Shortly before 8:00 p.m. on May 26,
1988, Dr. Ralph McCauleywent to the Allied Services store in a Danville,
Virginia, shopping center because he was concerned that his son, who
owned the store, had not returned from work that evening.
When he arrived, Dr. McCauley saw his
twenty-nine-year-old son, William McCauley, lying on the floor, face
down in a pool of blood. William McCauley had been stabbed seven times
in the upper back, and his throat had been slashed three times.
According to the medical examiner,
four of these wounds were independently lethal.
A trail of blood led from McCauley's
body to the filing cabinet that served as a cash repository for the
store. The cabinet was found empty, and the victim's wallet was also
An employee of the store saw Ronald
Watkins hanging around the store's entrance that same evening before the
murder. She recognized Watkins because he had once worked at the store
with her and William McCauley.
Armed with this intelligence, the
police questioned Watkins's girlfriend and siblings, who were persuaded
to tape their phone conversations with Watkins.
In one taped conversation with his
brother, Watkins admitted to robbing William McCauley and then killing
him because he knew Watkins. Shortly thereafter, after being arrested
and given Miranda warnings, Watkins voluntarily confessed that he had
stabbed McCauley and "cut his throat."
Prior to trial Watkins, who is black,
challenged the venire because only five of its thirty-five members were
black, while nearly thirty percent of the population of Danville is
In the evidentiary hearing that
followed, the judge noted that the venire was selected at random from
voter registration lists by the clerk's office and that there is no
Constitutional guarantee that a jury will have a racial make-upprecisely
proportional to that of the community at large. See J.A. 236-40.
The trial court subsequently denied
the challenge. At the pre-trial stage, Watkins did not raise any issue
concerning historical or systematic racial discrimination in the seating
of capital juries in Danville.
One of the members of the jury pool
was Lennie Clark. On voirdire the prosecutor inquired whether Clark was
related to Watkins. Clark replied that he was not related to Watkins but
that he was related to a murder victim in an unrelated recent case.
Defense counsel declined to challenge
Clark for cause, despite Watkins's protests, and Clark was seated on the
Watkins was convicted of capital
murder and robbery on September 28, 1988. The penalty phase of the trial
was conducted that same evening. Watkins offered Dr. Miller Ryans, a
forensic psychiatrist, who testified that Watkins would not pose a
threat of future dangerousness once incarcerated.
In rebuttal the prosecution presented
Dr. Arthur Centor, a government forensic psychologist who had
interviewed Watkins prior to trial. Dr. Centor's testimony tended to
show that Watkins was a future danger to society even in prison.
Defense counsel cross-examined Dr.
Centor but did not object to his testimony. Defense counsel argued at
the close of the sentencing phase that while Watkins was violent and
uncontrollable on the street, his abilityto be have in an orderly manner
while incarcerated merited a sentenceless than death.
The argument included the following
statements:[T]here are two Ronalds, and I'm not saying that Ronald
isschizophrenic or he has these emotional problems, but Ronald acts
differently in different situations. The Ronald on the street is a
monster. I can't deny that but the Ronald in the home where Dad is
watching him and has rules and the Ronald in the penitentiary where the
guards watch him and the guards have rules is a Ronald that can make it
in this world, a Ronald that can live and a Ronald that does notdeserve
Even the vilest person among us is
still a human being and he's still blessed with the dignity and the
Godgiven right to live that the Lord gave each and everyone of us.
The prosecutor, in his closing
argument to the jury, accused Watkins of failing to show remorse for the
killing: Remorse? What remorse has he shown? His own father saidon May
31st he showed no remorse. Now he's scared and he should be, but has he
shown any remorse in the courtroom? Did he show any remorse when his
tape was being played about how he methodically killed Bill McCauley. He
was over there jotting around. You heard his voice[on thetape] . . . Any
After considering the evidence and
listening to these arguments, the jury recommended that Watkins receive
the death penalty. The trial court thereafter sentenced Watkins to
Ronald Watkins, 35, confessed to stabbing William
McCauley 7 times in the back and slashing his throat in May 1988 while
he was robbing McCauley's Danville, Va., business where he once worked,
"I just want to say I'm sorry to the McCauleys
and my family for the pain that I have caused them," Watkins said
as he lay strapped to a gurney in the death chamber of the Greensville
Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., about 55 miles (88 kms) south of
Richmond. He was pronounced dead at 9:17 p.m. (eastern standard time).
Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former U.S. President
Jimmy Carter, appealed to the governor for clemency based on Watkins's
death row conversion to Christianity.
"(Watkins) has demonstrated his transformation by
working diligently to guide his son to lead a good and righteous life
and by reconciling himself with his own father who abused him horribly,"
she wrote in a March 13 letter.
In a separate clemency petition, Washington and Lee
University law professor William Geimer said Watkins underwent a
religious conversion 4 years ago and was not the same man who murdered
his boss nearly a decade ago.
"Ron's life, since 1994, has in many ways
mirrored that of Karla Faye Tucker. Unlike her, however, he is not
telegenic and verbally articulate," Geimer said.
