Abeyta executed for ‘89 LV murder
Las Vegas Sun
Mon, Oct 5, 1998
CARSON CITY -- Roderick Abeyta was executed early today by
lethal injection for the murder of his former Las Vegas
girlfriend while weeping relatives of the victim looked on.
His last words, according to state Prison Director Bob Bayer,
were "expressions of true remorse" and hope that his death "would
help in the healing process for the family."
Three members of the immediate family of Donna Martin stood in
the front row as witnesses, only about 18 inches from the death
chamber. They watched as the 46-year-old Abeyta was strapped to a
table and given an injection of three deadly drugs. The chemicals
started flowing into his left arm at 12:13 a.m., and he was
pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m.
The Martin family members were not identified, and they left by
car without talking to reporters. The three women held hands and
occasionally wiped away tears as they watch Abeyta die.
"Everything went smoothly," Bayer said. However, the execution
was delayed several minutes because of troubles locating a "good
vein" for a backup needle in case the first injection failed.
Abeyta had collapsed veins because of his previous drug use.
"He (Abeyta) tried to assist in what vein might work," Bayer
said. The inmate suggested the second needle go in his left arm
also, and he flexed his hand to help in the process.
Abeyta, who did not pursue additional court appeals in his
behalf, never looked at the 24 people in the room who were
witnessing the execution. There were nine official witnesses,
eight members of the news media plus prison staff and a
representative of the office of Gov. Bob Miller.
Outside the Nevada State Prison, where the execution took
place, there were about 30 protesters, some carrying candles and
others holding signs that said, "Stop The Violence" and "Stop the
Killing." The group was led by the Rev. Chuck Durante, a Catholic
priest from Reno, in chanting hymns and praying for Abeyta, the
victim and both families.
Abeyta spent much of his final day on the telephone, including
a call to a Reno television station. He had visits from Chaplain
Al Fry of the prison in Carson City and from the Rev. Jim Kelly,
chaplain of the prison in Ely where death-row inmates are housed.
He ate the regular prison meal of Salisbury steak, stewed
tomatoes, tossed salad, a potato and iced tea. His only special
request was for vanilla ice cream.
Traditionally the inmate is sedated about an hour before the
execution so that he won't offer any resistance. But Abeyta
requested he not be given any drugs ahead of time. "He wanted to
meet his maker with a clear mind," the prison director said.
"From the religious point of view, he (Abeyta) didn't want to
escape accountability," Bayer said.
State Archivist Guy Rocha said Abeyta was the 69th person
executed in Nevada since 1860.
Abeyta was the seventh person to die since 1977 after the death
penalty was reinstated. The most recent prior execution was March
30, 1996, when Richard Moran of Las Vegas was put to death.
Five guards led Abeyta into the cream-colored death chamber on
the second floor of the prison. He wore jeans, a light-colored
shirt and white Nike basketball shoes.
His hands and legs were strapped to the table, and there were
four other straps over the rest of his body. Abeyta stared at the
ceiling, without looking at any of the witnesses who were bunched
along the rail outside the chamber.
The shades to the three windows in the chamber were drawn after
Abeyta was secured. Those witnessing the execution waited in
mostly in silence.
When the shades were lifted 25 minutes later, the "death
needles" had been injected. Abeyta continued to look at the
ceiling. He closed his eyes and took two deep breaths. He was dead
two minutes after the chemicals started to flow into his veins.
Among those witnessing the execution was Michael Pescetta, a
deputy federal public defender who was ready to file an appeal to
stop the execution if Abeyta gave the word. But Abeyta "was
resolute" in wanting to be executed, prison officials said.
Also on hand was Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, the senior
member of the Nevada Legislature, and Gordon Absher, press
secretary for the governor. Prison officials said the official
witnesses also included two prosecutors and a member of the staff
of Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.
Abeyta had been in and out of prison during much of his life.
He was living with Martin, 38, in 1989 when he reconciled with his
wife, Barbara. But after a fight with Barbara, he and his half-brother,
Casey Korsmo, started on a drinking spree.
They wanted drugs so they went to the Martin home where they
broke a window to gain entrance. Martin was apparently passed out
from drug use. When the two could not find any narcotics, Abeyta
sat on her back, grabbed her hair and shot her twice in the head.
Korsmo is serving a life term in prison with the possibility of
parole after his guilty plea to first-degree murder for his role
in the case.
Extra security was on duty at the prison for the execution, but
Bayer said there were not any problem with the inmates during the
Roderick Abeyta, 99-10-5,
Roderick Abeyta mouthed the words "I'm sorry," to 3 members of
Donna Martin's family before quietly lying down and being
executed by lethal injection early today.
Abeyta killed Martin, his former girlfriend, in Las Vegas in
The inmate, who refused a sedative to relax him for the
execution, was strapped to a table in what was formerly the gas
chamber at the Nevada State Prison.
