James Earl Patterson

Executed March 14, 2002 by Lethal Injection in Virginia

16th murderer executed in U.S. in 2002
765th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Virginia in 2002
84th murderer executed in Virginia 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 Earl Patterson

W / M / 19 - 35

Joyce Snead Aldridge

W / F / 56

Stabbing with knife x17
Mother of Acquaintance

Patterson had only met Joyce Aldridge in passing while partying with one of her daughters. Shortly before midnight on October 11, 1987, Patterson, who had been drinking and using cocaine, broke into the Aldridge house to rob her to buy more drugs. In a videotaped confession, he said that when he discovered she had only a handful of coins in her purse, he became enraged and decided to rape her. He then decided to kill her so there would be no witnesses. Using one of Aldridge's kitchen knives, he stabbed her 3 times in the abdomen and left her to die. Joyce was able to make it to the phone to call the police and when she attempted to call her son, Patterson returned and fatally stabbed her 14 more times and fled the scene. Patterson was serving a 25 year sentence for Rape, when the DNA from the 11 year old Aldridge case was submitted for comparison against the inmate database. DNA showed a match with Patterson, who confessed, pled guilty, and asked the judge to give him the death penalty. This "cold hit" DNA match was reported to be the first which resulted in an execution.

Patterson v. Com., 551 S.E.2d 332 (Va. 2001) (Direct Appeal).

Final Meal:
Five cheese turkey burgers with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard, French fries (lots of mayo and ketchup on the side), a tossed salad with French dressing, cooked apples and sweet tea.

Final Words:
"I want it to be known that my heart goes out to the Aldridge family and all that I put them through. I pray that they (the families) will all find God as I have found him. I am at peace now and ready to meet my maker. God bless each and every one of you who is here tonight."

Internet Sources:

Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

James Earl Patterson confessed and pleaded guilty to rape, capital murder, and abduction with intent to defile in the 1987 rape and murder of Joyce Snead Aldridge. At the time of his confession, Patterson was serving a twenty-five year sentence in Greenville for raping an 18 year-old Hopewell woman.

Patterson met Aldridge through her daughter, with whom he was partying. The defendant went to Aldridge’s house in order to rob her so he could purchase drugs. The victim, however, had little money, and Patterson became angry. Patterson raped Aldridge and then stabbed her with a kitchen knife three times in the abdomen. He claimed that he wanted to kill the victim in order to minimize the evidence against him. After Patterson departed, Aldridge was able to call the police and then she attempted to reach her son through a telephone operator. The call was not successful because Aldridge was using the incorrect phone number. While Aldridge was attempting to call for a second time, Patterson returned and fatally stabbed her fourteen times. Patterson claimed that he had consumed one liter of alcohol and one-eighth of an ounce of cocaine on the night of the killing. The defendant said that while fleeing the crime scene he was temporarily in view of the police but he escaped in his car parked nearby.

Patterson became a suspect in the Aldridge murder in March 1999, when DNA evidence taken from the crime scene was matched to Patterson’s blood. State law required blood samples of convicted felons. Patterson pleaded guilty against the recommendation of his attorney. Even Patterson’s fervent religiosity could not convince him that he deserved to live. Prince George County Circuit Judge James F. D’Alton Jr. said that he granted Patterson’s request for the death sentence because of the vileness of the crime and the threat that Patterson would commit future offenses. At sentencing, Patterson told Judge D’Alton, “I pray today that it will be some type of closure for these families.”

Patterson has been on death row since June 15, 2000.

Virginia Governor Gilmore Press Release

Statement by Governor Gilmore Regarding the Execution of James Earl Patterson:

RICHMOND — Governor Mark R. Warner tonight issued the following statement on the scheduled execution of James Earl Patterson by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Mr. Patterson was convicted with the assistance of DNA evidence of the capital murder of Joyce Aldridge in the commission of rape, abduction with the intent to defile, and forcible sodomy. He was found to be competent to assist in his own defense by two separate psychiatric evaluations prior to entering a plea of guilty. “I have not been asked to intervene in the case of James Earl Patterson, there are no legal challenges to this scheduled execution, and accordingly, I decline to intervene.”


