DRAPER, Utah - There is just a hint of gray in the tight corn rows braided on William Andrews' head as he sits in a Death Row cell at the Utah State Penitentiary, awaiting execution.
Andrews, 37, was sentenced to death in 1974 when he was 19 years old. Barring an unlikely reprieve, he will receive a fatal injection just after midnight tonight for an almost unspeakable crime widely known as the Ogden Hi-Fi Shop Massacre.
The fatal needle that Andrews has awaited for 18 years - the longest stay on Death Row in recent U.S. history - is about to end one of the bitterest sagas in the national effort to resume the death penalty.
Andrews' crime, which involved rape, torture and forcing the victims to drink liquid drain cleaner, was so brutal that few can read or write about it without wincing. But his supporters counter that racism played a role in his sentencing, pointing out that numerous white murderers have been spared the death penalty while two blacks were doomed in this nearly all-white state.
Andrews will be the 22nd person executed this year and No. 177 since executions resumed under Supreme Court approval in 1977. So far, 14 states have resumed executions.
"There is no case anywhere to match Andrews' case, with all the delays and court hearings and stays and rehearings, as an example of the mess we're facing as a society over capital punishment," said George Agee, a Denver-based researcher on death-penalty cases whose work focuses on the mechanics of capital-punishment policies rather than on their philosophical merits.
BRUTAL TORTURE, KILLINGS INFLAME DEBATE
For legal scholars like Agee and for ordinary people alike, the Hi-Fi Shop Killer's 18-year bid to stave off death presents in its starkest terms the debate over whether society should exact the ultimate penalty and over whether executions are fairly meted out without regard to race, age or sex.
Brandishing handguns, Andrews and a friend, the late Dale Selby Pierre, herded five clerks and customers of an Ogden stereo store called the Hi-Fi Shop into the basement after finding little loot in the cash register. Each victim was forced to drink a cup of Drano then each was gagged with tape. The torture went on for three hours.
Pierre, who was executed in 1987, raped one of the women before forcing her to drink the drain cleaner. And, to torture a 16-year-old boy, Pierre jammed a ballpoint pen into his ear then kicked it deep into his head.
The two defendants said they got the Drano idea from a Clint Eastwood movie of the era, "Magnum Force," in which a pimp killed a prostitute that way. When it failed to work in actual practice, Pierre put a bullet in each victim's head.
Andrews' appeals have cost the taxpayers an estimated $2 million in court costs, jail expenses and other outlays, according to a recent bar-association study. Few cases, thus, do more to bolster the case of those who support the death penalty.
But critics at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Vatican have questioned whether there is an unacceptable whiff of racism surrounding this black man doomed by virtually all-white Utah.
QUESTION OF RACISM RAISED BY LAWYERS
When the all-white jury in Andrews' and Pierre's trial took a lunch break, a member noticed something written on a napkin. The message was passed around the table for all 12 to see.
A stick figure had been drawn with a noose around its neck, as is done in the game "Hangman." At the bottom was scrawled, "Hang the niggers."
The judge rejected an immediate defense motion to declare a mistrial, a ruling that has been upheld by appeals courts up to and including the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Andrews say a black person charged with killing whites cannot get a fair trial in Utah, which is 94 percent white and less than 1 percent black. Opponents of the execution charge that many whites have been spared the death penalty in Utah while Pierre and Andrews, both black, were sentenced to die.
Court briefs filed by Andrews' defenders emphasize numerous recent cases in which white men have been given something less than death in highly publicized murders, including:
-- Steve Deli, who killed two elderly women, Kaye Tiede and Beth Potts, as the women were wrapping Christmas presents in their vacation cabin in Summit County in 1990.
-- Lance Wood, convicted of raping, sodomizing, torturing and killing Bill Snow, a college student from Cedar City, whose bludgeoned body was found in 1988.
-- Mark Hofmann, who killed two leading Mormon Church figures, Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets, with pipe bombs in 1985.
-- Joseph Paul Franklin, sentenced to life in 1980 for shooting two young men to death as they jogged in Salt Lake City's Liberty Park because they were black.
Republican Gov. Norman H. Bangerter last week rejected a request from Pope John Paul II to stay Andrews' execution.
LATE APPEALS FAIL TO STALL EXECUTION DATE
Under Utah law, the power to commute Andrews' sentence to life rests with the parole board, which rejected Andrews' latest appeal on Friday. That set the stage for the scheduled execution, barring last-minute intervention from Bangerter, who insists he will let Andrews die, or the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected Andrews' last five appeals.
In a 7-2 vote yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Andrews' claim that his case deserves another hearing because of a new state law providing for life in prison in capital cases. Justices John Paul Stevens and Harry A. Blackmun dissented.
Within an hour of that decision, the Utah Supreme Court in a 4-1 vote denied Andrews' request for a stay to give defense attorneys more time to review proceedings before the state Board of Pardons.
But the state Supreme Court also ordered the board to explain why and how it decided to refuse Andrews a second clemency hearing.
The board may have to ask for a stay of execution while it explains its action to the court, attorneys said.
Late Monday, a confrontation between NAACP pickets and a carload of young white women at a pro-Andrews rally outside Bangerter's mansion near downtown Salt Lake City captured the local mood.
Jeanetta Williams of the Salt Lake City NAACP chapter was standing near a sign referring to the white men who escaped the death penalty. "The color of justice in Utah is white!" read the sign.
A woman in the car read the sign and shouted at Williams, "What about the Drano? What about the Drano?"
-- Material from Associated Press is included in this report.