He was administered intravenously a combination of 3 drugs, 2 of
Abeyta went to his execution voluntarily, saying it was morally
wrong for him to fight his sentence. It was the 1st execution in
Nevada in more than 2 years and the 7th since capital punishment
was reinstituted by the 1977 legislature.
8 media representatives, 9 witnesses and several prison
officials observed the execution through a glass partition.
At 11:48 p.m. Sunday, the curtains were lowered in the execution
chamber so the intravenous needles could be inserted away from
2 of the witnesses, members of Martin's family, sobbed quietly
as the execution was performed. At 12:13 a.m. the blinds were
raised and Abeyta could be seen strapped to the table, staring
straight up. He took a few breaths and then was still.
"He was very calm throughout the process and just submitted to
the process as he said he would," Prison Director Bob Bayer said.
Just hours before the execution, about 2 dozen people from area
Catholic churches held a candlelight vigil near the prison
grounds, protesting Abeyta's death.
They held signs that said: "Jesus was executed. What would he
say?" And "We pray for those who carry out the execution."
Minden resident Dirk Wunderlich said protesters were urged at
weekend church services to come out Sunday evening and
peacefully object to the execution.
The Catholic Church has long been an opponent of capital
"We view it as not really different from the original crime,"
Inside the prison, Abeyta spent his final hours watching
television and making calls. He did not request any special food
for his last meal.
Department of Prisons spokesman Glen Whorton said Abeyta was
moved to the "last night" cell, just across from the execution
chamber, at about noon. He received no family or other outside
visitors but spent time with prison Chaplain Al Fry.
Father Jim Kelly, who counsels inmates at Ely State Prison where
Abeyta had served time on death row, also visited with him.
Abeyta, 44, had been on death row only a short time, having been
convicted by a jury in 1996 for the murder of Martin, 38, in
But like several death row inmates before him, Abeyta chose to
proceed with his execution rather than fight his sentence in the
Abeyta said he voluntarily underwent a psychological examination
to preclude the U.S. Public Defender's office from interceding
on his or a family member's behalf to stop the execution, as has
been done in other death penalty cases.
As a result, there were no last-minute appeals or court
decisions that could have stayed the execution.
Only Abeyta himself could have stopped it.
In an interview Sept. 25, Abeyta said: "You would have to be
some kind of superhuman not to have some kind of thoughts about
it. But I also know I'm not going to let my
instinct for survival kick in."
His execution was protested by Bishop Phillip Straling of the
Catholic Diocese of Reno, who said it"denies the sacredness of
life, which mandates that no human life can be taken away as
But Abeyta, who is Catholic, said the Bible told him that he had
to submit to the rule of the state, even if it meant his
Abeyta lived with Martin for about 6 to 8 weeks in the
spring of 1989 just after his parole from prison on a robbery
charge. But Martin asked Abeyta to move out because of a concern
he was stealing from her landlord.
He returned to Martin's home in October, however, with his half-brother,
Casey Korsmo, to steal property to finance what he described as
a five-day drug binge.
Korsmo, who pleaded guilty in 1994 to 1st-degree murder in
exchange for a chance at parole beginning in 2003, said at
Abeyta's trial that he heard gunshots shortly after the two men
broke into Martin's home.
Martin was killed with two shots to the back of her head from a
Abeyta could have appealed his case for years but said he was
ready to accept his sentence.
"As a Christian, I believe it would be wrong for me to seek a
protracted appeal process or to seek further representation,
because to do so would be to avoid accountability," he said.
Abeyta said it was his addiction to methamphetamine that led him
into the criminal world.
His criminal behavior grew progressively worse.
He served time in California for various crimes. In 1979, he was
convicted in Nevada of robbery with a deadly weapon and battery
with a deadly weapon. He was in prison until his release on
parole in March 1989.
He met Martin shortly after and committed the murder only 7
Abeyta also said he was abused as a child by his father while
growing up in the Bay area but said he did not blame either his
drug habit or his family for the murder.
"I've got no one to blame," he said. "It's not because of my
culture or my family. There are always dysfunctional families.
Everything I ever did was always of my own choosing. Not that I
wanted to do what was wrong. You just kind of give up on life
when you're on the wrong path and there's nothing to change it."
Abeyta agreed to an interview because he wanted the Martin
family to know the regret he felt for the murder.
"I would just basically like the Martin family to know truly how
sorry I am," he said. "By my actions, I realize how much anguish
and pain I caused them."
Martin's mother, Pearl, testified at Abeyta's trial. "There have
been many, many tears, and there will be more," she said.
While Abeyta decided recently to proceed with his execution, he
did not always feel that way. The trial took so long from the
time of the crime because Abeyta's mental health was being
In the interview, Abeyta said he faked mental illness in an
effort to avoid taking responsibility for Martin's death.
But Abeyta said he finally decided that he could not reconcile
his use of the court system to delay his sentence with his
Christian beliefs and decided to accept his punishment instead.
Las Vegas Review-Journal and Rick Halperin