McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

December 6, 2011

Clemency denied for Okla. death row inmate

By Rachel Petersen
Staff Writer

McALESTER — The Oklahoma State Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 on Monday to deny clemency for Oklahoma death row inmate Gary Roland Welch, 49, who is scheduled to be executed Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Voting in favor of granting clemency were board members Currie Ballard and Marc Dreyer. Voting to deny clemency were Chairperson Richard Dugger, Vice-chairperson David Moore and Lynnell Harkins.

Welch received his death sentence in 1996 after he was found guilty of the Aug. 25, 1994, murder of 35-year-old Robert Dean Hardcastle. Welch is one of two men convicted of killing Hardcastle in Miami, Okla. Both Welch and his co-defendant in the case, Claudie Delbert Conover, were convicted of beating and stabbing Hardcastle to death with a knife and broken bottle on the side of the road in view of those who were passing by.

Both men were sentenced to death, though Conover’s sentenced was later reduced to life without the possibility of parole. Conover died of natural causes on Dec. 19, 2001, while incarcerated at Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy, said Oklahoma Department of Corrections Public Relations Officer Jerry Massie.

Welch’s death sentence has been upheld by all courts, as all of his appeals have been denied.

Welch’s clemency hearing began at 1 p.m. Monday at the Hillside Community Corrections Facility in Oklahoma City. However, Welch attended the hearing via video tele-conference from OSP in McAlester.

The News-Capital also attended the tele-conference at OSP.

Technology today

While waiting for Welch to give his clemency hearing statement, the News-Capital had the opportunity to visit with the inmate.

When Welch first entered the tele-conference room, he showed his fascination with the video feed and tele-conference equipment. “Technology today is nothing like it was when I was out there,” Welch said. “I know CDs are these round, silver-looking disc-like things, but that’s it. All of it is mind-blowing new to me.”

Welch said that the most difficult thing he has had to deal with since being incarcerated is the death of his mother. “She was in a coma for two and a half years prior to her passing on July 15 of this year,” the inmate said. “She is the only family I had.”

Welch has not been outside the prison walls in many years, he said. And, until Monday, he had not left OSP’s H-unit in more than two years. He attended his clemency hearing from inside OSP’s administration building’s Pardon and Parole room.

Welch, wearing arm and leg shackles, was transported to OSP’s administration building by three guards. “I didn’t even know where I was when I didn’t see the checkerboard,” Welch said, referring to black and white tiles that covered the prison’s rotunda area at one time. “You always knew where you were when you saw the checkerboard, and it’s not even there anymore.”

When asked by the News-Capital how he felt about his upcoming clemency hearing, Welch said that he had no expectations of clemency being granted. “In fact,” he said, “if they grant clemency, it will be a total, absolute, astounding surprise to me.”

Not an hour after Welch made that statement to the News-Capital, his clemency was, as he predicted, denied.

The News-Capital had the opportunity to talk with Welch about many things, including his artwork, the afterlife and the story of that fateful day on Aug. 25, 1994, when Welch killed Hardcastle and the lives of many were changed forever.



Art work

“I’m doing a lot of art work,” Welch said. “I used to send my larger paintings to my mother, but she had a stroke and was in a coma for two and a half years ... she died this year. Since then, I’ve been sending my paintings to my attorneys.”

Welch has always been very artistic, he said. Before his incarceration, he “did tattoo work on the street,” he said. And he even went to Platt College in Tulsa in 1990 and took some production art courses.

When asked by the News-Capital if he has improved in his artwork over the years, Welch responded, “Oh, yes ma’am!” One of his favorite paintings, called “Nancy Drew,” is in a Brenda Harris book. “Nancy Drew is on a hill, overlooking the ocean, and the painting has a nice palette of colors — yellows and pinks — and the mist is coming over the water,” he said.

Welch explained that his beliefs about the afterlife are very non-traditional. “I hope when I leave this body, I find the gates of Valhalla,” he said. Welch is expecting that once he leaves this life, he has his most difficult times ahead. “Once I’m released from this body, that’s when my real trials and tribulations begin,” he said. But he hopes that once he finds the gates of Valhalla, he will be able to “slay the beast” and enter the “warrior’s paradise.”

Welch said that for his last meal he will be requesting Long John Silvers’ “fish filets and that red cocktail sauce.” Asked the time he ate Long John Silver’s, Welch answered, “Over 17 years and three months ago.”

Welch talked about the world today and how surprised he is at how things are on the outside. “It amazes me,” he said. “The chaos out there, and how things are all out of whack.”