James Earl Patterson said he wants to die for the brutal rape and murder of a 56-year-old Prince George woman in 1987. "As I look around this courtroom, I see lives that I've wrecked. To say I'm sorry to these people is a hollow statement," he said in a crowded courtroom just before sentencing yesterday in the death of Joyce Snead Aldridge. "These families were touched by me because, in some instances, they befriended me. In befriending me, it turned into their worst nightmare," he said calmly. Patterson said he couldn't promise that, if given a life sentence, he would not ruin more lives. "Your honor, I've thought about the death sentence, and I beg you to give me the death sentence," he said with tears in his eyes. "I pray today that it will be some type of closure for these families. I'm deeply sorry. . . . I just pray the Lord touches their lives and take away the pain I brought upon them." Prince George Circuit Judge James F. D'Alton Jr. said the death penalty was not something the court could impose just because Patterson asked for it. But because of the vileness of the crime and the possibility of future dangerousness, he did impose the sentence. Judge D'Alton said the crime was especially vile.

Patterson, then 20, didn't know Aldridge, but had met her in passing while partying with one of her daughters. Shortly before midnight, on Oct. 11, 1987, Patterson, who had been drinking and using cocaine, broke into the woman's house to rob her to buy more drugs. In a videotaped confession, he said that, when he discovered she had only a handful of coins in her purse, he became enraged and decided to rape her. He decided to kill her so there would be no witnesses, he said. Using one of Aldridge's kitchen knives, he stabbed her 3 times in the abdomen and left her to die. Joyce was able to make it to the phone to call the police and then she attempted to reach her son through the telephone operator but was using the wrong number. While she was attempting to make the call a second time, Patterson returned and fatally stabbed Joyce 14 more times and fled the scene. Police arrived as he was leaving, he said, but he was able to flee to his car, which was parked about a block away.

The murder remained unsolved for the next 11 years. Patterson has a lengthy, violent criminal record. He was serving a 25-year sentence for raping an 18-year-old girl when he was indicted for murder. Evidence from the rape was re-submitted to the Virginia Division of Forensic Science for DNA analysis, which concluded his DNA matched evidence in the Aldridge killing. Attorney R. Clinton Clary Jr. said Patterson asked that no evidence be presented on his behalf. Clary said that, even though he disagreed with his client's request, he respected it. Garrison E. Aldridge said his family has been wondered for many years who did this to their mother, and why. "The only thing we've been able to put together and come up with is, this is senseless." His sister, Karen Aldridge Bornstein, said the family's prayers have been answered, but now they have to deal with the hurt, anger and grief all over again. "The feelings of loneliness and emptiness have never gone away," she said. "There are feelings that are too difficult to express into words, but they're in our hearts." Patterson was also sentenced to life for each of the remaining 3 charges of rape, abduction and forcible sodomy. He thanked the judge after the sentence was imposed, and gave a quick smile and nod to his family as he was led from the courtroom.

UPDATE: Last statement from Patterson: "My heart goes out to the Aldridge family,'' Patterson said. ''...God bless each and every one of you who is here tonight.'' Patterson said last week in a telephone interview from death row, "The penalty fit the crime. I was responsible and I want to pay the ultimate price.''

Hampton Roads Daily Press

"Killer Found Through Search of DNA Database Executed," by Maria Sanminiatelli. (March 15, 2002)

JARRATT, Va. -- James Earl Patterson apologized for "the evil I brought into this world" minutes before becoming the first person in the nation executed based on a DNA "cold hit." Patterson, 35, filed no last-minute appeals of his conviction for the 1987 rape and fatal stabbing of Joyce S. Aldridge, 56, in her Prince George County home, and begged her relatives for forgiveness before he was put to death Thursday night. "My heart goes out to the Aldridge family and all that I put them through," he said. "I pray they will all find God as I have found him."

After he was strapped down to the gurney, Patterson lifted his head and stared intently into the witness box, appearing to give a small nod in the direction of his spiritual adviser. "I am at peace now and ready to meet my maker," Patterson said. "May God bless each and everyone who is here tonight and each one who hears this." He then rested his head on the gurney as the lethal chemicals began flowing into his thick arms. Patterson was pronounced dead at 9:10 p.m. EST at the Greensville Correctional Center.

