by Robert A. Waters
Intending to speed up executions in the state, Florida legislators recently passed the Timely Justice Bill. While their intentions are good, the statute is unlikely to make much difference because of challenges that will be brought before various courts. (In 2000, the legislature passed another law designed to shorten death row appeals, but the United States Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional.) If, however, the Timely Justice Bill actually becomes the state’s death row modus operandi, here are two killers they could start with.
“Willie Crain was introduced to Kathryn Hartman by his daughter on 09/09/98, while at a bar in Hillsborough County. Crain and Hartman danced and talked for four hours that night, until 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. Crain dropped Hartman off at her trailer, and Hartman asked to see Crain again.
“On the afternoon of 09/10/98, Crain returned to Hartman’s trailer, where he met her seven-year-old daughter, Amanda Brown. Crain and Brown sat at the kitchen table, playing games and doing her homework. Before leaving that afternoon, Crain accepted Hartman’s invitation to return for dinner that evening.
“After dinner that night, Crain and Brown played games with Brown and told her that he had a large collection of videotapes at his trailer. Brown pleaded with her mother to let her go to Crain’s trailer, and she agreed. Crain drove Hartman and Brown to his trailer in his white pickup truck.
“After beginning to watch the movie in Crain’s living room, Crain and Brown then went to his bedroom, where Hartman found the two sitting on Crain’s bed, watching the movie. Hartman noticed that Brown was sitting between Crain’s sprawled legs with her back to his front. At some point in the evening, Hartman asked Crain if he had any medication for pain. Crain offered her Valium, which she took, and marijuana, which she declined.
“Eventually, Hartman decided it was time to leave, and Crain drove Hartman and Brown to their trailer. Around 2:15 a.m., Brown went to sleep in Hartman’s bed. Crain appeared intoxicated, so Hartman advised him to lie down to sober up while she went to bed. Within five minutes of Hartman going to bed, Crain entered the bedroom and lay down on the bed with Hartman and Brown.
“Hartman awoke the next morning to find Crain gone and Brown missing. Hartman called Crain on his cell phone, and he told her that he did not know where Brown was and that he was loading his boat at a boat landing.
“Other people at the boat ramp testified at trial that Crain carried what appeared to be a rolled-up item of clothing with him when he was launching his boat. One of the men at the boat ramp that day testified that Crain had told him on two separate occasions that he had the ability to get rid of a body where no one could find it.
“Police later interviewed Crain, and he told police that he left Hartman’s house around 1:30 a.m. on 09/11/98. He also told police that he accidentally spilled bleach in his bathroom and spent the early morning hours cleaning his bathroom.
“While searching Crain’s trailer, a detective applied Luminol, a chemical that reacts with blood, to Crain’s bathroom. The detective testified at trial that the floor, bathtub, and walls “lit up”.
“Detectives also found blood stains in the bathroom and on Crain’s boxer shorts, both of which contained DNA consistent with a mixture of the DNA profiles of Crain and Brown. Despite an extensive, two-week search of Upper Tampa Bay, Brown’s body was never found.”
Crain worked as a commercial fisherman. Investigators suspect that he placed Amanda’s body in a crab trap and dumped her into Tampa Bay.
Douglas Ray Meeks, convicted of murdering a store clerk and a customer in different robberies, has been on Death Row for nearly 40 years. The description of his crimes comes from court documents.
“On the morning of October 24, 1974, Meeks, a twenty-one-year-old African-American, entered the Majik Market convenience store in Perry, Florida. While attempting to rob the store, Meeks stabbed the store manager, Chevis Thompson. Three high school students (James Southerland, Jeffrey McKee, and Thomas Hingson) saw Meeks exit the Majik Market as they drove into the store's parking lot. When the students went inside the Majik Market, they noticed that Thompson was lying behind the sales counter and that she was apparently injured. Upon closer inspection, the boys saw that blood was flowing out of a knife wound in her neck. Thompson was gasping for air and waving her hand wildly. There was also blood on the counter and on the sides of the cash register.
“Failing to find a telephone in the store, the boys raced to their car and drove three blocks to the nearest hospital. Before leaving, they instructed two other students (Dennis Wilds and Michael Blanton), who had since arrived at the Majik Market (but who had not seen Meeks exit the store), to stay with Thompson while they went for help. Hospital staff subsequently arrived at the Majik Market, but were unable to rescue Thompson; she died of the knife wounds inflicted upon her by Meeks.
“Two weeks later, on November 6, 1974, Meeks and an accomplice, Homer Lee Hardwick, entered the Junior Food Store in Perry at between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Hardwick walked up to the front of the cash register and put his arm around the neck of Lloyd Walker, a sixteen-year-old boy who was in the store to make a purchase. While Hardwick immobilized Walker, Meeks approached the store clerk, Diane Allen, at gun point and demanded that Allen give him all the money in cash register. Allen complied and handed over between thirty and thirty-five dollars.
“Meeks then instructed both Allen and Walker to walk to the back of the store and get in a storage closet. When they had done so, he told them to lie on their backs and then to roll over onto their stomachs. At that point, Meeks fired several shots, hitting Allen in the shoulder, and Walker in the head. After Meeks and Hardwick left the store, Allen waited a few minutes and then called the police. She was taken to a hospital and later recovered from her shoulder wound. Lloyd Walker died six days after the shooting.”
On March 12, 1975, Meeks was sentenced to death for killing Thompson. Two weeks later, he was convicted of murdering Walker and received a second death sentence. Since there is no doubt about his guilt, the long delay in carrying out Meeks’ sentence is unfathomable.