Joe Atkins was convicted of the 1985
murders of his father Benjamin Atkins, 75, and a 13-year-old neighbor
girl, Karen Patterson, 5 years after being paroled for murdering his
Atkins, who lived with his father, was
angry with his next-door neighbors, according to trial testimony.
He got drunk and broke into their house
armed with a machete, a shotgun and a revolver.
He shot the girl with the 12-gauge, sawed-off
shotgun as she slept. Then he chased her mother back to the Atkins'
house, where he shot his father, who had convinced parole officials to
release his son from prison 5 years earlier.
Fifteen years prior to Karen's murder,
Atkins had served 10 years of a life sentence for killing his 23-year-old
Although Atkins' attorneys claimed that he
was drunk during the attack and didn't know what he was doing,
prosecutors said Atkins knew enough to cut the telephone lines to his
neighbors' house before breaking in and to flee when a county police
Joseph Atkins 99-01-22, South Carolina
Columbia, a man was executed by injection Friday for shooting to death
his adoptive father and a 13-year-old neighbor while on parole for
killing his brother.
Atkins, 51, was the 6th inmate executed in the past 7 weeks in South
Carolina. Atkins offered no final statement, and no relatives attended.
lawyers suggested Atkins, a veteran, was having a flashback to the
Vietnam War during the 1985 killings in North Charleston, but his
clemency plea was denied by Gov. Jim Hodges.
who lived with his father, was angry with his next-door neighbors,
according to trial testimony. He got drunk and broke into their house
armed with a machete, a shotgun and a revolver.
Karen Patterson with the sawed-off shotgun while she was in bed. Then he
chased her mother back to his house where he shot Benjamin Frank Atkins,
earlier, the older Atkins had convinced parole officials to release his
son from prison. Atkins served 10 years of a life sentence for killing
his 23-year-old brother, Charles.
becomes the 2nd condemned inmate in South Carolina to be put to death
this year, and the 22nd overall since the state resumed executions in
(sources: Associated Press and Rick
USA (South Carolina) Joseph (Joe) Ernest ATKINS,
Joseph Ernest Atkins is scheduled to be executed in
South Carolina on 22 January 1999. He was sentenced to death for the
murder of his adoptive father and a young girl in his home town of North
Charleston in 1985.
Joe Atkins was exposed to violence from an early
age. The unwanted child of a prostitute, he was adopted by B.F. Atkins
and Gladys Atkins. He was subjected to frequent beatings and verbal
tirades by his adoptive father who would insult him with racist epithets
because of his dark skin (his race is unknown, possibly partly African
Joe Atkins was also often attacked by his older
half-brother, Charles. He required surgery after one such assault in
which Charles repeatedly knifed him in the stomach. On three occasions
Charles split Joe's head open by hitting him with a rifle butt, a pool
cue and a bottle.
Joe Atkins also witnessed repeated violence,
including rape, by his father against Gladys. Joe Atkins believed that
this brutality against his adoptive mother, which included having her
head hit against walls and floors, caused the brain tumour that killed
her when he was 15.
Joe Atkins was called up to fight in the war in
Vietnam when he was about 21.
He was involved in fighting on the border with
Cambodia and Laos, where he reportedly witnessed extreme violence,
including seeing people killed and mutilated, and hearing fellow
soldiers who had been captured being tortured to death. On his return
home in October 1969, he was awarded a Vietnam Campaign Medal, the
Vietnam Service Medal and the National Defense Ribbon.
Three months later, on 31 December 1969, Joe Atkins
killed his half-brother Charles after the latter had violently attacked
him after the two had been drinking. Given the circumstances, his
defence lawyer and the prosecutor agreed that a manslaughter plea was
However, due to poor defence advice, the plea
collapsed in court when Atkins unwittingly led the judge to believe that
a self-defence plea was possible. The trial proceeded, but with
inadequate defence counsel Atkins was found guilty of murder and
sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial lasted a day.
Joe Atkins was paroled in 1980. With a criminal
record, and possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his
Vietnam experience, he struggled to make a new life, but became
After a night of drinking on 27 October 1985, he
reportedly dressed in military fatigues, armed himself with a machete
and shotgun and engaged in other behaviour possibly indicative of a PTSD
flashback, and killed his adoptive father and the 13-year-old daughter
of his neighbours.
At his trial in 1986, the only aggravating factor
making his crime capital was the fact that he had a previous murder
conviction. Without this, or if he had been convicted of manslaughter in
1970, he would not have been eligible for the death penalty.
His 1986 defence lawyers, who had no experience of
a capital case in South Carolina, did not raise the possibility of a
verdict of "guilty but mentally ill" (where, because of mental disease
or defect, a person lacks the capacity to abide by the law). It appears
that the lawyers were either unaware of the 1984 law allowing for this
verdict, or that Joe Atkins was a suitable case for it.
Joe Atkins's subsequent death sentence was
overturned on a technicality, but in 1988 he was resentenced to death by
a jury who was not told the full range of mitigating evidence. His
lawyers failed to fully investigate his background. Expert witnesses now
admit that their original diagnoses were faulty because they were not in
possession of all the facts about his upbringing or the effects of his
In South Carolina the Governor has the power to
grant clemency. The last person executed in the state was Andy Lavern
Smith on 18 December 1998. He was the 500th prisoner to be put to death
in the USA since executions resumed in 1977.