Tucker, a born-again Christian, was executed in Texas
in February despite pleas for clemency from televangelist Pat Robertson
and the Vatican.
Watkins was on parole in May 1988 for abducting an
elderly woman when he killed McCauley, a 29-year old businessman.
McCauley's business had been robbed and his body was discovered in a
pool of blood by his father, prosecutors said.
35, was executed at the Greensville Correctional Center for the 1988
robbery and murder of William McCauley.
McCauley, 29, was
slashed in the throat three times and stabbed seven times in the upper
back inside his store. At the time of the killing, Watkins was on parole
for abducting an elderly woman at gunpoint.
Watkins had once worked for McCauley and knew where he kept the money in
his store. McCauley's business had been robbed and his body was
discovered in a pool of blood by his father. McCauley discovered his
only son's body in a pool of blood at his business the night of the
His son was late coming
home so McCauley drove to his business to find him. "I thought maybe
that he had just gotten busy or something right at closing time....I got
in the car and I looked for him on the way over to his place of business
and didn't see him coming in the opposite direction," he said. His son
had "never been in any trouble whatsoever -- a happy, hard-working boy.
It was a brutal, premeditated murder. This fellow knew that he kept a
fair amount of cash in the business. He'd worked for him, his sister
worked for him, they knew that there was cash there. "He got $1,600 in
cash, you know, and this fellow Watkins had been in and out of trouble
all of his life."
In the years since the
death, McCauley said, "It never gets any easier. For instance, in the
last 3 or 4 months my wife and I have had letters" from defense lawyers
wanting to meet with them on Watkins' case.
A law professor is pleading with
Gov. Jim Gilmore to spare the life of condemned killer Ronald L. Watkins
because Watkins has become a born-again Christian.
Rosalynn Carter, wife of former
President Carter, is also asking Gilmore to intervene.
"Ron Watkins is a different man
from the man who committed murder in 1988," she wrote in a March 13
But unless Gilmore or the courts
step in, Watkins will be executed tomorrow night at the Greensville
Correctional Center for the May 26, 1988, slaying of William McCauley.
In a clemency petition to
Gilmore, William S. Geimer, a professor of law at Washington and Lee
University who has become friends with Watkins over the years, said the
killer has changed.
Geimer said that "during his
first three years on death row, the abused angry man had time to reflect
and accept responsibility for his actions. He also found Christ.
"He will never have the
notoriety accorded to Karla Faye Tucker, but he has touched many lives
for the good."
Geimer said Watkins wants to
continue helping to raise his 16-year-old son, David, has made peace
with his abusive father, Leon Watkins, and does not want his mother,
Donna, to suffer from his execution.
"We are unashamed to make this
plea for mercy to you in the name of Christ," wrote Geimer. "Please
ignore your lawyers, your political advisers, get on your knees and seek
God's will in this case."
Watkins has an appeal pending
before the U.S. Supreme Court, but his past appeals, which alleged he
was the victim of racial discrimination in jury selection, have failed.
Danville has condemned seven
black men to death, but no whites, since reimposition of the death
penalty in Virginia in 1977. That is the highest per capita rate of any
Virginia city and the only jurisdiction that has sent more than 3 men to
death row that has sent only African-Americans.
In a crime to which Watkins
confessed, McCauley, 29, was robbed and murdered inside his business.
His neck had been slashed in 3 places and he was stabbed 7 times in his
McCauley's father, Dr. Ralph T.
McCauley of Danville, discovered the body. He said yesterday that he
plans to attend the execution and believes the sentence was appropriate.
As for Watkins being born again,
McCauley said, "Well, I wouldn't know about that, but I suspect it's a
sort of foxhole" conversion. He also noted that he does not have a son
now because of what Watkins did.
In an interview last December,
McCauley agreed it was unlikely the execution would bring him peace.
"Everybody in the family has got
scars that they'll take with them to the grave. I hope it will get
better once he's executed, but I doubt it," he said. "I think we're
McCauley discovered his only
son's body in a pool of blood at his business the night of the slaying.
His son was late coming home so McCauley drove to his business to find
"I thought maybe that he had
just gotten busy or something right at closing time....I got in the car
and I looked for him on the way over to his place of business and didn't
see him coming in the opposite direction," he said.
His son had "never been in any
trouble whatsoever -- a happy, hard-working boy. It was a brutal,
premeditated murder. This fellow knew that he kept a fair amount of cash
in the business. He'd worked for him, his sister worked for him, they
knew that there was cash there.
"He got $1,600 in cash, you
know, and this fellow Watkins had been in and out of trouble all of his
Watkins was on parole for
abducting an elderly woman at gunpoint when he murdered McCauley.
In the years since the death,
McCauley said, "It never gets any easier. For instance, in the last 3 or
4 months my wife and I have had letters" from defense lawyers wanting to
meet with them on Watkins' case.
A clergyman from Alexandria
wrote and called the McCauleys on Watkins' behalf, he said.
"We've had a lot of things that
have upset us and we've been depressed for years, my wife worse than I,"