Execution Went Smoothly, Oregon Prison Officials Say

DESPITE PROTESTS BY FOES of the death penalty and despite the fact they had had no experience with capital punishment in 34 years, Oregon corrections officials say Douglas Franklin's execution went off without a hitch. -----------------------------------------------------------------

SALEM - Life was quickly back to normal at the Oregon State Penitentiary yesterday in the hours after the state's first execution in 34 years.

Corrections officials said the death of Douglas Franklin Wright by lethal injection went off as smoothly as they ever expected. Having a subject who was willing, almost eager, to die made it easier.

Still, images lingered of the eerie flickering of candles held by anti-death-penalty demonstrators outside the Oregon State Penitentiary and the spontaneous cheers that went up among others gathered there when the time came for the condemned murderer's death.

At age 56, Wright's violent life ended at 12:16 a.m., about 10 minutes after his veins were injected with a deadly mix of chemicals.

His body was sent to Portland for an autopsy by the state medical examiner, then returned to the Salem funeral home where it will be cremated. The state will decide what to do with the ashes because Wright's family has refused to accept his remains.

Wasco County Sheriff Art Labrousse, who investigated the three murders that resulted in Wright's death sentence, was among the 10 invited witnesses who watched through a window as the prisoner died.

"Here's a man basically being put to sleep. It's very quiet, very dignified, as humane as possible, in contrast to the way he had killed others," Labrousse said.

The sheriff thought back to those days in 1991, when the bodies of four homeless men lured by Wright to the woods under the guise of offering them jobs were found in a wooded area of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

"What I looked back on was the crime scenes, the bodies of three people he left along the road or in the forest," Labrousse said.

At the prison, yesterday was just another day for the inmates, Oregon Department of Corrections spokesman Jim Lockwood said.

"In the words of one of the staff, `There was no real reaction,' " Lockwood said.

Lockwood agreed with Corrections Department director Dave Cook's assessment that there were no big problems even though Oregon hadn't executed anyone since 1962.

"My perception is it went like clockwork without a glitch," Lockwood said, "and it went exactly as we planned."

Wright, who had refused to appeal his death sentence, was a model of cooperation as he was led from his cell to the execution chamber and was strapped to a gurney.

After the tubes were inserted in his muscular arms, Wright raised his head and looked at Janice Downing, the mother of one of his victims.

"I'm sorry," he mouthed.

She nodded.

Then he sank back and the chemicals started to flow into his veins. He gave one big deep breath, then several shallow ones and it was over.

Corrections officials later released a written statement Wright had given the prison superintendent Thursday night.

"To all the families of all the victims during my lifetime, I give you all my sincerest apologies and I do care," he wrote. "I hope my death brings all of you peace and closure."

He had special words for the family of Luke Tredway, the 10-year-old boy who disappeared while walking home from a friend's house in Portland 12 years ago. A week ago, Wright confessed to kidnapping, molesting and killing the boy.

"I can no longer live with my guilt, my personal shame nor my unbearable grief for the death of Luke Tredway," Wright wrote.

Wright also was accused of killing a fourth homeless man in 1991 and was convicted in 1970 of killing a woman and her mother.

Portland police closed the books on the Tredway case yesterday, saying that information in Wright's written confession proved that he must have killed the boy.

The four media witnesses who saw Wright die were struck by the sterile, unemotional nature of the event. They complained that by the time the curtain was raised, Wright already had been strapped to the gurney and the tubes inserted in his arm.

"I think we should have been there from the absolute beginning," said Bill Cooper of KEX radio in Portland. "It's hard to report on an execution when you only see the very last couple of minutes."