still has parents."

Norton knows her stance has "estranged me from my family" but said support from her husband and two children helps her stay strong. Knighton is just a taboo topic for the sisters these days. "I'd like to call them (Nichols and her mother) and warn them I'm going to be on television," Norton said. "But they just get mad, so I don't."

But through it all, though, the sisters have maintained contact. "This has not affected the love we have for each other," Norton said. "She's my sister."

Canadian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

ROBERT KNIGHTON Hi, my name is Robert Knighton. I'm 58 years old, and I have been locked up since 1959. For the last 10 years I have been on Death Row ! Don't know much about out in the free world but would love to have a pen pal. If you would like to write that's cool ! If you don't, your choice !

Robert Knighton # 65017
PO Box 97

Common Dreams Progressive Newswire (Amnesty International)


Amnesty International Urges Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to Recommend Clemency for Death Row Inmate Robert Knighton

Murder Victims' Daughter to Speak Against Execution at Monday Press Conference WASHINGTON - May 16 - Noting Oklahoma's accelerated pace of executions this year, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today called on the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to recommend clemency for Robert Knighton, scheduled to be executed on May 27. The Board will consider Knighton's clemency appeal on Tuesday, May 20.

"Oklahoma has already witnessed seven executions this year, matching its record for all of last year, which earned the state the dubious distinction of second highest executioner in the nation," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Director of AIUSA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. "Given the increasing awareness of the numerous inherent flaws in the death penalty system, Oklahoma should reverse its disturbing trend by taking the first step of granting clemency to Robert Knighton."

Knighton is accused of murdering Virginia and Richard Denney in their home in Noble County in 1990. One of the people campaigning against his execution is Sue Norton, Richard Denney's adopted daughter. Over the years, Sue Norton and Robert Knighton have been in regular contact, and she says that she has forgiven him for the violence committed against her family.

"The death penalty is often cited as an issue of victims' rights, yet a growing number of murder victims' relatives are saying that it is time to stop killing in their names," said Karin Lau, AIUSA's Oklahoma Anti-Death Penalty Coordinator. "We support Sue Norton, and call on Oklahoma leaders to demonstrate that they can offer viable alternatives to victims of violence rather than the hollow promise of revenge."

Who: Karin Lau of AIUSA, Sue Norton of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, and others

Where: Oklahoma State Capitol, south side steps

When: Monday, May 19 at 1:30 p.m.

Press Conference Contact: Karin Lau 405-816-2642

Journey of Hope

June 21, 2002 - OKLAHOMA: McAlester News-Capital & Democrat by Doug Russell

Sue Norton Believes in Forgiveness for Everyone, Even for a Man Who Killed her Adoptive Father and His Wife. In fact, Norton has been working to stop Robert Wesley Knighton's execution since Knighton was convicted in November, 1990. "I'm a minority," Norton said when reached at her Kansas home Monday. "I know that. But I don't understand how we, as a supposedly civilized society, can execute someone, no matter what they've done.

"Most countries don't have the death penalty, you know." According to Amnesty International, 111 countries have either abolished capital punishment or don't execute persons, even if a person is convicted to death. Of the 84 countries that do have a death penalty, most use it very sparingly. "But Oklahoma last year - it was like Oklahoma was in a race to see which state could kill the most people," said Sue Norton. Oklahoma executed 18 death row inmates in 2001 - more than any other state in the nation.

Reached at her Kansas home Monday afternoon, Sue Norton said she was disappointed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to uphold Knighton's death sentences for the Oklahoma murders. "I was really hoping they'd overturn the sentences," she said. Her voice broke. "It's hard. I feel like the state is making me a victim all over again." Sue Norton first met Robert Knighton in a holding cell in Perry while the jury that found Knighton guilty of two murders tried to decide his punishment. The jury had convicted Knighton of killing Norton's adopted father, Richard Denney, and his wife, Virginia, in their rural Noble County home. "I didn't know I was against the death penalty until the trial," Sue Norton said, but as the trial wore on, she found herself growing more and more disturbed. "When I started realizing what (Knighton) had gone through in his life, I started thinking."

