The first execution in the United States was carried out this evening when Oklahoma death row inmate Gary Roland Welch, 49, was executed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

The execution procedures began at 6:03 p.m.

There were 7 media witnesses present, as well as three witnesses from the victim’s family, numerous Oklahoma Department of Correction employees, Miami District Attorney Eddie Wyant, Miami Asst. District Attorney Ben Loring and Miami Chief of Police George Haralson. Welch had requested that he have no witnesses at his execution on his behalf.

Just before being executed, OSP Warden Randy Workman asked the condemned man if he had any last words.

“Well sir, I was just going to ask everybody if they could hear my brothers out there,” Welch said referring to the other death row inmates who were banging and clanging in their cells in an effort to say their good-byes to Welch. “I know it’s kind of quiet now. I want to acknowledge that my brothers are here with me to send me off on my journey. They are here on my behalf. They have already given me my little send off. So let’s get it on because that’s what we’re here for.

“Valhalla, Odin, slay the beast.”

At 6:04, Workman said, “Let the execution begin.”

And Welch continued to chant:

“Valhalla, Odin, slay the beast.

“Valhalla, Odin, slay the beast.

“Valhalla, Odin, slay...”

Welch’s word became grumbled and he lost consciousness and at 6:08, all color was gone from his face.

At 6:10 p.m., a physician pronounced Welch’s time of death.

Welch’s chanting was in relation to his beliefs about the afterlife, a topic the News-Capital had the opportunity to discuss with Welch on Dec. 5, just prior to his clemency hearing.

Valhalla is a word from “Scandinavian Mythology” and refers to “the hall of Odin into which the souls of heroes slain in battle and others who have died bravely are received,” according to www.dictionaryreference.com.

On Dec. 5, