Harold McQueen, his girlfriend Linda Rose, and his half-brother
William Burnell, were driving around Richmond in Harold's car that
evening. They had spent the afternoon drinking heavily, smoking
marijuana, and taking pills.
At around 11:30 p.m., Harold, Keith and Linda drove to the Minit
Mart Store on Big Hill Avenue to rob it. Harold drove. He pulled
into the parking lot of an apartment complex that backed up to the
rear of the Minit Mart. Harold and Keith got out of the car and
entered the front door. Linda Rose remained in the car.
McQueen ordered the 22 year old clerk, Rebecca O'Hearn, to empty
the cash register and the safe. After she complied, McQueen shot her
twice with a .22 pistol.
According to Rose, Burnell and McQueen emerged from the store,
Burnell carrying a bag with the store's surveillance camera, and
McQueen carrying three small bags.
Rose testified that McQueen told her that he shot O'Hearn twice,
and stated that "I know the bitch is dead." McQueen and Burnell then
disposed of the surveillance camera in a nearby pond. Apparently,
Burnell then left McQueen and Rose, who retired to a motel room for
O'Hearn was found later slumped forward with her hands over her
face, on the floor behind the counter. She was shot in the face from
a distance of less than six inches. The second shot to the back of
her head was fatal, and committed either after he made O'Hearn kneel
on the floor or after she fell in a kneeling position.
After McQueen and Rose were picked up on unrelated Theft charges,
police searched the trailer where they lived, recovering the murder
weapon and a bundle of cash and food stamps from the Minit Mart.
McQueen and Burnell were tried jointly for robbery and capital
Following the jury recommendation against death, accomplice
Burnell was sentenced to two 28 year terms of imprisonment. (Paroled
Harold McQueen, Jr. (July
25, 1952 – July 1, 1997) was the first criminal
executed by the State of Kentucky after the
reinstatement of capital punishment in the United
States in 1976. McQueen was sentenced to death for
shooting and killing an unarmed store clerk, Rebecca
O'Hearn, while robbing the store in which she worked
in Richmond, Kentucky on January 17, 1981.
On July 1, 1997 at 12:07 a.m.,
McQueen was executed by electrocution at the
Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky.
In addition to being the first person executed in
Kentucky since 1962, McQueen currently is also the
last person executed in Kentucky's electric chair
and is the only person since 1976 executed in
Kentucky involuntarily. McQueen's last words, spoken
to his spiritual adviser, were "I love you, Father".
During his execution, smoke was seen rising from the
electrodes placed on his right ankle. He was
declared dead eight minutes after the execution had
By Michael Collins -
The Kentucky Post Online
July 1, 1997
EDDYVILLE - He was calm, almost peaceful, as he was led into the
execution chamber and the large, leather straps of the electric
chair were buckled across his chest and waist. He spoke softly,
apologizing first to the family of Rebecca O'Hearn, his victim. ''I
just want to apologize one more time to the O'Hearns,'' Harold
McQueen Jr. said, moments before he became the first person to be
executed in Kentucky's electric chair since 1962. ''I'd also like to
apologize to my family. They're victims as well, in a way. Thanks to
everyone who sent me cards, letters and prayers. And to everyone who
sent me that, tell them to keep fighting the death penalty.''
closed, he nodded as his spiritual adviser, Paul Stevens, said a
short prayer on his behalf. Then, he uttered his last words to the
man with whom he spent the last hours of his life. ''I love you,
Father,'' he told Stevens. Over McQueen's shoulder, three anonymous
executioners stood behind one-way glass, poised to press three
plungers that would send a maximum of 2,100 volts into McQueen.
McQueen, three weeks shy of his 45th birthday, today became the
163rd person executed in Kentucky. He was put to death in the
electric chair at 12:07 a.m. at the Kentucky State Penitentiary,
where he had been on Death Row for nearly 17 years.
The only visible movement as 2,100 volts of electricity coursed
through his body for 15 seconds was in his hands, which jerked and
balled up into a fist. Smoke rose from the electrodes on his right
ankle. At 12:11 a.m., a physician's assistant walked into the death
chamber and unstrapped McQueen's right arm. He placed two gloved
fingers to McQueen's neck to check for a pulse, then a doctor
repeated the procedure.
At 12:15 a.m., McQueen was pronounced dead.
Five minutes later, the official announcement was made. ''The
sentence of death has been carried out for Harold McQueen,'' said
Michael Bradley, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.
Bradley said the state's only electric chair, refurbished earlier
this year at a cost of $32,000, performed ''to perfection.'' After a
post-mortem examination performed by Dr. David Jones, the state's
chief medical examiner, the body was taken to Berea, where funeral
arrangements will be made.
Throughout the day, more than 100 National Guard troops and 50
state police officers stood guard at the castle-like prison
overlooking Lake Barkley. Three officers from the Department of Fish
and Wildlife patrolled the area in boats. Bradley said the officers
were placed on duty as a precaution in the event of a disturbance
among the 827 other inmates. Prisoners were confined to their cells
at 6 a.m. as a precaution.