According to court documents, Knighton was in the middle of a four-day crime spree that stretched across three states when he shot 62-year-old Richard Denney and Denney's 64-year-old wife, Virginia. Knighton, his 20-year-old girlfriend, Renee Williams, and a 17-year-old friend, Lawrence Brittain, took off from a halfway house in Kansas City, Mo., after they learned that Brittain was to be transferred from a light security facility to a secure facility.

At 48, Knighton was the acknowledged leader of the group. He had lived a rough life, Norton said, and hadn't had a good example to follow. His mother had been married six times and had numerous live-in boyfriends by the time Knighton was 16. At 12, he was in a reformatory. In 1974, when he was 33, he was sentenced to 40 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary for manslaughter and kidnapping. In 1989 he was released from prison and sent to the halfway house.

After first driving a stolen van to Knighton's mother's home in Springfield, Mo., the trio went to Brittain's home town of Clinton, Mo., where they met up with Frank Merrifield and Ray Donahue. When Merrifield invited Knighton to shoot a pearl handled .22 caliber pistol Knighton fired it into the back of Merrifield's head, then killed Donahue. The three took money, the .22 caliber pistol and a .38 caliber pistol from the dead men, then drove south to Oklahoma. At a rural home near Tonkawa, the trio stopped at Denney's home, where Knighton used the .38 caliber pistol to shoot Virginia Denney one time and Richard Denney twice before taking $61 and a pickup truck.

The three were arrested in Canadian, Texas, when a resident reported a suspicious vehicle was driving slowly around a neighborhood. During Robert Knighton's trial in Perry, Sue Norton sat in the courtroom and found she was getting confused about what she should feel. "It seemed I was supposed to feel two different ways," she said. "Society says I should feel anger and want vengeance, but I was also taught I need to pray for him and forgive him."

During a long, sleepless night, Sue Norton prayed about her confusion. "I remember asking God how I was supposed to feel and asking for his help," she said. In the morning, she had reached a decision. "I had to go to him, to tell him that I didn't hate him. I'd never hated anyone and I wasn't going to start."

That first meeting with Robert Knighton was frightening for Sue Norton. At first, she recalled, the six-foot tall man in shackles refused to look at her, but she steeled herself and told him "If you are guilty, I forgive you." When Sue Norton reached through the bars to touch the hand jurors believed had held the gun that killed her father, Robert Knighton tried to pull back, but Sue Norton grasped his hand and began to pray.

That was the beginning of an unlikely friendship. "I wanted him to know that Jesus could forgive him anything, but I needed to give him an example," Sue Norton said. "It became very important to me for him to understand why I had forgiven him." Since then, Norton said, Knighton "has accepted Christ as his savior, and it's really made a difference."

Where the man she first met in the Perry jail cell was "full of anger, suspicion and meanness," the man Norton writes to and visits at Oklahoma State Penitentiary "is completely changed. "He's very different today from what he used to be."

Although many people say death row inmates falsely claim conversion in an effort to save their lives or manipulate people, Sue Norton said, "I believe (Knighton's) is real." Robert Knighton doesn't spout scripture like some inmates, she said, "but you know he really believes just from his actions. "He's just a totally different man from what he used to be. Today when I talk to him he's an encouraging person. He encourages me. He might say something like 'I'll pray about it' or 'God's will be done.' "He's just very encouraging."

Sue Norton said she believes some inmates do have true conversions. When a state executes those inmates, she said, "the joke's on the state, because the inmate is going to heaven." Although Sue Norton is working to stop Robert Knighton's execution, she doesn't believe he should go free either. "I'm the one who cleaned up their blood," she said. "That was awful, but I still don't think killing someone is right, no matter what they've done.