Fateful day

Welch then began discussing that fateful day of Aug. 25, 1994. He said he used drugs back then, specifically methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol. He said he would often make deals with other people living the same lifestyle. He would trade knives and tattoo work for money or drugs, he said. “Keeping the tattoo gun going always kept the party going,” he said.

On that particular day, he said he went to Hardcastle’s home to “do a little horsetrading,” to make a deal. “We both knew each other cause we were both from Miami. He was two years older than me in school,” Welch said.

Although Welch said he had never used drugs with Hardcastle, he had heard from others Hardcastle was into that lifestyle.

“When he came to the door, he said, ‘Come in,’ and asked what I was doing there. I talked to him about trading a knife or making a deal,” Welch said. “I always carried a knife as a sidearm and he wanted to look at it. I took it out and handed it to him. I wasn’t paying much attention to him ... I was checking out the figurines he had in his house ... he was over to my left ... his feet made stutter step sounds on the floor and it startled me ... when I looked in his direction, he lunged at me, in a stabbing motion, with the knife.

“That’s the only thing that saved me ... his motion put me on my guard. I threw my left arm up and the blade went into my forearm. I felt a stabbing sensation and I knew that steel went into me and my blood flew everywhere — all over the stove and that area of the kitchen. I realized what had just happened, that he stabbed me, and he moved and blocked my only way out. He had me cornered up ... I went into oblivion.”

Welch said the two men had some words and Hardcastle threatened to stab him again. “He lunged again and I grabbed him and shoved him as hard as I could toward the front door of the house. He didn’t get me that time because I was ready. I grabbed his elbow and wrist and drove the knife back at him. That’s when he started getting cut and leaking blood too.



Adrenaline pumping

“We had a hell of a fight. When the cops saw the inside of the house, they said all they could say is that a hell of an altercation took place in that house ... all sorts of things were turned over. They said there was a big fish tank that was turned upside down. I don’t remember that.”

Welch said he remembers running into things while fighting with Hardcastle in the house, but that he was so focused on the fight, and what was going on there, that the adrenaline pumping through him at the time kept him from remembering every punch, stab and kick that took place during the fight.

“I ran outside and hid behind the car ... he came flying out the front door ... he ran up the side of the house where Claudie was at,” Welch said. Welch’s co-defendant, Conover, was visiting friends who lived next door to Hardcastle, Welch said.

“Claudie was holding the door shut from the inside and Hardcastle started clawing and pawing and jerking on the door there,” Welch said. “I guess he thought I was inside, but I can’t say for sure what he was thinking ... Claudie came out after a few minutes and I revealed my position and told Claudie ‘he has a knife and he’s trying to kill me.’

“Hardcastle then came flying at me again. I ran ... I looked back in his direction and he was already up on me. He stabbed me again ... in my face, under my right eye, on my cheekbone. He just missed taking my eye out.

“I grabbed his wrist with one hand and grabbed the blade of the knife with the other and twisted it ... it cut through my leather gloves I had on ... and cut my little finger almost in two.

“The knife fell to the ground. I could have stopped there. That’s where my lawyers said I went to far. He jumped down there to try and recover the weapon ... we were both pawing for it on our hands and knees ... we both scrambled ... he tried so hard to get it that he pushed it right to me ... we were like two greased pigs, we were so slippery from all the blood — we were covered in it.

“I just reached down and got a hold of the knife and brought it straight up ... and got him in the face — his mouth and jaw area. That’s when I went overboard. I was in fear for my life. I was locked in combat with Hardcastle. I spun it around and just went to him with it. To me, this was life or death. It was just luck that I survived.”

“Aug. 25, 1994, wasn’t my time. Now is probably my time,” Welch said. “I didn’t intend to kill him, I didn’t even know he was dead ‘till they told me later. My intentions were never to kill him. But I also didn’t intend for him to kill me either.”

Although Welch’s account of what happened that day differs from court documents, Welch continues to maintain that he killed Hardcastle in self-defense.

Many judicial systems have reviewed Welch’s case. All have upheld his death sentence.



No apology

When his clemency hearing began, Welch read a four-page hand-written statement to the board. He thanked his attorneys for  their hard work and for taking the time to get to know him as an individual.

Then, in addressing the board, Welch said, “I’m not coming up here today crying, begging and sniveling for my life ... I’m not here to even attempt to apologize for Bob Hardcastle’s death, in an attempt that it might save my life. Although a man is dead, and that’s most unfortunate, it was his own actions against me, in attacking me with a knife, spilling my blood ... is why he is dead. His own actions lead up to his death. I won’t apologize for that.”

Welch continued to read from his written statement, indicating he had to defend himself against the attacks from Hardcastle on that day. He said that he felt there were lies and false statements in the court documents against him.