Members of the victim's family witnessed the execution from a separate room. Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor would not identify them or say how many family members were there. Patterson's mother, father, sister, brother and two daughters visited him earlier in the day, Traylor said. There were no protesters outside the prison.

Patterson was imprisoned for nearly 14 years and would have been released in 2004 without the cold hit. He was implicated in the murder when the state compared DNA samples from the crime with DNA samples in its database of 175,000 felons. A "cold hit" matched the DNA of Patterson, who was in prison for another rape. After the 1999 match, Patterson confessed and pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting and killing Aldridge on Oct. 11, 1987. He told investigators that he forced his way into her home to steal money to buy drugs but became enraged when he learned she only had coins in her purse. He raped her and stabbed her 17 times. "The penalty fit the crime," Patterson said last week in a telephone interview from death row. "I was responsible and I want to pay the ultimate price."

Of the 37 other states with the death penalty, no executions have been based on a cold hit, an Associated Press survey found. Virginia became the first state to execute a person whose conviction was based on DNA evidence when Timothy W. Spencer went to the electric chair in 1993 for a series of stranglings in Richmond and Arlington. The execution is the first in Virginia this year and the 84th in the state since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to be reinstated in 1976.

Washington Post

"Virginia Killer Executed in Landmark DNA Case; Inmate Is First in U.S. Put to Death After Genetic 'Cold' Hit," by Brooke A. Masters. (Friday, March 15, 2002)

James Earl Patterson, a Virginia killer who asked his lawyers not to appeal or request clemency, last night became the first inmate in the country to be executed based on evidence sent blindly to a state's criminal DNA database. Patterson, 35, died by lethal injection at 9:10 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. It was Virginia's first execution since October and the 84th since capital punishment was restored in the state.

Patterson pleaded guilty to capital murder in 2000, after Prince George County investigators entered evidence from the 1987 rape and murder of Joyce S. Aldridge into Virginia's DNA data bank. They got a "cold hit" with Patterson's genetic material, whose DNA was added to the database in 1990 or 1991, while he served a 25-year sentence for a 1988 rape in Sussex. He would have been released in 2005 or sooner had the DNA not matched. "It always played out in the back of my mind that [the evidence] could be put together . . . that it could come back to haunt me," Patterson said in an interview Wednesday.

In prison, Patterson said, he became a religious Christian, and he deeply regrets his violent past. "The crimes really tear at my heart," he said. "My prayers constantly go out to the family members of the victims." The family of Aldridge, who was 56 when she was killed, declined an interview request made through the Virginia attorney general's office.

Virginia has long been a leader in the use of genetic material to solve crimes. The 1994 execution of Timothy W. Spencer was the first in the nation involving a killer convicted on the basis of DNA evidence, and the state's DNA database of nearly 177,000 convicted felons is one of the largest and oldest in the country. As of this week, Virginia investigators had recorded 683 hits in the database, including more than 300 last year and 92 this year, said Robin D. Porter, deputy director of the Virginia Division of Forensic Science. The General Assembly this year passed a bill to extend the sampling to include people charged with violent felonies, rather than waiting until possible convictions. DNA also has been used to clear six Virginia men convicted of crimes they did not commit -- most recently Marvin L. Anderson, who spent 15 years in prison for a 1982 rape. When he requested post-conviction DNA testing last year under a new Virginia law, the genetic material from the crime scene not only ruled him out but partially matched two other felons in the database.

Patterson, who got to know Anderson when both were incarcerated at the Southampton Correctional Center in Capron, Va., said both cases demonstrate the benefits of DNA. "I applaud the science," Patterson said. "It's become a good thing. It has condemned people who needed to be condemned and released people who needed to be released. "I worked beside Marvin Anderson for seven years, and I believed him," he added. "When I saw [his exoneration] on the news, I couldn't help but jump for joy and praise the Lord."