"I don't feel that Sue Norton, as a member of society, has given the state of Oklahoma or anyone else the right to kill in my name." "What would it hurt for him to continue to sit in prison?" she asked. "Killing him won't bring back my dad. It won't make the pain go away."

Sue Norton said some friends and family members stopped talking to her after she became active in such groups as the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. "They'd walk across the street so they wouldn't have to talk to me," she said. But, she added, her immediate family, including her husband, her five children and her nine grandchildren "all support me." "Executions just turn more families into victims, although in this case it won't hurt his family because he doesn't have one."

If Robert Knighton is taken from his cell and strapped to the execution gurney in OSP after his appeals run out, Sue Norton said she plans to be there as a witness for him. "He doesn't have anyone else," she said.

The Sue Norton Homepage: Forgiving and Healing, My Story

Christ taught us to forgive, and we hopefully all try to teach our children to forgive. However, many times when a crisis comes into our lives, we forget. Society often encourages hate and vengeance, and too quickly forgets "the forgiveness" message . At least, this is what I found when I was greeted with one of the most horrid crisis of my life.

They first talked in the Perry, Oklahoma jail in 1990. Sue Norton was so frightened she could barely stand. “I want you to know I don’t hate you,” she said to the man who had just been convicted of murdering her father and stepmother. “You should,” Robert Knighton responded. “And if you are guilty, I forgive you,” Sue Norton said.

Knighton couldn’t believe what he heard. He looked at Norton as if she was crazy. “Lady,” he cried out, putting his hands on his head. “Nobody’s ever been nice to me ever before. I’d be better off dead.” The commotion brought the jailer, who told Sue she would have to leave. “I want to pray first,” she said, and reached through the bars to grasp the same hand that a jury believed had pulled the trigger of the handgun that killed Sue Norton’s “daddy” and his wife. Knighton tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let him go.

Norton writes “friend” in the blank on the form at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, where Knighton is on death row. Norton, who comes to McAlester from her home in Arkansas City, visits the prison about four times a year. She is here today, because it is Knighton’s 56th birthday.

The day before she mailed him his birthday package. Three pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks, three T-shirts and an Elvis card. Sue visits with the guards, chatting as they make her slip off her shoes and frisk her. “I’m used to this by now,” she says. “After five or six years, I’m used to it.” A prison staff member tells Sue that an Oklahoma state senator is lobbying to take away inmates’ televisions. Sue keeps smiling, but her eyes narrow. “What is his name?” she asks.

For several minutes she waits until a guard unlocks the barred door, and then she walks down a long, colorless hallway toward the visiting area. She doesn’t even glance at the door to the execution chamber, where a gurney with arms straps awaits its next occupant. Robert Knighton will probably die there some day. For two hours, Sue talks to Knighton. She calls him “B.K.” Through a thick glass that sometimes fogs over, they talk and laugh on prison telephones. Norton tells him about her husband, her kids and her grandchildren. She tells him about her ongoing crusade against the death penalty.

Knighton can see the laugh lines that paint her pretty face when she smiles or lets loose with her carefree giggle. Sue Norton is as colorful as the prison is not. They never talk about the crimes Knighton is accused of committing. Never. Sue won’t say if Knighton has ever apologized for what happened at her daddy’s house. The inmate tells her about his life in the penitentiary and the other death row inmates she has come to know through him. Nothing much changes here, and there isn’t a lot of new information to share. Knighton complains about prison, and Norton responds like she always does: “Just wait. Tomorrow the rules will be different.” Somehow the two hours fly by. They pray together. She says: “Love ya” and makes her way back down the hallway. The time has gone by too fast for Knighton. Norton is the only person who ever visits him. She is his only friend.

The telephone call came at about 9 p.m. on January 9, 1990. Sue Norton was visiting her younger brother in Wichita. “Your daddy is dead,” the voice said at the other end of the line. She was shocked, sickened and saddened. Richard and Virginia Denney were old and poor. They lived in a tiny, rented farmhouse outside of Tonkawa, Oklahoma. They had no telephone. They raised chickens and goats. They sold the eggs and milk in town.

According to testimony in Knighton’s trial, Knighton, a woman in her early 20’s and a teenage boy went to the Denney farmhouse and demanded money. Despite begging for their lives, the Denneys were shot as they sat at their dining room table. The trio stole $61 and an old pick-up truck. They were arrested the next day in Texas. They also were charged with killing two people in Missouri. The teenage boy received a life sentence with parole for his part in the Denney crime. He is incarcerated in the Oklahoma prison system. The woman received a 15-year sentence, and has been released from prison.

Continue with link: Part 2

The Denney deaths were a gruesome crime of heartless, cold-blooded murder. Sue and her husband, Gene, had to scrub the blood off the floor. Sue recalls the first time she saw Knighton. It was his arraignment in Noble County District Court. He looked crazed. He looked mean. She saw no emotion in his eyes. During a 2-week preliminary hearing, she started learning more about Knighton. During the trial a few months later, she found herself struggling with the hate society dictated she should feel for him.

She doesn’t condone what he has done, but she understands his background may have led to this tragedy. Knighton wouldn’t talk much about his childhood. He said most of it he couldn’t remember. Sue said over the years she has pulled the stories of Knighton’s horrific past out of him. Springfield, Missouri, was home to hi. He was born to a mother who had eight husbands and many boyfriends. He can’t remember wanting to grow up to be anything. There was a toy guitar, he recalls. For a while, he dreamed of being a famous singer, like his beloved Elvis. Knighton was emotionally and physically abused, Norton says. When he was 5 or 6 years old, he went to Thanksgiving dinner at his grandparent’s house. He was forced to sit outside on the porch as the rest of the family celebrated inside. His only crime was that he looked too much like his father. He cried and banged on the door until neighbors called the police. Even they didn’t help Knighton, who was then called “Bobby.”

One of Knighton’s mother’s boyfriends hit Bobby hard enough that the child ended up in the hospital. Another boyfriend destroyed Bobby’s favorite toy, a stuffed monkey, because his mother had no where to send him for the night. Bobby, who only stayed in school through the fourth grade, ended up in a boy’s reformatory when he was 12. He told Norton that boys who misbehaved were beaten or placed in a cellar for days at a time.

He spent time in other juvenile facilities and landed in prison in Oklahoma as a young man. In 1974, he was in the Missouri State Penitentiary, sentenced to 40 years for manslaughter and kidnapping charges. In November of 1989, the prison door was unlocked and he was set free. “They told me to go home,” Knighton said during an interview in the Oklahoma prison. “They just didn’t tell me where home was. Everybody was gone. I had no one to talk to.” Knightly talks slowly and deliberately. He has difficulty looking visitors in the eye. His voice is soft, and the gestures of his tattooed arms are slight. “Love” is tattooed on the four fingers of his right hand.

When he was released from the Missouri prison, he was placed in a halfway house in Kansas City, Missouri. There was no one there to tell him how to do things. Nearly two decades had passed since he had lived in the world. Knighton didn’t even know how to get a can of soda out of the new machines. He didn’t know how to ride a bus, because the cords to pull and make it stop were gone. He had to adjust to people brushing against him, which in prison is interpreted as an act of aggression. “I stood on a corner in downtown Kansas City with thousands of people rushing past me,” Knighton said. “They all had places to go. I had nowhere to go.” He was a drug addict. Within a few weeks of his release from prison, Knighton left Kansas City halfway house and took to the road with his two young companions.

Norton says she had to forgive in order to heal. This morning, she leans back in her chair in the restaurant at the McAlester Holiday Inn. “Sometimes I wish I could just quit doing this,” she says, her smile gone. “Sometimes I wish I could just get a real job, and stop all this. But God gave me this job. I don’t have a choice.” Since the Denney’s deaths and her friendship with Knighton, Norton has become active in the organization “Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation” and the “Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty.”

“If I don’t fight this with all I’ve got I’m just as guilty as the person who pulls the lever,” she says. She corresponds with half a dozen prisoners and visits three regularly, including Knighton. Norton will talk to anyone, anywhere about the death penalty. She tells her story with a smile, sweet voice and without judgment. Sue Norton, 48, is gregarious. She calls people “honey” and always, always departs a conversation with a hug or a squeeze of the hand.

Knighton v. Mullin U.S. Court of Appeals (10th Circuit 2002)

ROBERT WESLEY KNIGHTON, Petitioner-Appellant, v. MIKE MULLIN, Warden, Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Respondent-Appellee.

Robert Wesley Knighton appeals the denial of habeas relief, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254, from two Oklahoma first degree murder convictions and death sentences. A jury convicted Knighton of shooting to death Richard and Virginia Denney during Knighton's multi-state crime spree. Knighton claims 1) the trial court's admitting evidence of the many other crimes Knighton committed during his four-day crime spree resulted in a fundamentally unfair trial; 2) prosecutors' belated disclosure of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), material prejudiced his defense; and 3) trial counsel's representation at sentencing was constitutionally ineffective. We affirm.


In January 1990, Knighton left a Kansas City, Missouri halfway house and embarked on a four-day crime spree. Accompanying the forty-eight year old Knighton was his twenty year old girlfriend, Rene Williams, and his seventeen year old friend, Lawrence Brittain. Two days after leaving Kansas City and needing money and a new vehicle, Knighton and Brittain approached the Denneys' isolated rural Oklahoma home. Knighton then shot the couple to death and took the couple's truck. Texas police arrested the trio the next day, still driving the Denneys' truck.

Before Knighton's trial, Brittain pled guilty to two counts of first degree murder and received two concurrent life sentences. And Williams pled guilty to being an accessory after the fact, receiving concurrent fifteen year prison sentences. Both then testified against Knighton at his trial. The jury convicted Knighton of two counts of first degree murder, based on alternate theories of malice aforethought and felony murder.

During the capital sentencing proceeding, the jury found three aggravating factors: Knighton had suffered prior violent felony convictions, had created a great risk of death to more than one person, and was a continuing threat to society. The jury declined to find that Knighton had killed the Denneys to avoid his arrest or prosecution for robbing them. After considering Knighton's mitigating evidence, the jury imposed two death sentences. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Knighton's convictions and death sentences, see Knighton v. State, 912 P.2d 878 (Okla. Crim. App.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 841 (1996), and denied post-conviction relief in an unpublished decision.

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State v. Knighton , 518 S.W.2d 674 (Mo.App. 1975) (Direct Appeal)

Defendant was convicted before the Circuit Court, Greene County, James H. Keet, Jr., J., of three counts of kidnapping and he appealed. The Court of Appeals, Billings, C.J., held that evidence, inter alia, that defendant took husband, wife and daughter hostage after shooting two other individuals, that he forced wife at gunpoint to cancel her employment for evening and that he aimed weapon at husband when would-be purchasers of automobile in yard of home came to make inquiries sustained determination that husband, wife and daughter were 'secretly confined' and sustained convictions of kidnapping; that evidence of defendant's shootings of others prior to taking kidnapping victims hostage was admissible to show motive and common scheme or plan; and that prosecutor's comment that defendant was a 'hardened criminal' had clear connotation in light of evidence and was not improper. Affirmed. BILLINGS, Chief Judge. A jury found defendant Robert Wesley Knighton guilty of three counts of kidnapping (s 559.240, RSMo 1969, V.A.M.S.). The court, having determined that the Second Offender Act (s 225.280, RSMo 1969, V.A.M.S.) was applicable by reason of the defendant's 1968 robbery conviction, assessed punishment of three consecutive ten-year sentences. We affirm.

In this appeal the defendant has challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the three convictions and, additionally, alleges prosecutorial misconduct and error in the admission of certain evidence. Since the latter assignments are interrelated to the facts and inferences relied upon by the state to support the convictions, it is necessary that we detail the facts giving rise to the defendant's multiple count prosecution for kidnapping. In so doing, we adhere to the well-established principle of judicial review of criminal convictions that we consider the evidence and inferences most favorable to the guilty verdicts and disregard any evidence and inferences to the contrary. State v. Strong, 484 S.W.2d 657 (Mo.1972).

During the afternoon of September 15, 1973, Claude Day and his son Coffier were at their Springfield residence when the defendant came to see Coffier Day. A short time later the elder Day was wounded in the neck and his son was mortally wounded by pistol shots fired by the defendant.[FN1] Immediately following the shootings the defendant left the Day house afoot and went to the Charles Jarrett residence some two blocks away. He attempted to drive *676 away from the vicinity in an older model automobile that was parked in the front yard of the Jarrett home and bore a 'for sale' sign, but he was unable to start the vehicle since the battery had been removed.

FN1. The transcript reveals that during a conference between the attorneys and the court, out of the hearing of the jury, the defendant's attorneys advised the court that the defendant had pleaded guilty to the crime of manslaughter for the death of Coffier Day.

The Jarrett family, consisting of Mr. Jarrett, Mrs. Jarrett and six-year-old Traci, was away from their home attending a neighborhood sale at the time of the shootings at the Day residence. About four o'clock the father and daughter returned home in Mr. Jarrett's pick-up truck and entered the house. As they neared a rear bedroom the defendant emerged from that room brandishing a pistol. The defendant warned Mr. Jarrett to not get excited, that 'I've killed four people in the last two weeks,' and 'I just killed two.'

Mrs. Jarrett arrived home in the family automobile a short time later and entered the house. She too was confronted by the gun-wielding defendant. The defendant told the Jarretts he 'needed to get away and if (the Jarretts) tried to run or do anything he would kill them and (Traci) would be the first to be killed.' The defendant placed his hand on the child's head while pointing the postol at the back of her head and asked her parents if they 'had ever seen what one of these will do?' He told the Jarretts: 'I can get any of you faster than you can run.'

The defendant ordered the radio and television turned on so he could hear the newscasts of the Day shootings. When it was initially reported that one of the Days had died and one had not, the defendant stated he would have to go back and get the other one. However, a later news report identified the dead man as Coffier Day, and with this information the defendant then told the Jarretts that the one he 'wanted' and died; that he had wanted to kill (Coffier Day) since 1968 because Coffier Day 'had told on him or got him set up when (defendant) went to the penitentiary.' The defendant also admonished the Jarretts not to address him as 'sir' because that term reminded him of the penitentiary. The defendant also mentioned that he had recently committed a robbery in the neighborhood.

At the defendant's direction and at gunpoint Mrs. Jarrett telephoned her employer to inform him she could not report to work at five o'clock. When several prospective purchasers of the old model car came to the Jarrett door to make inquiry about the vehicle, the defendant kept his weapon trained on Mr. Jarrett. By telephone the defendant talked to a person he called 'Francis' and sought directions to the latter's place, advising 'Francis' that he had three hostages and wanted to come out 'there.' The defendant continued to hold the Jarrett family at gunpoint at their home until sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. He put on some of Mr. Jarrett's clothing and a short wig belonging to Mrs. Jarrett and then forced Mr. Jarrett to take a quantity of pills he described as ones he took to 'keep from killing people.' The medication caused Mr. Jarrett to become 'groggy.' The defendant and the Jarrett family left the home in the Jarrett automobile with the defendant driving. The child was in the front seat between the defendant and her mother, and pursuant to the defendant's directions Mr. Jarrett lay down on the back seat. The defendant's pistol was stuck in his belt.

