LUCASVILLE, Ohio — An Ohio death-row inmate used his last words Thursday to repeatedly apologize to the family members of his two victims and tell them that he hopes they can let their pain die with him.

Donald Palmer, 47, was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Lucasville in southern Ohio about 23 years after he shot and killed two men he didn't know along a rural road.

"I want you to know I've carried you in my heart for years and years," Palmer told six women in the room who are the widows, daughters and a niece of the men he killed. "I'm so sorry for what I took from you ... I hope your pain and hurt die with me today."

Palmer also told the women that he knows the pain of losing a parent, a sibling and a child, and that he wished his execution could bring their loved ones back to them.

"I know it can't," he said. "I pray that you have good lives now. I'm sorry."

Shortly after that, intravenous lines in both Palmer's arms began delivering a fatal dose of pentobarbital, causing his chest to heave as he breathed heavily and his eyes fluttered. Later his head twitched up and down, and nine minutes after that, the prison warden declared his time of death at 10:35 a.m.

Palmer was convicted of aggravated murder in the May 8, 1989, shooting deaths of Charles Sponhaltz and Steven Vargo along a Belmont County road in eastern Ohio. Both of the married fathers were strangers to Palmer, and both were shot twice in the head.

Palmer and a friend had been staking out the home of a man who once dated his ex-wife when Sponhaltz rear-ended his truck and was shot, according to court records. Vargo was a passing driver who happened upon Sponhaltz's killing and was also shot.

Their daughters and widows spoke to each other before and during the execution, with one saying that the small, brick execution chamber with a metal bed was too elaborate for Palmer.

"There should be no sheet on that damn bed," said Charlene Farkas, one of Sponhaltz's daughters. "It should be in the ground in the dirt."

Some family members spoke to reporters after the execution, saying that they believed Palmer's apology was sincere but that it was too little, too late.

"When you murder somebody, what good is an apology?" said Tiffany Nameth, Sponhaltz's widow. "You don't go out and murder two people and expect to get sympathy. In my eyes, he didn't deserve any sympathy."

Sponhaltz's other daughter, Tiffany Sponhaltz-Pugh, said that she was happy justice was served.

"We finally have closure to this situation after 23 years," she said, adding: "There's nothing that can bring back my father."

Palmer's lawyer, David Stebbins – who also witnessed the execution – said the state followed its execution procedure to the letter as far as he could tell and reiterated that Palmer truly felt remorse for the pain he had caused and thought it was time that his execution move forward.

Stebbins, who hadn't witnessed an execution before, called the process "so sterile and orchestrated."

"I guess I haven't sorted out all of my feelings," he said. "It's very strange to watch someone be put to death intentionally."

In the 24 hours before his execution, Palmer visited with his grown daughter and son, his ex-wife and his spiritual advisers, said JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

She described one of the visits between Palmer and his children as "very emotional."

"They prayed together, they were reading the Bible and singing," Smith said, adding that Palmer also was calm and cooperative as he's spoken to the execution team.

According to court records, Palmer told police that he and co-defendant Edward Hill were driving from Columbus to the Belmont County home of a man who had dated Palmer's ex-wife and Hill's sister.

As they were driving back and forth in front of the home, Sponhaltz – who was keeping an eye on the house – lightly hit the back of their pickup with his own truck and yelled at them: "What in the hell are you trying to prove?" according to the records.

Palmer then shot Sponhaltz twice in the head.

Vargo, a passing driver, stopped and asked "What the hell did you guys do?" Palmer told police, according to the records. Palmer then shot Vargo twice in the head.

Sponhaltz's body was dumped in a field; Vargo's was left on the road.

Hill, 46, was convicted for his role in the crimes and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison.

Palmer's last meal on Wednesday night include a chipped ham and Velveeta cheese sandwich on wheat, ranch-flavored Doritos, peanut M&Ms, hazelnut ice cream, cheesecake and soda. He declined to eat breakfast Thursday.

Nine Ohio inmates are scheduled for execution through March 2014.

___

Follow Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

___

Ohio death row: http://www.drc.ohio.gov/public/deathrow.htm

Loading Slideshow...
  • "Young L.A. Girl Slain; Body Slashed in Two" -L.A.'s Daily News

    On January 15, 1947, the remains of Elizabeth Short, were found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. What made this discovery the stuff of tabloid sensation, however, was the Glasgow smile left on the aspiring actress' face--made with 3-inch slashes on each side. This, coupled with Short's dark hair, fair complexion and reputation for sporting a dahlia in her hair, dubbed her "The Black Dahlia" in headlines. What followed was a media circus filled with rumors and speculation about the promiscuous 22-year-old's checkered past. What haunts theorists to this day, apart from the victim's uniquely nightmarish visage, is that the case remains unsolved after some 200 suspects were interviewed and ultimately released--making it one of Hollywood's most lurid legends.

  • "I Am Not Guilty - Thus Lizzie Borden Pleads Before Judge Hammond at New Bedford." -Boston Journal

    <em>"Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. And when she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one."</em> So goes the lurid nursery rhyme to one of the most mystifying crimes of the century. The nature of the deaths of Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby, are trumped only by the identity of the alleged perpetrator: their daughter, Lizzie. Inexplicably found "not guilty" in contrast to the era's zeitgeist of swift justice, Lizzie's legacy--guilty or not--has become immortalized as one of the most perplexing cases of parricide in history.

  • "Texas Mother Charged with Killing Her 5 Children" -CNN

    In a case of mother-gone-mad that startled a nation, Andrea Yates, to her few friends and neighbors, was known as a mere recluse suffering from postpartum depression leading up to the birth of her fifth child. That all changed on June 20, 2001, when she snapped, drowning five of her children in their home's bathtub. She was convicted in 2002 of capital murder, carrying a sentence of life in prison with possible parole. As of July 2006, however, a Texas jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity.