Patterson was 20 when he killed Aldridge, whom he had met briefly through one of her grown daughters. According to court documents, he told investigators that he forced his way into her home to steal money to buy drugs but became enraged when he learned she had only coins in her purse. He raped her and stabbed her 17 times. A year later, he raped a woman who had given him a ride home from a party and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

"My particular vice was drugs and drinking and violence," he said. "It's been a learning experience, the last 14 years of incarceration. I've grown and come to know the Lord." Despite his conversion and his interest in DNA, Patterson said he was still shocked and frightened when investigators came to see him. "When I saw the [police] badges come out, it literally took my breath away. The day of judgment had met me," he said.

He initially denied killing Aldridge but eventually admitted the crime, pleaded guilty and asked to be sentenced to death. On Wednesday, Patterson, a father of two girls, said he felt comfortable with his decision not to fight his execution. "I feel at peace with my decision. It's either going slow or dying quickly. I'm ready to go," he said. "I could be running my head against the wall, bawling my eyes out, but it's not that way. I'm getting ready for the big transformation."

Patterson v. Com., 551 S.E.2d 332 (Va. 2001) (Direct Appeal).

James Earl Patterson received a death sentence upon a plea of guilty to a charge of capital murder in the commission of a rape, Code § 18.2-31(5), in the death of Joyce Sneed Aldridge. Although Patterson has waived his right of appeal, Code § 17.1-313 mandates that we review the imposition of the death sentence. We must consider and determine whether the sentence of death was imposed "under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor," and whether the sentence is "excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant." Code § 17.1-313(C)(1) and (C)(2).

Patterson also pled guilty to charges of abduction with intent to defile, Code § 18.2-48 , and rape, Code § 18.2-61 , and entered an "Alford plea," to a charge of forcible sodomy, Code § 18.2-67.1. He was sentenced to consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the abduction and sodomy convictions. Patterson has not appealed those convictions.

On October 11, 1987, the Prince George County Police Department received a telephone call at approximately 11:35 p.m. from a person identifying herself as Joyce Aldridge. Ms. Aldridge stated that she had been raped and stabbed. When the police arrived at Ms. Aldridge's home, they found the front door ajar and a screen "knocked out" of the bathroom window at the rear of the house. The officers announced themselves and, when there was no reply, they entered the house. They found Ms. Aldridge's partially clothed body on the floor of the bathroom. Her dress had been ripped from the neck, and cloth ligatures, cut from bedding in the room, remained tied to her right wrist. She had been stabbed multiple times and could not be resuscitated by the emergency medical crew.

The police discovered signs of a struggle in the kitchen of the home with a chair knocked over, a drawer containing knives left open, and Ms. Aldridge's eyeglasses on the floor. The door to Ms. Aldridge's bedroom had been kicked open and footprints were found on the door. Footprints of the same type were found in the blood on the floor of the bedroom. The contents of Ms. Aldridge's purse had been dumped on the floor, dresser drawers were open and ransacked, and the nightstand had been knocked over. There was a large amount of blood on the bed and pillows and "[c]ast-off" blood spatters were on the wall next to the bathroom. The telephone cord had been pulled from the wall and the doorknob to the bathroom door had been pulled off the door. Ms. Aldridge's blood was found on the telephone, the bathroom doorknob, and the latch on the window screen found in the backyard. These conditions indicated that she had attempted to flee her attacker by escaping through the window in the bathroom.

The medical examiner found seventeen stab wounds. Eight of the wounds were to Ms. Aldridge's neck, four to her upper back, one in her chest and several clustered in her abdominal area. The wounds ranged in depth from two to six inches. Two stab wounds to her aorta were fatal. The medical examiner also found a number of defensive wounds. Seminal fluid was recovered from the victim's rectum and vagina and a semen stain was found on the bed. This evidence was preserved for testing. However, the perpetrator of the crime was not identified until over ten years later, when in 1998, the evidence was resubmitted to the Virginia DNA Laboratory. The subsequent testing yielded a "cold hit"--a match with a DNA profile maintained by the Virginia DNA Data Bank. The tested DNA matched that of James Earl Patterson who was serving a twenty-five year sentence at the Greensville Correctional Center for a rape unrelated to the rape of Ms. Aldridge. The police obtained a search warrant for a fresh sample of Patterson's blood and additional testing confirmed that the DNA material found at Ms. Aldridge's house and that of the defendant were consistent. The probability of finding someone else with the same DNA profile was less than 1 in 5.5 billion. When confronted with this information by the police, Patterson denied knowing Ms. Aldridge or ever being in her house.