Before the car left Springfield the defendant stopped at a service station for gas, after first ordering Mr. Jarrett to 'get up . . . because (defendant) didn't want anybody to see (Mr. Jarrett) lying down.' At this stop the defendant ordered Mr. Jarrett to go to a nearby liquor store and purchase some beer. Mr. Jarrett did so while his wife and daughter remained in the car with the defendant. Mr. Jarrett made no attempt to notify the authorities because of the defendant's statements that if the police came 'he would have a shoot- out and Traci would be the first one to go if anything went wrong.'

The defendant drove the car to near Marshfield, Missouri, where he stopped at another service station for the purpose of getting further instructions from 'Francis' on the route to 'Francis" place. On this occasion the defendant had Mr. Jarrett remain in the car while he took Mrs. Jarrett and Traci with him to the telephone booth.

A few miles further down the highway the defendant drove the car onto a dirt road which ultimately led to a farmhouse where 'Francis' was located. As the car passed an oncoming truck the defendant asked the Jarretts if 'it would excite Traci too much if (defendant) killed this guy (the truck driver).' Another time the defendant exclaimed: 'I'd like to just stop and shoot a bunch of people.' When the car arrived at the farmhouse the defendant told 'Francis' that Mrs. Jarrett was 'the girl I dated for six years before I went to the penitentiary,' and that she had married while defendant was in the penitentiary--all of which was untrue.

At the farmhouse the defendant, 'Francis' and the Jarrett family wre joined by a man called 'Big J.'. The progress of the police search for the defendant was followed on a radio that scans police frequencies. The defendant, 'Francis', and 'Big J.' engaged in conversations concerning the Day shootings, weapons, money, and what was going to be done with the Jarretts. After several hours, and after the defendant obtained a shotgun and another pistol, the defendant had the Jarrett family get into the automobile and drove to a cafe located at Rolla, Missouri. The child was left asleep in the back seat of the car, and the defendant and Mr. and Mrs. Jarrett entered the eating establishment. Mrs. Jarrett tipped off a waitress as to her family's plight and asked for help when she made a proposed assault on the defendant with a steak knife. The assault followed, and with the assistance of others the defendant was disarmed and held until police arrived.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Jarrett testified that they never at any time voluntarily accompanied the defendant, but that going with the defendant was coerced and induced by the defendant's threats upon their lives and the life of their daughter. The defendant offered no evidence.

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Knighton v. State, 912 P.2d 878 (Okl.Cr. 1996) (Direct Appeal)

Defendant was convicted in the District Court, Noble County, Neal Beekman, J., of two counts of malice aforethought murder in first degree, and was sentenced to death. Defendant appealed. The Court of Criminal Appeals, Lane, J., held that: (1) two venirepersons were not removable for cause; (2) initial traffic stop of defendant's vehicle was warranted; (3) defendant's statements after invoking right to counsel were voluntary; (4) other crimes evidence was admissible; (5) violations of Brady v. Maryland did not require reversal; (6) instructions on use of mitigating evidence were proper; and (7) death penalty was appropriate. Affirmed.

LANE, Judge:
Robert Wesley Knighton, appellant, was tried by jury and convicted of two counts of Murder in the First Degree in violation of 21 O.S.1981, § 701.7 in Noble County District Court Case No. CRF-90-1. Following the second-stage proceeding the jury found three aggravating factors: the defendant was previously convicted of felonies involving the use or threat of violence to the person; the defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person, and there exists the probability that the defendant would commit future criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. See 21 O.S.1981, § 701.12(1), (2) and (7). The jury set punishment at death for each count, and the trial court sentenced accordingly. Appellant is before us on original appeal. We affirm judgment and sentence.