  • "Buttafuoco Admits to Sex with Amy Fisher" -New York Times

    Known as the "Long Island Lolita," Fisher became involved with Joey Buttafuoco in May of 1991. Shortly after the two began a sexual relationship (she, 16, while he, 35, was married with two children), his presence and influence in her life became all she cared for. In what he's since denied to this day, Buttafuoco would go on to help an obsessive Fisher plan the murder of his wife, culminating in Fisher putting a bullet in Mary Jo Buttafuoco's head, but failing to kill her. In the highly publicized trial that ensued, Fisher accepted a plea deal for 15 years in prison in exchange for a testimony against Joey, who faced and served out charges of statutory rape.

  • "Murder of a Little Beauty" -People Magazine

    With a face that graced the covers of nearly every news and gossip rag during the winter of '96, it's hard to suggest the death of child beauty pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey had little effect outside the city of Boulder, Colorado. Found dead from a blow to the head and strangulation in the family's basement, coupled with a ransom note left on the staircase asking for $118,000 (conveniently or coincidentally, nearly the same amount Mr. Ramsey received as a bonus that year), as well as no obvious signs of forced entry into the house, the evidence was overwhelmingly stacked against parents John and Patsy, who managed to maintain their innocence throughout the investigation. The case reopened in 2010, but critics cite poor handling of the crime scene as obstructing what remains a mystery regarding the events of that Christmas day.

  • "F.B.I. Joins Probe in Slaughter of 8 Nurses" -Nashua Telegraph

    Tattooed with "Born to Raise Hell" on his arm, Richard Speck made good on his mantra through a history of violence, theft, alcoholism, and spousal abuse, but made his infamy known to all when, on July 13, 1966, he walked into a dormitory armed with a knife. After leaving 8 student nurses dead in his wake, only one, Cora Amurao, was spared--hiding under a bed until 6 a.m. Speck was found guilty of murder and died of a heart attack in prison. As one of the most press-worthy crimes of the decade, the grim events were used most recently as the backdrop for an episode of <em>Mad Men</em>.

  • "Sharon Tate, Four Others Murdered" -Los Angeles Times

    Perhaps the most terrifying figure in American crime to have never actually killed anyone himself, Charles Manson founded a "family" of wayward individuals who hailed him as a prophet. So strong was his manipulation, he ordered, on the night of Aug. 8, 1969, four of his followers to kill everyone at the residence of 10050 Cielo Drive--including Roman Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, and her unborn child. Tate was stabbed 16 times, and her blood was used to write "pig" on the house's front door. The next night, Manson accompanied six of his family to the residence of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, only to help bind them before ordering their deaths. In 1971, Manson and three of his fellow defendants were found guilty of murder in the first-degree and several other crimes. At the time, it was the longest murder trial in American history, spanning nine and a half months, as well as the most expensive, estimating $1 million. Manson was denied parole for the 12th time in April 2012.

  • "Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped from Home of Parents on Farm Near Princeton; Taken from His Crib; Wide Search on" -The New York Times

    Used as the basis for an Agatha Christie novel (<em>Murder on the Orient Express</em>) and dubbed "the biggest story since the Resurrection" by famed journalist H.L. Mencken, the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son continues to fascinate theorists today. Charles Jr. was discovered missing from his second-floor bedroom on March 1, 1932, along with a note demanding a then-unimaginable $50,000, igniting a media frenzy like no other. The tabloid pandemonium prompted many tips and leads, but none as concrete as a package containing the boy's pajamas and another message demanding the ransom. After some misdirection from the presumed kidnapper, Lindbergh's child was soon after discovered in the woods along a road near the family residence. Notwithstanding the evidence stockpiled against the easily vilified illegal German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann (who was sentenced), speculation prevails as to the true identity of the caper responsible in this tragic tale of one of America's greatest heroes.

  • "Not Guilty as Sin" -NY Post

    Still fresh in the minds of many and not to easily be forgotten, the trial of Casey Anthony turned Orlando, Florida into anything but the "happiest place on earth." Following a series of lies, misdirection and manipulation by then-22 year old Casey, Caylee's skeletal remains were found five months into the investigation, setting the stage for what could only be described as the most incessantly publicized and shocking trial in recent memory. The media had a field day that went on for months: Highlighting the young, pretty, party girl image used against her in court as the prosecution tore apart an aimless defense--or so it seemed. After resorting to throwing her family under the bus, incriminating people entirely made-up ("Zanny the Nanny"), and fabricating elaborate stories for the police, Casey was found not guilty of murder due to evidence deemed mostly circumstantial and not meeting the burden of "beyond reasonable doubt," inciting much debate regarding whether true justice was served.

  • "An American Tragedy" -TIME

    Known and heralded as the "trial of the century," former football star and actor O.J. Simpson found himself in the middle of the nation's biggest, most-televised trial following the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, but not before fleeing an all-points bulletin in his Ford Bronco with 20 units in tow, interrupting game 5 of the NBA Finals. By enlisting a dream team including Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and Robert Kardashian, the defense claimed Simpson was merely a victim of police fraud with regard to contaminated DNA evidence, while famously quipping "If it [the glove] doesn't fit, you must acquit." On October 3, 1995, an estimated 100 million people from around the world tuned in to watch the jury hand down a verdict of not guilty, consequently resulting in an estimated loss of $480 million in productivity and inciting an ongoing discussion of race in the judicial system that continues to this day.