In March 2000, Patterson agreed to discuss the crime with one of the police officers who had been involved in the Aldridge investigation if an agreement could be reached regarding his ability to see his family at the prison. After the family visit was arranged, Patterson confessed to raping and murdering Ms. Aldridge. Patterson said he knew Ms. Aldridge and went to her home on October 11, 1987 to steal money for drugs. He had planned to enter through a basement window but the window was locked. While he was looking for a utility knife he had dropped in the yard, Ms. Aldridge let her dog out in the yard. Patterson went to the door and asked Ms. Aldridge if he could borrow a flashlight on the pretext of needing it to search for lost car keys. When Ms. Aldridge opened the door, he forced his way into the house, kicked the door shut and demanded her pocketbook. He pushed her to the bedroom to get the purse. When the purse contained only coins, Patterson became "even more violent." After tying her hands behind her back with strips cut from the bed linen, he raped her. Patterson went to the kitchen looking for a knife because he "wasn't going to leave any witnesses behind." He found a knife and stabbed Ms. Aldridge three times in the abdomen.

Patterson went back outside to find the lost utility knife, but reentered the house to make sure "she's gone." He kicked in the bedroom door which was shut and saw a telephone cord leading to the bathroom. He forced the bathroom door open and Ms. Aldridge came out. Patterson "hit[ ] her with the knife 4 or 5 times." After she "went down the wall," he left by way of the front door.

Prior to the entry of the guilty pleas, Patterson was examined by two psychologists, both of whom determined that Patterson was competent to tender a guilty plea and to make his own decisions in the case. Against the advice of counsel, Patterson entered the guilty plea. The trial court found Patterson guilty of capital murder and ordered a pre-sentence report. At the sentencing hearing, the Commonwealth asserted that the killing of Ms. Aldridge was vile in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, and aggravated battery. In support of this contention, the Commonwealth relied on the testimony given at the guilt phase, that the victim did not die instantaneously, that the knife attack was carried out in a "savage [,] methodical manner," and that many more stab wounds were inflicted than necessary to accomplish the murder of the victim.

The Commonwealth also asserted that Patterson would be a future danger to society. In support of this position, the Commonwealth presented evidence of felony convictions for rape and grand larceny based on a 1988 incident in which Patterson asked two women for a ride home from a party. When the driver exited the car, Patterson shoved her to the ground, got back in the car, and broke the handle of the passenger door to trap the other woman in the car. Patterson "punched" the passenger in the face, drove the car to another location, and then raped her. According to the Commonwealth, these crimes, committed after the rape and murder of Ms. Aldridge, along with the defendant's extensive juvenile record and fourteen instances of institutional offenses, including fighting, assault, and possession of drugs and intoxicants, support the conclusion that Patterson is a continuing danger to society.

Patterson refused to present evidence in mitigation of his sentence and instructed his attorney not to do so. In exercising his right of elocution, Patterson expressed his sorrow and remorse for his actions and requested a sentence of death, stating that if he received a life sentence he could not promise that "sometime that I may not spark out and ruin more lives." In imposing the death sentence, the trial court found that the aggravating factors of vileness in the commission of the crime and of future dangerousness to society were both supported by the evidence.

Pursuant to Code § 17.1-313(C) , we must consider "any errors in the trial enumerated by appeal" in any case where a sentence of death is imposed. Accordingly, the trial court is required to forward the trial record of such a case to this Court where an appeal of right will be heard. Code § 17.1- 313(B). On October 16, 2000, Patterson through counsel filed a Motion Not to Pursue Appeal with this Court. By order dated November 15, 2000, this Court ordered the matter returned to the trial court for a determination whether Patterson's decision not to appeal was made voluntarily and intelligently.

At a competency hearing held on January 4, 2001 in accordance with this Court's order, Patterson signed a waiver under oath, stating he did not want his case reviewed for "any alleged errors of the trial" and waived his right "to file an opening brief and to have my attorney present any oral arguments or to otherwise in any manner pursue appellate review." The trial court entered an order finding that Patterson knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right to appeal.