The only sign of unrest came just as the
execution was about to begin. Prisoners housed in a cell above the
execution chamber banged on the front of their cells in a final
tribute to their former comrade and friend. Barry Banister, a
spokesman for the prison, said the extra security precautions will
remain in effect until today, when the prison is expected to resume
On a firing range beside the prison, more than 200 protesters
gathered for a peaceful demonstration. A handful were death penalty
advocates, but most were opponents. Police said three people were
arrested for drug possession. McQueen's execution capped a day in
which his attorneys worked feverishly on a series of last-minute
legal maneuvers in federal and state courts to save him from the
electric chair. They formally asked Gov. Paul Patton to grant
clemency. Patton, though, did not budge. ''I do not believe it is
proper, through the power of clemency, to substitute my judgment for
that of the General Assembly, the courts and the juries of this
commonwealth,'' Patton said.
With clemency denied, McQueen's lawyers filed suit in Franklin
Circuit Court, which also turned down their request. Later, the
state Supreme Court rejected that claim as well. The attorneys also
sued in Lyon Circuit Court, claiming that prison officials were not
giving them adequate access to McQueen. That issue was resolved when
the attorneys agreed to follow a schedule that had been approved by
McQueen on Monday. Five other suits were pending before the U.S.
Supreme Court, which turned down all five late Monday night and
cleared the way for the execution to take place.
McQueen had been on Death Row for 17 years for the 1980 murder of
22-year-old Ms. O'Hearn during a robbery at the Richmond convenience
store where she worked. Two weeks ago, McQueen said that the shooter
was his half-brother, William Keith Burnell. Burnell was convicted
as an accomplice in the robbery and was sentenced to 20 years in
prison. He was paroled in 1988.
Ms. O'Hearn's father, Charles O'Hearn, had asked to be a witness
to the execution. That request was turned down because state law
makes no provision for the family members of victims to witness an
execution, Bradley said.
McQueen's last day began early. He arose at 5:30 a.m.; two hours
later, he began seeing visitors, including his mother, Helen Burnell,
and his aunt, Virginia Ballinger, both of whom left the prison
without talking to reporters. His girlfriend, June Linville of Berea,
said she met with McQueen for several hours. The execution was
witnessed by 17 people, including nine members of the media, three
representatives requested by McQueen and five officials from prisons
across the state.
No members of his family asked to view the
execution. Rosemary Butler, a friend of McQueen, was among those who
witnessed the execution. ''It was a very painful experience to watch
him die,'' she said. ''I think we are all victims here.'' Word of
McQueen's death came as his supporters were holding a candlelight
vigil on a firing range near the prison. Upon the announcement, Ms.
Linville threw her candle to the ground and began to sob.
(State law restricts the number of reporters who can witness an
execution. The Associated Press is given a seat, and some of the
account of McQueen's death in this story is drawn from the reporting
of AP correspondent Ted Bridis)
Limo Carried Bad Luck for Winner of Contest
By Michael Collins -
The Kentucky Post Online
July 1, 1997
EDDYVILLE - Phillip Payne got the jitters just before the white
stretch limo pulled up in front of his Louisville house. It was his
first execution, his first limousine ride. Payne, a 21-year-old
convenience store cashier, won a trip to the Kentucky State
Penitentiary to witness the spectacle around Kentucky's first
execution in 35 years. Billed as a ''totally fried weekend,'' the
trip was a promotional contest sponsored by a Louisville radio
Payne, who won the grand prize drawing, and his fiancee, Roxie
Rusher, arrived at Eddyville in style - in the back seat of the
limo. But the couple and a radio station employee were stopped near
the front entrance. The radio employee was allowed inside the media
briefing room. But Payne and his fiancee were directed to an outdoor
Then, as their limo was going through a security checkpoint, a
state trooper spotted marijuana in the car. The limo driver, David
W. Luckett, 29, was handcuffed and charged with possession and other
counts. The limo was towed. Payne and Ms. Rusher rode back home in a
radio station van - one with no back seat. Payne offered no
apologizes, even to those who suggested the whole affair was in bad
taste. ''They can stay home if they want,'' he said.
McQueen's Victim Recalled as Friendly
The Kentucky Post Online
July 1, 1997
RICHMOND - Each morning before his 7:30 work shift, William
Teater stopped at the Minit Mart on Big Hill Avenue for a doughnut
and a soft drink. He was greeted by Rebecca O'Hearn, a friendly
young woman who knew him by name. On the morning of Jan. 18, 1980,
his ritual was interrupted. He saw police cars in the parking lot
and assumed the store had been robbed. When the door was unlocked he
found something much worse: the manager was mopping up blood from
behind the counter. Ms. O'Hearn had been shot by Harold McQueen
during her night shift.
The manager was crying, Teater said. ''He was standing there
mopping the blood. It was something you never forget.''
McQueen was executed early today for Ms. O'Hearn's murder. On
Monday evening, just a few hours before McQueen's execution, Teater
entered the convenience store - now under different ownership - and
greeted Wesley Masters, who was working the night shift. ''All of us
thought so much of her,'' recalled Teater. Teater worked back then
for a plumbing business and now works at a hospital. ''If you came
in here in a bad mood, she would have you laughing.''
