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Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2001 /8 Shevat, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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There is something wrong when we begin to assume that all death penalty cases are flawed -- I FAVOR the death penalty and believe it is just.

I also deeply admire the attorneys and journalists who have investigated cases in which people have been put on Death Row who do not belong there. That is a crime in itself.

But there is something wrong when we begin to assume that perhaps all death penalty cases are flawed. They're not.

As far as I can tell, no one has spoken much about the injustice done to a woman named Sharilyn Ritchie. She was not accused of harming anyone. She herself was murdered.

A second injustice to her -- in my opinion --was done in the years after she was killed.

One of her murderers -- Robert D. Glock -- was executed this month in Florida.

He killed Mrs. Ritchie in 1983. He was finally put to death this month.

That is where I believe the injustice comes in. Glock was allowed to live for almost 18 years after he killed Mrs. Ritchie.

She was a 34-year-old home economics teacher at Palmetto High School in Florida. She had taken a year off to have a baby with her husband, Larry, who had been a baseball coach at the same school.

On Aug. 13, 1983, Mrs. Ritchie stepped out of her car at the DeSoto Square Mall to go shopping. She was met by Robert Glock and an accomplice, Carl Puiatti (Puiatti remains on Death Row today).

What happened next is not in question; the killers admitted it.

They forced Mrs. Ritchie to withdraw $100 from a drive-through ATM. She begged them for two things: to allow her to keep her wedding ring, and her husband's baseball mitt. She used to attend the games her husband coached, and evidently the mitt meant a lot to her.

They took the wedding ring, but let her have the mitt. They put her out of her car in an orange grove. They drove away, but came back.

Puiatti shot Mrs. Ritchie twice with a .38-caliber Colt revolver.

They started to leave again, but noticed Mrs. Ritchie might still be alive. So they returned, and Glock shot her again.

She still seemed to be alive. Glock shot her once more, and Mrs. Ritchie stopped moving. She died while holding onto her husband's baseball mitt.

They were arrested and sentenced to die in the electric chair. But because of the various appeals and protections given to Death Row inmates, Glock -- who killed Mrs. Ritchie in 1983, who admitted it and who was convicted in 1984 -- was still alive and being sheltered, clothed and fed by the State of Florida in 2000.

Glock received a final stay of execution last year when his attorney argued that, when police in New Jersey arrested Glock in Mrs. Ritchie's car, the police had made Glock a victim of racial profiling.

Glock is not African-American. His attorney argued Glock and Puiatti were unfairly pulled over because they looked Italian.

A Florida judge soon rejected that argument, and Glock was executed this month.

He died by lethal injection even though he had been sentenced to the electric chair. New rules in Florida -- put in place after murderers apparently suffered during their executions -- allow Death Row inmates their choice of the method of execution. (Mrs. Ritchie was not given a choice of how she would die.)

Glock was given a final meal of New York strip steak, fried shrimp, french fries, green beans, corn on the cob, Coca-Cola and heavenly hash ice cream. (Glock did not give Mrs. Ritchie a choice of her last meal.)

For almost 18 years after Glock killed Mrs. Ritchie, he was allowed to laugh at television comedies, to enjoy the sound of music, to fall in love (he got married while in prison to a woman he met on the Internet), to speak and correspond with people he cared for, to follow whatever sports events and political stories interested him, to develop whatever friendships he could make while behind bars, to hope and dream. In short, Glock was allowed to live.

Mrs. Ritchie was allowed none of that. She was not granted a single extra day of life. She was executed on that August day in 1983, without a trial, without appeals, without her pleas for mercy being answered -- except with more gunshots.

Yes, there are injustices in capital cases -- and sometimes they concern people accused of crimes they did not commit.

But there was an injustice in this case, too. The injustice was to Sharilyn Ritchie.

The injustice was that Robert Glock was permitted to live and breathe for 18 years after he killed her.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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