FLORENCE, Ariz. — An inmate expressed regret but didn't apologize before being executed Wednesday for murdering two 13-year-old girls in a ghost town where they were raped, strangled and stabbed before being dumped in a partly flooded mine shaft.
Richard Dale Stokley, 60, was put to death by injection two decades after he and another man were convicted of murdering Mandy Meyers and Mary Snyder in 1991 in rural Cochise County.
Stokley had no formal last words but told members of the execution team, "I do wish that I could die doing something meaningful, you know, this seems like such a waste."
Stokley said in a recent letter to the state clemency board that he would "go without fanfare," and he seemed at ease during the hour-long execution setup. He bantered at times with the execution team, at one point telling a joke.
The setup was extended when the execution team had difficulty finding a second injection point.
Stokley said in the letter to the board that he was sorry for the victims and their families.
However, he didn't address family members of the girls who witnessed the execution. Patricia Hancock, the mother of Mandy Meyers, said that showed cowardice.
Hancock noted that Stokley previously said accomplice Randy Brazeal had already raped the girls when Stokley finished taking a bath in a stock tank. He could have saved the girls from being murdered instead of participating, she said.
"He was a coward from the beginning and he was a coward because he couldn't face us," Hancock said. "He should have at least apologized."
The sister of victim Mary Snyder said she resented Stokley and lamented that her young sister had been killed.
"She never got to learn how to drive. She never got to go to high school. She never went to prom, and she never met my kids," Elisha Gonzales said through tears.
The execution of Stokley was Arizona's 34th since 1992. Daniel Cook was put to death on Aug. 8 in Arizona's most recent execution.
U.S. Supreme Court rulings cleared the way for the lethal injection given to Stokley. On Tuesday, it denied two appeals on his behalf and declined without comment to block his execution.
In his final appeals, Stokley's lawyers said he was entitled to a new hearing on sentencing evidence. They also said his constitutional rights were violated because the other man convicted in the case is free after serving 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the Arizona Supreme Court adequately considered evidence on possible leniency for Stokley. Prosecutors also defended the disparity in sentences by saying the other man negotiated a plea agreement.
The girls were killed after they left a July 4th holiday weekend community campout in Elfrida, saying they were going to a restroom. They never returned, instead going with Stokley and Brazeal to the nearby ghost town, authorities said.
Acting Cochise County Sheriff Rod Rothrock, who was the lead detective on the case, said in a recent interview that circumstances of how the girls went with the men were never determined.
Stokley, who was 38 when the girls were killed, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. He also was convicted of sexual assault against a minor.
Brazeal, who was 19 when the girls were killed, was released from prison July 2, 2011, after serving his full 20-year sentence.
While Stokley said both men participated in the slayings, Brazeal denied involvement in the killings. However, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, avoiding a trial that the then-county attorney feared could result in an acquittal because DNA evidence was not yet ready.
Stokley said in the letter to the clemency board that he wasn't requesting clemency but thought his life was worth saving, that he knew he had made "grave and irreversible errors," and that he was sorry he "was mixed up in these awful events that brought me to this."
Dale Baich, one of Stokley's lawyers, said the inmate spent his last evening reading letters from friends and meeting with of his lawyers.
Stokley was disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeals but gratified that some members of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that he was entitled to a new hearing on his claim that a defense lawyer early in the appeals process had effectively abandoned his case.
A majority of the appeals court judges denied that appeal, and it was one of those rejected by the Supreme Court.