Teater said he also knew McQueen, who was a few years behind him
in school. ''I feel bad for his family, especially his mother in
Berea,'' Teater said. Teater said a conversation with Ms. O'Hearn
the day before her murder is what stands out in his mind. ''She told
me, "Just a few more days and I'm out of here and making some real
money,' '' he said. Masters, meanwhile, said he tries not to think
about what happened that night 17 years ago. ''If you get thinking
about it, you just sit around nervous all night,'' he said.
Killer's last plea: Stay off drugs
By Michael Collins, Post Frankfort Bureau Chief
The Cincinnati Post
January 13, 1998
FRANKFORT, Ky. - From his prison cell on Death
Row, Harold McQueen Jr. stares calmly into the camera and begs
children one last time to stay away from alcohol and drugs.
''Drugs destroyed everything I ever had. And it
destroyed everything I ever wanted,'' he says bluntly.
''You don't have no future with drugs. I mean you
don't have anything. You don't care about your mother, your brother,
whoever. You know you just gotta get that high. And if you don't get
it, you'll get it the best way you can. If you don't have money,
you'll steal, rob.''
It's a powerful message that McQueen repeated
many times during his 16 years on Death Row. It's one that he would
not repeat again.
Three days after the videotape was made, the
convicted murderer was put to death in the Kentucky electric chair.
His was the first execution in Kentucky in 35 years.
The videotape, made under the supervision of the
Catholic Conference of Kentucky, is being distributed to churches,
youth organizations and other groups in hopes that McQueen's anti-drug
message will resonate with teen-agers and keep them from heading
down the same tragic path.
''Clearly, the message is that when one begins to
abuse substances - alcohol and other forms of drugs - you no longer
have control over your behavior,'' said Jane Chiles, the Cath olic
conference's executive director.
The 19-minute video, titled ''It Could Happen To
You,'' was made public just last week, but the response already has
A circuit judge plans to show the tape to alcohol
abusers who appear in his courtroom. Parents have asked for copies
to show to their children.
The video, now in its second printing, was filmed
at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, just a few feet
from the execution chamber where McQueen was put to death last July.
McQueen, who became a devout Catholic while on
Death Row, agreed to make the tape after it became obvious that he
would not be granted a pardon and his life would not be spared, Ms.
McQueen had spoken frequently to youths about the
dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. He saw the videotape as a way to
continue spreading his anti-drug message long after he was gone.
John Mallery, substance abuse treatment
supervisor for Catholic Social Services of Northern Kentucky, said
McQueen's message remains powerful even on videotape.
''I think he's very clear in saying you need to
start looking at what you're doing as a teen-ager, before it gets
worse,'' said Mallery, who served as a consultant during the
production and editing of the video.
On the tape, McQueen sits calmly in a chair,
hands folded in his lap, his bushy hair pulled back in a ponytail.
He's dressed in his red prison uniform. The bars of his prison cell
are clearly visible in the background.
McQueen talks candidly about how his life began
to fall apart after he took his first drink of alcohol at age 10. By
high school, he was drinking heavily.
''My grades started going down,'' he said. ''I
started not even wanting to go to school. I just wanted to lay
around and drink and hang out with the older kids, the ones that
were already out of school. They all wanted me to go with them. We
just partied all together. Alcohol cut my school all the way out.''
At 19, he joined the Army, where he got hooked on
heroin. His wife eventually left him. One cold winter night, he sank
into deep despair.
''My stomach was burning, felt like every muscle
in me was straining and ripping apart. ...
You know, it was just I didn't think I was
wanting to go through that anymore.''
He put a pistol to his head and pulled the
trigger. The gun snapped, but misfired.
McQueen's life had been spared. But he was unable
to shake his deep, gnawing hunger for drugs.
McQueen had taken more than 150 milligrams of
Valium and had been drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana the night
he and his half-brother, William Keith Burnell, pulled into a Mini
Mart store in Richmond, Ky. on Jan. 17, 1980.
Rebecca O'Hearn, a 22-year-old clerk, was filling
in for a co-worker.
Though he would later claim that his brother was
the triggerman, McQueen was convicted of shooting Ms. O'Hearn once
in the cheek and then putting the gun to the back of her head and
pulling the trigger.
McQueen, who already had an extensive record that
included breaking and entering, shoplifting, burglary, disorderly
conduct, hit and run and desertion from the Army, was sentenced to
death for the murder of Ms. O'Hearn in April 1981.
McQueen doesn't talk directly about the murder on
the videotape and makes only a passing reference to his upcoming
He does mention that he regrets the things he's
done wrong. And he talks at length about the anguish and the
hopelessness of life on Death Row.
McQueen makes it clear that anybody on drugs
could end up like him.
''All you gotta do is just, uh, load your blood
system up with drugs, alcohol, and you don't know what you're doing.
You could easily be talked into doing anything. ...
He urges teens to find a substitute for drugs and
''If you're not into church, find something else,''
he said. ''There's a better high out there than drugs and alcohol.
Life is a high. And when you come in here, you've lost that.''
Karl Keys: The
State Sponsored Killing of Harold McQueen
Harold was my friend; he was killed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky
on July 1, 1997. He was the first person executed in Kentucky in 35
years. Harold forever changed my life. His love and compassion I
will never forget -- even if he refused to get a haircut. May God
have mercy on us all.
Karl - PS The rest of the webpage I leave to remeber the last
days of Harold's life.
HAROLD McQUEEN, JR.
Harold McQueen was sentenced to death in 1981 in Richmond,
Kentucky, for the January 17, 1981 robbery of a Minit Mart
convenience store, and the murder of 22-year-old Rebecca O'Hearn, a
cashier at the store. Harold is now 44-years-old. He was sentenced
to death at the age of 28.
Prior to his capital charges, Harold had
been convicted of non-violent crimes, i.e., burglary, pandering, but
he had no history of convictions for violent offenses. At the time
of the crime, Harold was addicted to heroin, valium and alcohol. He
had been introduced to alcohol at the age of ten by his father, the
town drunk. By the time he was 13, he was drinking steadily, to the
point of blacking out from the alcohol. Soon afterward, he began
regularly abusing illegal drugs.
Ironically, he entered the United States Army in a last attempt
to straighten out his life. It was there that he was introduced to
and became addicted to heroin. His addictions were so overpowering
that he was constantly high on drugs, drunk and compelled to consume
large quantities of drugs and alcohol in order to reach the highly
intoxicated state which his addiction demanded.
In the months and years leading to the crime for which he was
sentenced to death, Harold's life spiralled out of control due to
drug addiction. An aunt who had grown up with Harold recalls that,
at the time: "to look or speak to Harold, Jr. was like looking at,
or talking to a stranger. There was nothing there that resembled the
Harold, Jr. that we had known. . . .Harold just wasn't there."
By the late 1970s, Harold was heavily addicted to drugs. He could
not keep a job, his marriage had failed, and he was stealing in
order to obtain drugs. Harold was addicted to the point that he
needed injections of heroin throughout the day, every day. An old
acquaintance (and ex-heroin addict) of Harold's recalls that: "we
did so much that we got weekly deliveries of the drug at my home. .
. .[He] was able to get off it for a while, but I turned him on
again. . .I feel really bad out that now."
Harold stole from his family in order to keep himself supplied
with drugs. An uncle recalls that "he broke in and stole my son's
piggy bank to get money for drugs -- and Harold adored my son. . .
.the difference between Harold sober and on drugs was like the
difference between daylight and dark."
According to Dr. Eljorn Nelson, a psychopharmacologist at the
University of Cincinnati, Harold's intoxication at the time of the
crime was no longer voluntary. Because of his addiction, drugs and
alcohol "had taken on the same significance as eating food,
breathing, and drinking water for a normal non-chemically dependent
On the night of the crime, Harold had injected in excess of 150
milligrams of Valium, and had been drinking whiskey and smoking
marijuana all day. Medical professionals have evaluated Harold. A
neuropsychologist found that Harold suffered frontal lobe brain
damage because of his long-term drug abuse. A psychopharmacologist
found that Harold could not have formed the intent at the time of
the crime to support a conviction for murder. Neither of these
experts testified at Harold's death penalty trial; the jury never
knew of Harold's drug addiction and abuse problems.
HAROLD'S 1981 TRIAL
Harold, age 28, and his 19-year-old half-brother, Keith Burnell,
were tried together for the robbery-murder in Richmond, Kentucky.
Although Keith Burnell was an active participant in the crimes, he
received the minimum 20-year sentence for murder, and was paroled in
1988. While Burnell's father paid to hire an attorney for his son,
Harold was left with a court- appointed attorney, who was paid
$1000, the maximum fee for appointed counsel in Kentucky death
penalty cases in 1980.
Harold's attorney did very little, if anything, to prepare a
defense for Harold. The lawyer did not seek a severed trial,
although Burnell's attorney made it clear through his pre- trial
motion practice that he would place the blame on Harold.
At trial, the blame was indeed placed on Harold for acting as the
leader of the three persons present at the crime scene. Linda Rose,
the third person, was never charged and testified against Harold.
Weeks before trial, she fled to Arizona, and had to be returned by
law enforcement officials to testify. Harold was targeted by both
the prosecution and his half-brother co-defendant, as the
trigger-person, even though there was no evidence to prove who had
shot Becky O'Hearn.
Harold's lawyer did not seek a change of venue in this highly
publicized case. He did not cross-examine witnesses effectively. For
instance, Harold's defense attorney did not effectively
cross--examine Linda Rose, the co-defendant-turned-state witness who
was the only person to claim that Harold was the trigger-person,
despite the widely divergent accounts she gave pre-trial of what
happened on the night of the crime.
Harold's lawyer did not investigate mitigation, although there
was ample evidence of Harold's drug abuse and addiction. Harold's
family members were not interviewed or presented as witnesses,
although they would have testified that Harold's life had spiralled
out of control because of drugs. Harold's defense attorney testified
at a state post-conviction hearing in 1985 that he did not talk to
Harold's family before trial because he felt they had a bad
reputation in the community.
The jury heard no evidence of Harold's long-term drug addiction,
and resulting brain damage. The jury never knew that Harold had been
severely neglected as a child. The jury knew nothing of Harold's
demeanor and personality off drugs. They did not know that, as
Harold's aunt puts it, "Harold was a caring, sweet child. . . .even
as an adult, there wasn't a violent or mean bone in his body."
POST-CONVICTION REVIEW IN HAROLD'S CASE
Harold's Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the United States
Supreme Court was denied on June 2, 1997. He will file a Petition
for Rehearing on or before June 27, as is his right under that
court's Rule 44.
A panel of judges decided 2-1 against Harold in the Sixth
Circuit. The dissenting judge stated quite strongly that Harold's
death sentence was not fairly obtained and should be vacated. This,
in large part, was due to the failure of Harold's poorly
compensated, appointed trial attorney to investigate, discover and
inform the jury about many very significant aspects of Harold's
life, including his brain damage, long-term alcohol and drug
addictions, and his abysmal upbringing -- all mitigating evidence,
which the United States Supreme Court has said, if presented, must
be considered by a jury.
The United States District Court that denied Harold's Petition
for a Writ of Habeas Corpus never considered the medical report that
found Harold to suffer from brain damage , and to have not had the
ability, due to intoxication, to form the requisite criminal intent
at the time of the crime. There has been no federal hearing in
Harold's case, and no court has considered the mental health
evidence that trial counsel could have and should have--but did
not--present at Harold's capital trial.
HAROLD MCQUEEN, JR. TODAY
Harold has not committed any violent acts in the 16 years that he
has lived on Death Row. Jack Wood, who has worked at Eddyville's
Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP)-- Kentucky's only maximum security
institution--for 17 years, is currently the Unit Administrator for
the entire Death Row population. Mr. Wood has known Harold since
Harold came to Death Row. On May 7, 1997, Mr. Wood stated that, but
for Harold's death sentence, Harold would not be at KSP because his
"custody score is so low he would have been gone [transferred to
another institution] years ago for good conduct." Mr. Wood said that
while he was not sure, he believed that Harold had the best record
of conduct of all death row inmates, and that on average, Death Row
prisoners are better behaved than general population inmates at the
Al Parke was the Warden the KSP from July, 1982 through 1984, and
later served as Kentucky's Commissioner of Corrections under
Governor Martha Layne Collins. Al Parke is currently the
Superintendent (Warden) at Indiana State Penitentiary, which houses
Indiana's death row population. Superintendent Parke presides over
executions in the state of Indiana. Al Parke met Harold McQueen in
1982. As Warden, Parke observed Harold's behavior, and saw Harold
again upon his return to visit KSP some years later. Although he
does not favor clemency, Parke believes that Harold would not be a
threat if released from Death Row into the general prison
Ken Thomas, a staff psychologist at KSP who has known and
counselled Harold over the past three years, believes that Harold
has been a Corrections success story, and that he should not be
executed for his crime. Mr. Thomas describes Harold as a deeply
spiritual person who is truly remorseful for his past actions. Mr.
Thomas has observed Harold to be a positive influence on other
prisoners and a mature, introspective individual.
Harold has not used any illicit drugs since 1987. Harold has
received two write-ups for marijuana use while on Death Row, but
none since 1987. Bobby Waller was the Death Row Unit Administrator
in 1983 and 1984, and again in the early 1990s. Mr. Waller recalls
that "Harold had some drug-related write-ups when he first came. . .
.He was always respectful to me, one of the most behaved inmates on
death row. . . .he's a model inmate. I can't say [anything]. . . .bad
about him." Harold has acted as an inmate spokesperson, talking with
juvenile offenders who visit KSP as part of a program designed to
keep juveniles from becoming adult offenders. Harold warns juveniles
to stay away from drugs, and shares his own story of drug abuse and
addiction problems, and the criminal activity that followed as a
result of drugs.
While Harold knows that drugs led him into criminal activity, he
does not try to lessen his own personal responsibility for the death
of Rebecca O'Hearn by blaming his actions on drugs. Harold is
sincerely remorseful for Ms. O'Hearn's death, and the pain and
anguish that Ms. O'Hearn's loved ones have suffered. Harold is a
productive and responsible member of the prison community. Harold
was elected to serve as one of four inmates on the KSP Grievance
committee. Harold has taken part in grievance hearings as an inmate
representative. Harold has worked for over a decade as a janitor at
the prison. KSP corrections officer Tim Fox has worked at the prison
for over 10 years, and worked on Death Row for over 2 years. Officer
Fox supervised Harold's work, and reports that Harold "has always
done the work requested. . . even above what was expected." Kenny
Stephens, an engineer who has worked at KSP for 13 years, has
supervised Harold's work on a number of projects. Mr. Stephens
states that he has "never had a problem with [Harold]. . . .he's a
good worker. . . .gets along with staff and inmates."
Harold has been a devout Catholic since 1987. He attends every
prison worship service, and prays daily with a rosary. Harold's
rosary belonged to Cindy Stephens, the daughter of Paul Stephens, a
volunteer chaplain at the prison. Cindy Stephens was murdered twenty
years ago. Paul Stephens says that "Harold is a source of strength
to his fellow prisoners; he counsels them to live in a way God would
approve of." Paul Stephens does not believe Harold deserves to be
Harold has had two death warrants signed over the time that he
has been on Death Row. When the first warrant was signed in 1984,
the prison psychologist conducted his mandatory interview with
Harold. Harold said that he "finds it difficult to wait day by day
by day. . . .that he would prefer someone to simply pick him up from
his cell and carry him away, rather than be in the predicament of
not knowing." The second warrant was signed in 1987. Harold has
lived for 16 years not knowing when his execution day might arrive.
Over this time, he has become a Corrections success story and has
for years been a model prisoner on Death Row. Harold is willing to
spend the rest of his natural life in prison, if he is spared
Harold, at the age of 44, is not deserving of execution.
HAROLD MCQUEEN'S CRIME
In 1980, Rebecca O'Hearn was twenty-two years old and had
recently graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. Ms.
O'Hearn, from a family of teachers, planned to return to school to
become a school teacher. Rebecca O'Hearn worked evenings at the
Minit Mart Convenience Store in Richmond, Kentucky. On Thursday
evening, January 17, 1980, she went to work. She worked alone in the
store that night.
Harold McQueen, along with his half-brother, William Burnell, and
Linda Rose, a woman who had known Keith Burnell for years, were
driving around Richmond in Harold's car that evening. They had been
in the country that afternoon, and had been drinking at Keith's
father's home. Harold, Keith and Linda had spent the afternoon
drinking heavily, smoking marijuana, and taking pills.
Harold's drug use had reached chronic proportions by 1980. This
day was like many others: he ingested approximately 150 milligrams
of Valium, smoked countless marijuana cigarettes, and drank a large
amount of whiskey straight from the bottle. Linda Rose and Keith
Burnell were drinking heavily and smoking marijuana as well. Court
testimony from Harold's trial revealed that Ms. Rose was heavily
under the influence of alcohol and Valium on this evening. Harold
and his half-brother both had a history of petty crimes in and
around the Richmond area. To this day, little remains known about
Linda Rose's past, except that she was known around Berea and
Richmond for being a heavy drinker and drug user.
At approximately 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 17, 1980, Harold,
Keith and Linda went to the home of their friends Billy Hunter and
Bertha Lewis. There were eight or nine people in the apartment.
People who were present at the apartment that night testified at
trial that Harold, Keith Burnell and Linda Rose were intoxicated
when they left that night. At around 11:30 p.m., Harold, Keith and
Linda drove to the Minit Mart Store on Big Hill Avenue to rob it.
Harold drove. He pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex
that backed up to the rear of the Minit Mart. Harold and Keith got
out of the car and approached the Minit Mart from behind. Linda Rose
remained in the car. In a statement to the police, she admitted that
she was passed out from the alcohol and drugs she had been consuming
The two half-brothers were armed with a .22 pistol, and a crowbar
between them. Harold and Keith walked through the parking lot,
around the store and entered through the front door. They ordered
Rebecca O'Hearn to empty the cash register and the safe, and she
complied. When they left the store minutes later, Rebecca O'Hearn
had been shot twice in the head. She was discovered minutes later by
a customer, who notified the police and an ambulance. Ms. O'Hearn
died shortly thereafter.
HAROLD MCQUEEN TODAY
Harold McQueen today is wholly unlike the person who committed
the crimes for which he has been sentenced to die: Harold is no
longer addicted to drugs and alcohol even though he says that others
who want them can get them in prison. Harold has spoken to children
about his past and warned them about the dangers of crime and drugs.
Harold has never been violent with anyone in prison; the crime for
which he has been condemned to die is the only violent act in which
he has ever been involved. Harold has held a steady job as a janitor
for over 10 years and has won awards for his work.
Harold has had no
disciplinary problems for over 10 years. Harold is well liked by his
fellow inmates and by the staff of the prison. Harold is a
grandfather who takes pride in a daughter and grandson with whom he
has a relationship. Harold still loves his mother and others in his
family despite their lack of interest in him when he was younger.
Harold regrets his past, the crimes he has committed and the pain he
has caused Rebecca O'Hearn's family and his own.
Harold McQueen was strapped into the 86-year-old electric chair
at the fortress-like Kentucky State Penitentiary and given a 2,100-volt
charge at 12:07 a.m. CDT. Prison officials said he clenched his fist
and was pronounced dead eight minutes later. He was convicted of
killing Rebecca O'Hearn, a 22-year-old store clerk, in a 1980
robbery while he was high on drugs.
"I want to apologize one more time to the O'Hearn family,''
McQueen said in a statement after he was strapped into the electric
chair. "I want to apologize to my own family and I want to say
thank you to those who sent me cards letters and prayers, and hope
that they continue to oppose the death penalty,'' he said. Officials
said McQueen was resigned and ready to die after last-minute legal
His execution was Kentucky's first since 1962 -- 10 years before
the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment in 1972, a ban it
reversed four years later. He was the first of the state's death row
inmates to exhaust all appeals since the modern-day return of
capital punishment. Officials spent thousands of dollars refurbishng
the chair to make sure it was in working order. More than 160 other
men were executed at the prison in earlier years. A number of prayer
vigils were held by capital punishment opponents in Eddyville before
The U.S. and Kentucky Supreme Courts both rejected last-minute
appeals to stay the execution. In his final hours, McQueen was
visited by his mother and his girlfriend and made telephone calls to
relatives and friends to say good-bye, prison officials said.