Welch concluded his statement by saying, “Now law, courts and society demands my life in return still yet, so let’s get on with it, and when my time comes on Jan. 5, 2012, I’ll keep my head held high with dignity, because I’m no coward.

“I know your minds have been made up, way before I’ve ever come up here to speak.”

At this point in the hearing, board members were allowed to ask Welch questions. Marc Dreyer said, “You are wrong by saying my mind was made up before I came here. I’m offended by your saying that.” Dreyer then asked Welch some questions surrounding Welch’s description of the day he killed Hardcastle. Welch reiterated that his intentions that day were not to kill Hardcastle, and that he went to his house to “make a deal.”

Dreyer asked Welch about a misconduct report that Welch acquired while incarcerated. Welch said that, although he knew the rules against having a knife, or shank, in his possession, he did it anyway because a “brother” had asked him to.

Dreyer then suggested to Welch that he should consider apologizing for his part in the fight that day where a man’s life was lost.

After the hearing, OSP’s John Heitman said that “very rarely” is clemency granted. And less than an hour later, the News-Capital had word that Welch’s clemency had been denied.



No in the cards

Before the hearing, the News-Capital asked Welch if he had any regrets. “I regret that this incident happened,” he answered. “I got cheated out of a lot of years and my mother got cheated out of a lot of time with me.”

Welch was asked if he connects his lifestyle at the time, his drug use, to the position he is in today. “I liked partying, I liked the lifestyle,” the inmate responded. “Was my lifestyle the reason all this happened? Well, the reason I went there was to strike up a deal and that was part of the lifestyle. So that part of it is connected to why I am here. But I can’t go back. I can’t change anything.

“I’m 49 years old. If Jan. 5, 2012, is my time, then it is my time. I’m a firm believer in that. Your lifespan is what it is. We are only destined to be here for as long as we have. Seventeen years ago wasn’t my time. It wasn’t in my cards then.

“Everybody is dealt certain cards of life ... it wasn’t in my cards to die Aug. 25, 1994. If it is in my cards to get off death row, then I will. If it’s in my cards of life to be executed, then that’s it, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Welch was asked what it is like on death row on the day of an execution. “It’s all real quiet,” he replied. “So quiet you could hear a pin drop. I want people to party hardy when it’s my time. I want some noise made. I want them to party hardy in my honor. I want to hear some ‘Yee-Haws.’ I want them to be upbeat. I want my passing something to be happy about.

“If I can survive it, I’ll do it. But if it’s not in my cards, then I see this as my way outta here. In my passing I don’t want a bunch of all that sorrowful stuff.”

Welch has been housed in OSP’s H-unit since June 5, 1996. He said he has had “bunches” of different cells, but he has been in the cell he is in now for about five years. He is set to be moved to one more cell before his execution.



Execution day

He will be moved into the execution holding cell 24 hours prior to his scheduled death sentence, said OSP Warden’s Assistant Terry Crenshaw. He will be given his last meal and will have time to make any last phone calls and visit with a spiritual advisor if he chooses.

Then he will move from the holding cell to the shower, which is about a foot away from both the holding cell and the entrance to the death chamber.

On Jan. 5, 2012, Welch will be given a clean set of clothes to wear and then will be afforded the opportunity to walk freely from the shower into the execution chamber.

The last death sentence carried out by the state of Oklahoma was on Jan. 11, 2011, when death row inmate Jeffrey David Matthews, 38, was executed for the murder of his 77-year-old great-uncle, Otis Earl Short, who was shot to death during a robbery of his home in Rosedale. Matthews claimed innocence from the day of his arrest until the day of his execution.

Less than one week prior, Oklahoma death row inmate Billy Don Alverson, 39, was executed on Jan. 6 for the Feb. 26, 1995, murder of 30-year-old Richard Kevin Yost, during a robbery of the Quik Trip in Tulsa, where Yost was the store’s night clerk. Alverson was one of four men found guilty of first-degree murder in the beating death of Yost. Three of the four men were sentenced to death, and the fourth received life without parole. Alverson was the second man in the case to be executed.

Both Matthews and Alverson were executed via pentobarbital, a drug that causes unconsciousness and which is commonly used to euthanize animals. In early 2010, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections ran out of sodium thiopental, a substance that causes unconsciousness, and the first of three drugs previously used in the lethal injection process. OSP officials are now utilizing the substitute drug — pentobarbital.

If his execution is carried out as scheduled, Welch will be the first death row inmate in the United States to be executed in the year 2012.



Contact Rachel Petersen at rpetersen@mcalesternews.com.