Monday, Oct. 5, 1998 | 11:02 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- Roderick Abeyta was executed early today by lethal injection for the murder of his former Las Vegas girlfriend while weeping relatives of the victim looked on.
His last words, according to state Prison Director Bob Bayer, were "expressions of true remorse" and hope that his death "would help in the healing process for the family."
Three members of the immediate family of Donna Martin stood in the front row as witnesses, only about 18 inches from the death chamber. They watched as the 46-year-old Abeyta was strapped to a table and given an injection of three deadly drugs. The chemicals started flowing into his left arm at 12:13 a.m., and he was pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m.
The Martin family members were not identified, and they left by car without talking to reporters. The three women held hands and occasionally wiped away tears as they watch Abeyta die.
"Everything went smoothly," Bayer said. However, the execution was delayed several minutes because of troubles locating a "good vein" for a backup needle in case the first injection failed. Abeyta had collapsed veins because of his previous drug use.
"He (Abeyta) tried to assist in what vein might work," Bayer said. The inmate suggested the second needle go in his left arm also, and he flexed his hand to help in the process.
Abeyta, who did not pursue additional court appeals in his behalf, never looked at the 24 people in the room who were witnessing the execution. There were nine official witnesses, eight members of the news media plus prison staff and a representative of the office of Gov. Bob Miller.
Outside the Nevada State Prison, where the execution took place, there were about 30 protesters, some carrying candles and others holding signs that said, "Stop The Violence" and "Stop the Killing." The group was led by the Rev. Chuck Durante, a Catholic priest from Reno, in chanting hymns and praying for Abeyta, the victim and both families.
Abeyta spent much of his final day on the telephone, including a call to a Reno television station. He had visits from Chaplain Al Fry of the prison in Carson City and from the Rev. Jim Kelly, chaplain of the prison in Ely where death-row inmates are housed.
He ate the regular prison meal of Salisbury steak, stewed tomatoes, tossed salad, a potato and iced tea. His only special request was for vanilla ice cream.
Traditionally the inmate is sedated about an hour before the execution so that he won't offer any resistance. But Abeyta requested he not be given any drugs ahead of time. "He wanted to meet his maker with a clear mind," the prison director said.
"From the religious point of view, he (Abeyta) didn't want to escape accountability," Bayer said.
State Archivist Guy Rocha said Abeyta was the 69th person executed in Nevada since 1860.
Abeyta was the seventh person to die since 1977 after the death penalty was reinstated. The most recent prior execution was March 30, 1996, when Richard Moran of Las Vegas was put to death.
Five guards led Abeyta into the cream-colored death chamber on the second floor of the prison. He wore jeans, a light-colored shirt and white Nike basketball shoes.
His hands and legs were strapped to the table, and there were four other straps over the rest of his body. Abeyta stared at the ceiling, without looking at any of the witnesses who were bunched along the rail outside the chamber.
The shades to the three windows in the chamber were drawn after Abeyta was secured. Those witnessing the execution waited in mostly in silence.
When the shades were lifted 25 minutes later, the "death needles" had been injected. Abeyta continued to look at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and took two deep breaths. He was dead two minutes after the chemicals started to flow into his veins.
Among those witnessing the execution was Michael Pescetta, a deputy federal public defender who was ready to file an appeal to stop the execution if Abeyta gave the word. But Abeyta "was resolute" in wanting to be executed, prison officials said.
Also on hand was Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, the senior member of the Nevada Legislature, and Gordon Absher, press secretary for the governor. Prison officials said the official witnesses also included two prosecutors and a member of the staff of Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.
Abeyta had been in and out of prison during much of his life. He was living with Martin, 38, in 1989 when he reconciled with his wife, Barbara. But after a fight with Barbara, he and his half-brother, Casey Korsmo, started on a drinking spree.
They wanted drugs so they went to the Martin home where they broke a window to gain entrance. Martin was apparently passed out from drug use. When the two could not find any narcotics, Abeyta sat on her back, grabbed her hair and shot her twice in the head.
Korsmo is serving a life term in prison with the possibility of parole after his guilty plea to first-degree murder for his role in the case.
Extra security was on duty at the prison for the execution, but Bayer said there were not any problem with the inmates during the day.