SMYRNA, DELAWARE — SMYRNA, Del. -- James Allen Red Dog, who removed his cowboy boots so that the man whose throat he had cut wouldn't bleed all over them, is about to get out of prison.
The convicted murderer and rapist says he doesn't want to stay behind bars. Prosecutors and judges say they won't stand in his way.
So, Red Dog is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the Delaware Correctional Center here on March 3, a Wednesday.
Red Dog, who has intimate knowledge of how at least five other people have died, says he is ready for his own death. Delaware prison authorities are preparing to give it to him through an intravenous tube carrying a lethal dose of three prescription drugs.
Unless there is a mishap in the prison's trailer-turned-death-chamber, the 6-foot-3 American Indian will stop breathing shortly after the drugs begin trickling into his tattooed arm. Within minutes, his heart will fail.
Corrections officials have granted Red Dog's wish to have a Sioux spiritual leader among the official witnesses at the execution.
Red Dog, who was born 39 years ago on a reservation in Montana, will become the second prisoner to be executed in Delaware since the state resumed capital punishment in 1992 after a 46-year hiatus.
A year ago, serial killer Steven Brian Pennell, 34, was executed by lethal injection after he refused his wife's attempts to appeal his two murder convictions.
Someday, the same scene could occur in Maryland, where the General Assembly is considering switching the method of capital punishment from the gas chamber to lethal injection. The Senate already has passed such a bill.
Described as a beguiling but sometimes vicious misfit who never came to terms with the 20th century, Red Dog has made it clear that he does not intend to fight the death sentence imposed by Superior Court Judge Norman A. Barron last April for the murder of Hugh Pennington in February 1991.
Red Dog pleaded no contest to the charges against him and has rebuffed his lawyer's attempts to appeal, which would give death penalty opponents their first chance to challenge Delaware's new execution law before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Given the choice of execution or spending the rest of his life in prison -- he also got four life terms plus 80 years for rape, kidnapping and weapons violations -- Red Dog never hesitated to choose the quickest way out.
Before he came to Delaware in 1988, Red Dog had spent time in California's Lompoc Correctional Institution and in federal prisons in Leavenworth, Kan., and Marion, Ill.
"Do I feel I deserve to die?" said Red Dog, repeating a question asked by TCI Cablevision reporter Cathy Matusiak in an interview taped in August. "Uh, let me put it this way: I just don't want to do any more time."
Could someone other than Hugh Pennington have died at the hands of Red Dog that weekend in February? Could it have happened in Baltimore instead of suburban Wilmington?
At the murder scene in the Pennington house, police looking for physical evidence found the usual: strands of human hair, torn clothing and bloody fingerprints. But they also found a piece of paper bearing a Baltimore address.
On Saturday, Feb. 9, 1991 -- the night before the murder -- Red Dog was in southern Delaware. He was high on alcohol and cocaine. It wasn't a good time to be around him. He had been drunk before. On two of those occasions, before moving east to Delaware, he was involved in the killings of three men.
In 1973, Red Dog and two companions were arrested and charged with robbing and shooting to death the owner of a pizza parlor in Wolf Point, Mont. In 1977, Red Dog escaped from a federal prison and later killed two men with a knife in Cudahy, Calif.
Talked with Nanticokes
Red Dog often drove from his home outside Wilmington to southern Delaware to talk with Nanticoke Indians, whom he had impressed with his knowledge of Indian customs and religion.
Sober, Red Dog was "soft-spoken, very agreeable," recalls Kenneth S. "Red Deer" Clark, chief of the 1,000 Nanticokes who live in Delaware's Sussex County and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"He was really one of the nicest guys you'd want to talk to. I thought he had some deep feelings about being a Native American."
But on the evening of Feb. 9, 1991, in a Millsboro bowling alley, Red Dog had something other than Indian culture on his mind.
"Can you live with what I do?" he asked Debra Adams, an acquaintance who later testified in court about a chat she had with Red Dog at the bowling alley.
"What's that?" Ms. Adams replied.
"Terminator," said Red Dog.
"Exterminator?" said Ms. Adams, unsure what Red Dog meant.
"No. Terminator. The enforcer."
"The enforcer?" Ms. Adams asked.
"I hurt people," explained Red Dog.
That same evening, Red Dog mumbled something about having to get to Baltimore, where a friend had a job for him -- a job for the enforcer: to kill someone. Red Dog had a Baltimore address on the back of a piece of paper.
For reasons unknown to police, Red Dog never made it to Baltimore. Instead, he drove north to the suburban Wilmington home of Mr. Pennington in New Castle County. Mr. Pennington was an acquaintance who worked at the Tally Ho Motor Lodge with Red Dog's wife, Bonnie.
The Pennington slaying
It was early Sunday when Red Dog roused Mr. Pennington and forced the pajama-clad, 30-year-old night auditor into a basement workshop. He bound Mr. Pennington's wrists and ankles with duct tape and forced him to lie on his back on the
Red Dog, who is said to possess great strength when in a drunken rage, took his knife and nearly decapitated the mild-mannered Mr. Pennington. The wound was 6 inches deep.
