CHAIRMAN MORGAN(CM), SUE NORTON(SN), MARK GIBSON(MG), ROBERT WHITAKER(RW), JOHN STUART(JS), MAUDIE NICHOLS(MN), VOICE(V) and HOST(H)
CM: The date is Tuesday, May 20, 2003. The meeting is being held at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, in McAlester, Oklahoma.
H: You’re listening to the final clemency hearing for Robert Wesley Knighton. On January 8, 1990, Knighton broke into the rural Oklahoma farmhouse of an elderly couple, Richard and Virginia Denney, and murdered them for sixty-one dollars, a pocketknife, some cigarettes, and a run-down truck. Nine months later he was sentenced to death. In Oklahoma, a clemency hearing for a crime of this sort is little more than a formality. But this case is unusual because the only witness testifying on the prisoner’s behalf is the daughter of the man that he murdered.
SN: (at hearing): Hi, I’m Sue Norton. Few of you will ever be able to experience or understand the depth of the pain that I felt as I knelt down cleaning up the blood of my daddy.
January 9, 1990, I received a phone call, about 9:30 at night. It was a stepsibling calling and saying that our daddy and stepmother had been murdered and they were shot to death in their dining room. I went to the arraignment. Robert Knighton walked in the courtroom. He was shackled in an orange jumpsuit. I don’t think I even realized much else about him other than his eyes. His eyes were so cold and so hard as they just stared right straight at me.
CM: Mark Gibson is the D.A. where this crime occurred.
MG: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Ladies and gentlemen, I think probably in seventeen years I have prosecuted twenty to twenty-five first-degree murderers. But in all those years, there’s only one other man, when I looked into their eyes, that I saw the pure evil that was Bob Knighton. In 1995, the day that they identified the Oklahoma City bomber, he sat in my jail and came into my courtroom. And when I met Tim McVeigh, I immediately said to the deputy outside, ”That’s the only other time I expect I will ever see the same eyes that I saw on Robert Wesley Knighton.”
SN: During the trial, they put me on the witness stand, and at the very end, he said, ”How did you know Richard and Virginia Denney?” And I just burst out bawling, and I said, ”It’s my daddy and my stepmother!” When I looked over at the jury, every single one of them was crying. They gave Robert Knighton the death penalty for me.
The last day of the trial, I went to bed crying. And I just prayed and asked God, you know, What on earth
I supposed to be feeling? When I woke, the thought in my head was, Sue you could forgive him. That really was a message from God.
RW: My name is Robert Whitaker, Assistant Attorney General on behalf of the State of Oklahoma. Ms. Norton’s plea is very interesting. Very touching. You can feel her struggle and her pain. There are people that need to have a heart for people in prison.
SN: I saw him at the jail in November of 1990. All of the sudden I’m standing in front of this big guy. The only thing between us was the bars. I was shaking like a leaf and looked at him and I said, ”I don’t know what to say to you, except I want you to know that I don’t hate you.” He said, ”You should. You’d be better off.” And I said, ”No, I’ve not ever hated anyone in my whole life, and I’m not going start today.”
JS: Mr. Chairman, members of the board, my name is John Stewart. I represent B. K. Knighton. I have a unique situation. Sitting beside me is Sue Norton. She forgave this man, and has been a friend to him in prison since that time.
SN: Forgiving the offender who murdered your folks is not popular. People don’t understand. And how can I explain it, because I don’t understand it myself?
MN: As you all know, I’m Maudie Nichols. Richard Denney was my father. Sue Norton is my sister. And don’t you take anything wrong I say here: I love my sister. The only thing I really have to say is I forgave Knighton a long time ago. I still think he’s accountable for what he done. My sister’s forgiveness is so much stronger than mine. She has been with Knighton more than she’s been with me or my family. And, yes, I do miss my sister. And I don’t know what else I can say to you. But thank you for letting me say that much.
SN: The clocks ticking, and it’s really, really hard for me to believe that on May 27, at 6:05 pm, he’ll be dead.
CM: All right, we’ll proceed to the vote. Miss Loving?
- LOVING: No.
CM: Miss Bussy? Mr. Brown?
- BROWN: No.
CM: And my vote is no.
V: Clemency is denied. The State of Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board is now adjourned. The special meeting was adjourned at 11:17 am by Chairman Morgan.
H: Robert Wesley Knighton is to be executed at 6:05 Central Time this evening at the State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma. Sue Norton and her husband, Gene, are witnessing the execution at his request.