McQueen spent his final moments with his spiritual advisor and his
attorney. He asked for cheesecake for his last meal.
Killer Moves A Step Closer To Execution
Harold McQueen, Jr., who was sentenced to death in 1981 for
killing a 22-year-old convenience-store clerk during a robbery in
Richmond, could be the first person executed in Kentucky in 35 years.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear McQueen’s
appeal. A three-judge panel of that court refused last month to set
aside McQueen’s death sentence. The court’s decision increased the
chances that McQueen, 44, of Berea, will be executed sometime this
The last step is for McQueen to ask the U.S. Supreme Court for
the third time to review the case. It has already refused to twice.
If McQueen doesn’t win, his normal appeal process would be over and
his execution could be scheduled this year. McQueen could be
executed this summer at the earliest. Kentucky’s last execution was
in March 1962, when Kelly Moss of Henderson County died in the
electric chair for murdering his stepfather.
Does Anyone Care About The Innocent Woman He Brutally Murdered?
Seventeen years ago, on January 17, 1980, Harold McQueen brutally
murdered twenty-two-year-old Rebecca Bryan O’Hearn in Richmond,
Kentucky. Becky was working alone that night at the Richmond Minit
Mart. She had just graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and
was working in order to save enough money to pay tuition at Morehead
State University to earn a Master’s Degree. McQueen shot and killed
an innocent young woman in cold blood and left her to die on the
floor with all of her hopes and dreams for the future.
Harold McQueen was 27 years old when he murdered Becky O’Hearn.
He began his criminal career at the age of 13. His juvenile record
included Breaking and Entering, Shoplifting, Truancy, Destroying
City Property and Public Intoxication. His adult record includes
Cold Checks, Disorderly Conduct, Violation of a Peace Bond, Public
Intoxication, Burglary, Pandering, Desertion of the U.S. Army, Hit
and Run, Violation of Parole, First Degree Robbery and Murder.
On the day of the murder McQueen and his girlfriend, Linda Rose,
spent the day driving around in the country smoking marijuana,
taking valiums and drinking. At about 6:00 p.m. they picked up his
19-year-old half-brother. At about 11:00 p.m. McQueen told Rose that
"he had some business to take care of," and drove to the Minit Mart
and parked in the back. McQueen and his half-brother got out of the
car. McQueen took his gun with him and told Rose that he would be
back in a minute. Shortly thereafter Rose heard a gunshot. McQueen
and his half-brother returned to their vehicle with some bags.
McQueen said, "I know the bitch is dead."
At approximately 11:30 p.m. a Park Ranger stopped by the Minit
Mart. He found Becky O’Hearn face down on the floor behind the
counter. She was on her knees and her face was in her hands. She had
been shot in the face from a distance of three to six inches. Becky
had also been shot in the back of her neck. That bullet fragmented
and entered both her spinal canal and brain stem. Approximately
$1,500 cash was taken from the Minit Mart along with a bundle of
food stamps. Both the cash register and safe were open. Opening the
safe required two keys, one of which was hidden. That each key had
to be turned in a certain manner and sequence indicated that Becky
was trying to do what she was told.
Earlier McQueen had told Linda Rose that "if he ever robbed a
place he would never leave an eyewitness. He would leave them lying
dead." Late that January night Harold McQueen did just that. He shot
and killed an innocent young woman in cold blood and left her to die
on the floor with all of her hopes and dreams for the future. All
for $1,500. A Madison County jury determined that Harold McQueen
deserved to die for what he did to Becky O’Hearn. Finally, after
seventeen years it appears that Harold McQueen will have to answer
for the horrible thing he did. It’s about time!
Convicted murderer Harole McQueen will be put to death in the
electric chair July 1, Governor Paul Patton ordered yesterday.
Patton signed an execution warrant for McQueen, 44, who shot and
killed a clerk while robbing a convenience store in January 1980.
Barring any court-ordered stay, prison officials will take McQueen
from his cell at the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville, strap
him into the electric chair, and, as soon as possible after the
clock passes midnight, execute him. The chair uses 2 charges: a 1st
at 2,100 volts for 15 seconds, and the 2nd at 250 volts for 105
seconds. It would be the 1st execution in Kentucky since March,
McQueen's attorney, Randall Wheeler, said yesterday that he was
disappointed, adding that "I still think there are major problems
with the fairness of the trial that Mr. McQueen got." Patton said in
a prepared statement that the courts have thoroughly reviewed
McQueen's conviction and death sentence and upheld them.
The father of the woman McQueen killed has declined comment on
the case in recent months, but in a letter to Patton last week,
Charles O'Hearn of Louisville described how McQueen shot his
daughter, Becky, 22, in the face after she had quietly complied with
an order to open the safe, then shot her again in the back of the
neck as she knelt crying on the floor. O'Hearn said in the letter:
"I urge you to sign the death warrant and set an execution date."
It is not certain that McQueen will be executed on July 1. He has
filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that it would be
unconstitutional to kill him in the electric chair because it is a
cruel and unusual form of punishment. His attorney in that case,
David Friedman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky,
said he will seek a preliminary injunction to block the state from
executing McQueen in the electric chair until the case is resolved.