Prosecutors say Red Dog didn't want to get his boots stained with blood, so he took them off and walked around the corpse in his socks.
During the next 12 hours, Red Dog terrorized a 52-year-old woman he kidnapped shortly after killing Mr. Pennington. He raped her in her home and then forced her to drive him to southern Delaware, where he raped her again, four times in all.
She escaped, and a statewide manhunt for Red Dog began. Four days later, police caught the fugitive as he walked across Winchester Bridge in Wilmington, 100 miles north of where he had last been seen. Red Dog was tired and hungry. There also was a strange odor about him. He later confided to his lawyer that he had smeared himself with deer feces to throw off the police dogs that were trailing him.
Red Dog says he does not remember details of the Pennington murder. He can't think of a motive either, shifting the blame for his violent ways to an impoverished childhood on the Fort Peck Sioux Reservation in Montana and to life in prison.
"Out of the 64 people I grew up with, there's only four of them left," he told TCI Cablevision's Ms. Matusiak. "Most of them died by committing suicide or were killed in prison. The majority of the people on reservations have done time. So you're raised up, you know, with a lot of hatred toward the system. And you're being inducted into a system that twists your personality even further."
Delaware Deputy Attorneys General Steven P. Wood and Peggy J. Hageman, who prosecuted Red Dog, say they have spent countless hours trying to find a motive for the Pennington murder. They have come up empty-handed.
"I think it just happened," says Mr. Wood. "I think that for whatever reason, in general it was time for Red Dog to kill somebody. And for whatever reason, that somebody became Hugh Pennington. Whatever it is that fuels his murderous rage boiled over again. It could have been you and it could have been me."
Edward C. Pankowski Jr., Red Dog's lawyer and an opponent of capital punishment, has tried in vain to talk his client into appealing the sentence.
"All along he wanted to get the death penalty," says Mr. Pankowski, a former prosecutor who switched sides and joined the public defender's office. "I was an obstacle in his path. I still am."
Red Dog was to have received his lethal injection last July, as ordered by Judge Barron. But, under Delaware law, there was an automatic appeal of the death sentence. It wasn't until November that the Delaware Supreme Court upheld Judge Barron's ruling. The execution was rescheduled for March 3.
If Red Dog wanted to appeal his case further, he could pursue action at the state level or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of Delaware's new death penalty law.
In an unusually swift action, Delaware lawmakers revised the state's death penalty statute in October 1991 after a New Castle County jury stunned spectators when it failed to return a death penalty verdict against four men convicted of gunning down two armored car guards.
The jury's decision to give the men life in prison did not surprise longtime courtroom observers. No New Castle jury had returned a death penalty since 1974.
The armored car murder verdicts incensed the public because the killings were so coldblooded, says Mr. Wood. Legislators decided it was time to amend the law so that other murderers wouldn't escape the death penalty so easily.
On Oct. 24, 1991, two days after the jury returned its verdict, the Delaware General Assembly passed a bill taking the sentencing phase of a trial out of the jury's hands and putting it into the judge's.
The new law covered all defendants waiting to be tried or to be sentenced after its effective date. That included Red Dog, who was arrested in February that year but did not go on trial until the spring of 1992.
Had Red Dog been sentenced by a jury -- and not Judge Barron -- under the old Delaware statute, March 3 might be just another day on his prison calendar.
"In my opinion," says Mr. Wood, "he would not be facing execution,"because a jury probably would have sentenced Red Dog to life in prison.
"There is no death penalty law in the country that is exactly like Delaware's," says Mr. Wood. "If Red Dog were to fight this sentence vigorously, there's a decent likelihood the case would wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court, simply because [the court] has never said about a law like Delaware's, 'This is constitutional.' "
If Red Dog were not so eager to be executed, he could use the legal system and its laborious appeals process to stay alive for at least 10 years, Delaware lawyers say. Instead, he has been preparing for his death for several weeks now, his lawyer says. Red Dog has rejected all recent media requests for interviews. And he has begun receiving gifts in prison, part of the Sioux funeral ritual.
Delaware modified its method of execution about seven years ago. Those sentenced to die before June 1986 can choose between hanging -- the old way -- or lethal injection. All others, including Red Dog, will go by lethal injection.
Red Dog knows something about lethal injections. In prison parlance, a drug overdose is called a "hot shot." While he was an inmate at the Marion Federal Penitentiary in 1983, Red Dog provided a lethal dose of heroin to Mexican inmates who used it to kill a member of their gang.
Red Dog won't be getting a heroin "hot shot" March 3, but rather a combination of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
He has asked that his remains be sent to Montana for an Indian burial.
Fate determined how he would die, Red Dog said in the TCI Cablevision interview.
"There's an old Indian saying that when a warrior walks a path, that when you step on that path, from that moment on you must be prepared to die. And that's the way I've been raised," he said.
"When I undertook criminal activities -- at that time I wasn't left with any choice. There wasn't no jobs on the reservation. All there was was poverty. Crime was the only thing left for me to make a living. And when I took that road, I was preparing for the end. So, now that it's, you know, come to this, I've been preparing all my life for it."