Column: Why I plan to be there when Robert Waterhouse is executed

01/18/2012 3:41 PM |


If you knew you were going to die for certain on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012, wouldn’t you be just a little concerned? I know I would.

But not Robert Brian Waterhouse, or so it seems, based on the contents of a letter I received from him this week.

Robert Waterhouse, you will recall, is the Greenport native who twice was convicted of murder, and who has been languishing on Florida’s death row for more than 31 years now. In fact, he has spent nearly 40 of his 65 years behind bars — although, if Florida Governor Rick Scott has his way, Waterhouse won’t make it to 41.

Robert Waterhouse and I go all the way back to 1985, when I traveled to the state prison in Starke, Fla., to interview him on death row. The result was a lengthy Suffolk Times article that rankled a significant number of readers, mostly because we had given “press” to a two-time convicted murderer.

The first homicide took place in Greenport in 1966, when the then 19-year-old was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering 77-year-old village resident Ella Mae Carter. He was released on lifetime parole in 1975 after serving eight years for second-degree murder in the state prison in Auburn, N.Y.

Five years later, he did it again, although to this day he denies brutally raping and murdering 29-year-old Deborah Kammerer in St. Petersburg, Fla., in January 1980. But he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers, and he has managed, through three decades of appeals, a retrial and various legal maneuvers, to avoid execution.

Up until now, that is. Earlier this month, Gov. Scott ordered that Mr. Waterhouse be executed on Feb. 15, and it seems increasingly likely that will take place on schedule, despite a last-minute bid by his attorney to get the original trial judge to reopen the case based on an exculpatory eyewitness who recently surfaced (31 years later!) and because prosecutors reportedly mishandled original DNA evidence. But the Honorable Robert Beach has ruled against Mr. Waterhouse at every turn over the decades, and it seems unlikely that this 11th-hour appeal will be received any differently.

Which brings us back to the man and his date with the executioner. I know something of his frame of mind because I’ve recently written to him, requesting a prison interview sometime before the due date. And not only did he agree to an interview, tentatively scheduled for Monday, Jan. 30, he also extended an invitation originally extended over 26 years ago: for me to witness the execution itself.

“Nothing very exciting about watching someone go to sleep, but whatever,” Mr. Waterhouse said by return letter dated Jan. 10.

“Now if they were still using the electric chair you might get a real show … I would surely think the hometown paper should get an automatic seat [at the execution], of course.”

As you might imagine, I’ve had some second thoughts about accepting his invitation. It seems just a bit ghoulish to be willingly in attendance at a man’s final hour, and I do not wish to be mistaken as an apologist for the vicious acts he stands convicted of committing. In fact, despite my decidedly liberal tendencies, I do not oppose capital punishment and, imagining myself in the place of Deborah Kammerer’s father, I can see myself embracing the biblical concept of an eye for an eye.

Still, for whatever reason, Robert Waterhouse has asked me to be there when he is put to death by lethal injection on Feb. 15, and I will be, if the State of Florida grants my request.

Troy Gustavson is a corporate officer, and former editor and publisher of Times/Review Newsgroup.

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