A convicted cop-killer in Florida won a stay of execution earlier
this year with a similar challenge to the chair, based on a March 25
execution in which the hood covering the head of the condemned man
burst into flame. Wheeler said he will also seek a stay of execution
in state court and will file a clemency petition asking Patton to
spare McQueen's life. McQueen is now a devout Catholic who is truly
sorry for what he did and has been rehabilitated, supporters say.
Patton heard a plea for mercy yesterday just hours before
ordering an execution date for McQueen. In a 17-minute meeting,
Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly of Lousiville and Bishop J. Kendrick
Williams, head of the Diocese of Lexington, asked Patton to commute
McQueen's death sentence to life in prison without parole. The
Catholic church teaches it is wrong for the state or any human to
take a life -- a stance that not all faiths share.
Williams said that "we are convinced that vengeance through
killing should not be an option in our society." Kelly added that
"vengeance belongs to the Lord. And life belongs to the Lord."
Patton said the people of Kentucky, through their lawmakers, have
said they favor allowing juries to decide whether convicted killers
should be sentenced to death. He stated that "I will not, through
the power of clemency, substitute my judgment for that of the
General Assembly, the courts and the juries of the Commonwealth."
Patton supports capital punishment.
State prison officials are prepared for McQueen's execution. The
state tests the electric chair periodically and spent $32,000 this
year to refurbish it with newe wiring, controls and straps. If this
execution goes ahead as scheduled, McQueen may be the last man put
to death in Kentucky's electric chair, which was built in 1910 and
has been used to electrocute 162 men.
A legislative committee is set next week to approve adding
injection of lethal drugs as an execution option. This is the
primary method in 32 of the 38 states that use the death penalty;
Kentucky is 1 of only 6 states that have the electric chair as their
Representative Mike Bowling, chairman of the Joint
Interim Judiciary Committee, said Patton has told him he would add
lethal injection to the agenda if there is a special legislative
session before the end of the year, which is likely. That means
lethal injection could win final legislative approval before the end
of this year, too late for McQueen to choose it but before any of
the other 30 men on death row exhaust their appeals. Bowling said he
would favor putting off McQueen's execution to give him the same
option, adding that "the point is this: he is still going to be put
McQueen has faced death warrants before. Governor Martha Layne
Collins signed 1 in 1984 and Patton signed 1 in 1996. Both expired
because he had not yet exhausted all 9 stages of his court appeals.
He reached the end of those appeals June 2, when the US Supreme
Court declined a 3rd time to hear his case. It is most unlikely that
the high court will grant his attorneys' request to reconsider. The
earliest date Patton could have chosen for McQueen's execution was
25 days after the Supreme Court's decision, or June 27.
McQueen v. Commonwealth, 669 S.W.2d 519 (Ky. 1983), cert.
denied, 469 U.S. 893 (1984).
Defendant was convicted in the Madison Circuit Court, James S.
Chenault, J., of first-degree robbery and murder in the course
thereof, and he appealed. The Supreme Court, Gant, J., held that:
(1) denial of defendant's request for either a statistician or an
expert on death-qualified jurors was not an abuse of discretion
where the individual's personal attendance at a hearing, if any
could be held, would not have enhanced his treatises on the subject;
(2) indefinite, ambiguous reference made by a police officer to a "polygraph
examiner" while being cross-examined by defense counsel in
connection with officer's investigation of a witness for State in
case was not prejudicially erroneous inasmuch as it did not amount
to a statement that any test had been administered or, if so, to
whom it had been administered; (3) it was not error to allow the
Commonwealth to bring to the attention of the jury that the victim
was a living person, more than just a nameless void left somewhere
on the face of the community; and (4) sentence of death imposed upon
conviction of first- degree robbery and murder in the course thereof
was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any
other arbitrary factor and was supported by aggravating
circumstances in case. Affirmed. Leibson, J., dissented and filed
Appellant was convicted of first degree robbery and murder in the
course thereof, *521 and sentenced to 20 years and death,
respectively. The crimes occurred on January 17, 1980, during an
armed robbery of a Minit Mart, the store clerk being shot in the
head from a distance of three to six inches and then through the
back of the neck. The evidence of guilt was so overwhelming it will
not be discussed herein, except as it relates to assignment of error
McQueen v. Commonwealth, 721 S.W.2d 694 (Ky. 1986), cert.
denied, 481 U.S. 1059 (1987).
Defendant brought Rule 11.42 motion alleging ineffective
assistance of counsel and challenging conviction of murder, robbery
and sentence of death. The Madison Circuit Court, James S. Chenault,
J., overruled defendant's motion and defendant appealed. The Supreme
Court, Wintersheimer, J., held that: (1) defendant was not deprived
of effective assistance of counsel at trial or penalty phase of
trial; (2) request by defendant to interview jurors to determine
impact of dismissal of juror upon verdict was properly denied; (3)
defendant was not denied fair hearing by Court's refusal to
recognize proposed expert death penalty attorney; (4) testimony of
attorney and admission of private memorandum against defendant's
counsel was correctly refused; and (5) defendant was not denied due
process of law due to court's refusal to order provision of funds
necessary to pay expert witnesses for Rule 11.42 hearing. Affirmed.