Column: Final chapter on Robert Waterhouse?

02/15/2012 5:00 AM |

If things go as planned Wednesday night, this is the last column I will ever write about Robert Waterhouse.

I say that mostly for those readers who believe The Suffolk Times has devoted too much ink over the years to the two-time convicted murderer from Greenport, and also because his life story is scheduled to come to a conclusive end at 6 p.m. Wednesday, when a representative of the State of Florida is scheduled to inject a lethal cocktail into his veins until he stops breathing.

As this is written earlier in the week, there still exists the remote possibility that the execution at the Florida State Prison in Raiford will be halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, but don’t count on it. Robert Waterhouse has danced with his own death since 1980, when he was convicted of murder for the second time and, in one sense, he’ll be getting his own wish, albeit 27 years late.

And that’s because when I interviewed Mr. Waterhouse on Florida’s death row in 1985 he had this to say: “If they overturn the [death] sentence, I’m not really crazy about that. I’d just as soon go out like I’m sitting here now; in other words, let them execute me. If they force 25 years to life on me, I’d be 58 years old before I saw the parole board, and still owe New York life parole. No way.

I’d just as soon get it over with.”

He continued: “If they did force [a life sentence] on me, and then threw me out in the general [prison] population, just give me a couple of days. I’ll be at the fence and they’ll have to kill me.”

(Food for thought: 65-year-old Robert Waterhouse has been on death row for nearly 32 years — at a cost to Florida taxpayers in excess of $3 million, not including the state’s legal expenses. Also, as widely reported in Florida earlier this month, he will have lingered on death row longer than any of the previous 276 people executed by the state; and just 18 of the 395 people currently on death row have been there longer.)

I had hoped to interview Mr. Waterhouse again earlier this month, but he canceled at the last minute, and now I know why, as detailed in his letter of Feb. 4. It was because he was mad about the column I wrote on Jan. 19, which said, among other things, that imagining myself in the place of the father of the 29-year-old woman he was convicted of murdering in Florida in 1980, I could see myself “embracing the Biblical concept of an eye for an eye.”

And that wasn’t his only problem with the column. He also cited a factual error — wherein I referenced a retrial that was, in fact, a resentencing — and he complained about my quoting from his Jan. 10 letter to me about witnessing the execution, as follows:

“Nothing very exciting about watching someone go to sleep, but whatever. 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.”

There is no “automatic seat,” but I have applied for and received approval to attend the execution as a “media witness.”

And this is why I will attend:

When Robert Waterhouse murdered 77-year-old Greenport resident Ella Mae Carter in 1966, it was news. When he was convicted of that murder, it was news. When he was paroled in 1975, it was news. When he murdered again in Florida, it was news. When he was convicted and sentenced to death, it was news. And when he’s put to death Wednesday night, it will be news. First and foremost, The Suffolk Times is a newspaper, and we cover the news — even when it ultimately leads to a windowless room in north central Florida.

And there’s something else. When I met him for the first and only time in 1985, Mr. Waterhouse, for whatever reason, asked me, as a representative of his hometown newspaper, to witness his execution, which was scheduled to take place within weeks of the interview. I remember hesitating for a moment, then saying I would attend. On Wednesday night, 27 years later, I plan to keep my word.

This, too, from Robert Waterhouse’s last letter to  me: “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to answer the lengthy list of questions you sent to me. Now that I’m down to two weeks, the process requires more of my time. So in the time I have to myself I intend to write my wife, listen to some music and watch a little TV.”

[email protected]