Arizona’s clemency board on Monday declined to recommend that an inmate’s death sentence be delayed or lessened to a term of life in prison after a long, emotional hearing during which lawyers for both sides cried and the 9-year-old victim’s family wept.
The decision marks one of the last steps until death-row inmate Richard Lynn Bible can be executed on Thursday at the state prison in Florence.
Bible, 49, has been on death row since 1990 after being convicted of kidnapping, molesting and fatally bludgeoning 9-year-old Jennifer Wilson of Yuma while she was on vacation with her family in Flagstaff in June 1988. Her naked, decomposing body was found by hikers three weeks after she went missing, hands tied behind her back with her own shoelace, and her underwear in a nearby tree.
The clemency board could have recommended that Gov. Jan Brewer delay or stop the execution. But its five board members voted unanimously against either action, calling Bible “the worst of the worst” after hearing arguments from his attorneys, prosecutors, those who investigated the crime, and Jennifer’s family.
Jennifer’s parents spoke to the board through tears, asking for Bible’s execution to move forward so they can have closure.
“I know that if Jennifer had the opportunity to choose life or death, she would have chosen to live,” said her mother, Nancy Wilson. “We’re here today because that evil creature abducted, brutally raped and brutally murdered our precious 9-year-old daughter Jennifer. He should not be allowed to breathe beyond 11 o’clock Thursday morning.”
Jennifer’s brother, Adam Wilson, 29, asked the board to “do what’s right” and allow the execution to proceed.
“It’s been right for the last 23 years,” he said. “If you allow people like this to live, why should I have kids some day?”
Bible did not attend the hearing and did not write to the clemency board requesting mercy. He has said that he can’t prove himself innocent because he didn’t get a fair trial.
Prosecutors were “looking for an overkill and they had no one else to blame this crime on,” he told a probation officer in 1990. “I didn’t kill her. The real killer is still out there.”
Daniel Maynard, Bible’s attorney, told the board Monday that hairs found on Jennifer’s T-shirt have never been tested, and that the execution shouldn’t move forward until that happens.
“Mr. Bible has always contended that he was innocent,” Maynard said. “This evidence needs to be tested.”
He also insinuated that items including vodka bottles and cigars found with Jennifer’s body, which matched items in Bible’s car, could have been planted by police, saying that hundreds of people searching for her over a three-week period likely would have seen them if they had been there the whole time.
He also argued against the death penalty in general, saying that most of the world does not practice it, and that the other countries still using it are China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
“Is this the company we want to keep?” he said. “The rest of the world that we believe is civilized looks at us and finds that what we do in executions is barbaric.”
Prosecutors focused their arguments Monday on the evidence in the case and Bible’s criminal history.
“The evidence is abundant and overwhelming,” Coconino County Attorney David Rozema said. “We wanted to remind you of the fact that the inmate is a very dangerous, depraved and sick individual … (and) once again put some emphasis on the extent of the suffering endured by Jennifer Marie Wilson as a 9-year-old innocent child. The crime was especially cruel because of the extent of her suffering at the hands of the inmate.”
Under questioning by Rozema, a detective who investigated Jennifer’s murder said Bible was released from prison on rape charges less than a year before the murder. Bible was convicted of binding up his 17-year-old cousin’s hands, stripping her, repeatedly raping her and torturing her in 1981. That crime occurred less than 3 miles from where Jennifer was killed, said Gerry Blair of the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.
Blair also said that when Bible was booked into jail in Jennifer’s case on the day of the murder, blood found on his shirt matched the girl’s. The blood was in a pattern that indicated it was caused by bludgeoning someone else, Blair said.
Additionally, Blair said that hair found at the crime scene and on Bible’s jacket, in his wallet and in his vehicle were matches. He said it was cut in a unique way that a forensic analyst could not duplicate on separate hair samples until he used a pocket knife that Bible had when he was arrested.
He said investigators at the time didn’t feel that DNA testing of the hair would further the case.
“There’s just so many pieces of this puzzle, and the only story they tell is that indeed Richard Bible killed Jennifer Wilson,” Blair said.