This case arises out of the murder of Richard and Virginia Denny in their rural Noble County home. The murders occurred on the third day of a four-day crime spree which began in Kansas City, Missouri and ended in Canadian, Texas. Three friends, Knighton, his girlfriend, Renee Williams, and Lawrence Brittain decided to run away from Kansas City to California or Florida because seventeen-year-old Brittain was going to be transferred from a light security correctional facility to a secure facility. Forty-eight year old Knighton, the leader of the group, told Brittain and twenty year old Williams, "there would be robberies and maybe even murders" along the way.

Knighton stole a van and they drove to his mother's home in Springfield, Missouri. She gave them money, and the next day they drove to the Clinton, Missouri home of Brittain's friend, Frank Merrifield. Merrifield was home, drinking with his friend Ray Donahue. Merrifield showed Knighton his gun collection and invited Knighton to shoot a pearl handled, .22 caliber pistol. Knighton shot it--into the back of Donahue's head. Before Merrifield realized what had happened, Knighton shot and killed him. The three left after taking money and two pistols from the dead men. They took the .22 that Knighton had just used to kill Donahue and Merrifield, and a .38 that Knighton would use two days later to kill the Dennys.

From Springfield, the three drove south to Oklahoma. Knighton was concerned that they had driven the stolen van too long, and tried unsuccessfully in Tulsa and Sand Springs to steal another vehicle. Still wanting to change vehicles, they kept driving west, looking for an isolated home to "take over". "Taking over" a home meant, as Williams would testify at trial, killing the occupants and taking what they wanted.

As the three drove through rural Noble County, Knighton told Brittain he would do the next job because he needed to "grow up". Brittain and Williams began casing homes as they drove by. They paused at a home down the road from the Denny's, but rejected it when they thought they saw a child and toys in the yard. They did not want to kill children. In fact they had seen wooden yard decorations, and a small woman airing her dog.

They drove on, and when they turned into the driveway of Richard and Virginia Denny's home, sixty-two-year-old Richard Denny came out to meet them. Brittain got out of the van and asked Denny for directions to Bristow. When Denny went to his pickup to get a map, Brittain froze and could not pull the . 22 out from under his jacket. Knighton stepped in, held the .38 to the back of Denny's head and marched him inside. Virginia Denny was sitting at the kitchen table eating potato chips.

Denny advised his wife they should do what they were told. She offered Knighton and Brittain milk; they wanted beer. Denny sat down and tried to bargain with Knighton. Denny explained Knighton didn't have to kill them. He could take anything he wanted and they didn't have a phone, so they couldn't report him. Knighton told the Dennys several times that he didn't "want to have to" kill them. Then after a while Knighton offered Brittain the chance to shoot. Brittain declined and Knighton shot Mr. Denny in the chest. Then he shot Mrs. Denny in the chest and shot Mr. Denny a second time. Knighton later told Williams, "at least the old woman had time to say her prayers."

Knighton and Brittain went outside, then Brittain went back in and got the keys to the Denny's pickup from the pocket of Mr. Denny's overalls. Williams and Brittain wiped down the van they had been driving and abandoned it nearby. The three drove the Denny's gold colored pickup west to Canadian, Texas.

Knighton again believed they had driven the stolen truck long enough, so they began looking for another home to take over. Debbie Clark drove up behind them on her way home from taking children to school and noticed they were driving extremely slowly on her street. She saw them look intently between the houses, and then look menacingly at her. She went home and watched them from her living room window. When they circled her block a third time, she called the sheriff's office.

Hemphill County Deputy Sheriff Tennant stopped them as a result of Clark's call. Knighton could not produce any identification. When Deputy Tennant asked him to identify his passengers, Knighton gave conflicting stories. The Sheriff arrived and asked Williams and Brittain to get out of the truck. When they did, the Sheriff saw a pistol in plain view on the floorboard. He then saw the handle of a partially covered second pistol on the seat. The three were then arrested. The Hemphill County Sheriff had the Noble County Sheriff called based on the proof of insurance form in the Denny's truck. The Noble County Sheriff sent people to the Denny place, and the murders were discovered.