LUCASVILLE, OH — At 10 A.M. on July 13, 2010, 37-year-old William Garner entered the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Twenty minutes later, the lethal chemical that prison staffers injected into his veins did their job. The act of execution stood complete.
With that, Garner paid the state-ordered price for a horrifying crime he had committed 18 years earlier, a burglary that ended with him setting several indoor fires that killed five children. The oldest of Garner’s victims was 11.
On January 26, 1992, William Garner, then just 19, stole a purse out of an emergency room at a Cincinnati hospital. The bag belonged to Addie Mack, a local mom, who was in the hospital after having slipped and fallen on a patch of ice.
From there, Garner headed to the address on Mack’s identification and used her keys to open the door. His aim was to rob the place while Mack was still getting patched up.
Once inside, Garner said he was “surprised” to stumble upon four girls and two boys asleep in various bedroom. Four of the children were Mack’s own kids, another was their cousin, and still another was a neighbor boy spending the night.
In the course of Garner loading up items to make off with, one of the little girls awoke and asked for a glass of water. Garner told her that he had run into their mom at the hospital and that she sent him to make sure all the kids were okay.
Upon putting the child back to bed, Garner carted a TV, a VCR, a telephone, and a “boom box” down to a waiting taxi. He then told the driver to hang on a minute, and he bolted back upstairs.
Before finally leaving, Garner set a series of fires, two of which smoldered out quickly. A third rapidly engulfed the living room couch and turned the residence into an inferno, with deadly smoke overtaking every inch of air. Awakening to impenetrable black smoke, Addie Mack’s oldest son, 13-year-old Rod Mack, broke a bedroom window and summoned the other children to follow him outside. They never made it, succumbing to the smoke as the older boy attempted to guide them with his voice.Denitra Satterwhite, 12; Markeca Mason, 11; Richard Gaines, 11; Deondra Freeman, 10; and Mykkila Mason, 8; all died on the spot.
When news broke the next day, the cab driver that unknowingly sped Garner away from the scene contacted the authorities. Cops knew the suspect well. Garner had a criminal arrest record dating back to when he was just 11.
Garner confessed to the robbery and to setting the fires, but he swore he never intended to hurt anyone, and that he just wanted to destroy his fingerprints. He told detectives he thought the kids would smell the smoke and have plenty of time to escape.
The public defenders assigned to Garner pushed the notion of his being psychologically incompetent, and insisted he never actually meant to commit murder. With an IQ of 76, Garner ranked just two points above the legal cutoff for “mental retardation.”
During Garner’s trial, his attorneys cited the teen having being raised in an “extremely violent and dysfunctional” environment and stressed his “limited intellect, history of developmental disorders since birth, and brain impairment from lead poisoning.” The jury did not concur. They ruled Garner guilty on five counts of murder, and the court sentenced him to death. Over the ensuing years in prison, Garner proved to be a constant discipline problem, racking up 13 serious violations, including one for setting a fire.
Attorneys attempted one last clemency appeal in 2010, but came away unsuccessful. The parole board told them:
“Considerable weight was afforded the considerable mitigation presented…. We cannot conclude that the mitigating factors are significant enough to outweigh the aggravating circumstances of an offense resulting in the death of five innocent children.”
When his date with the needle finally arrived, Garner seemed to accept his fate. Parents, relatives, and friends of the dead children showed up in such numbers that Ohio had to set up a second viewing room for the witnesses.
The night before, Garner ate a final meal of Porterhouse steak with A1 sauce, onion rings, fried shrimp, barbecue ribs, potato wedges with cheese, sweet potato pie, chocolate ice cream, barbecue wings, salad, Funyuns, and Hawaiian punch.
While strapped to a gurney in the execution room, Garner clutched a dreadlock cut off and given to him by a female friend. He also stated he was “heartily sorry” for killing the children and for the agony he brought upon their loved ones. With his final words, Garner said, “I thought I’d never be free, but I am free now.”
Main photo: William Garner [Ohio Department of Corrections]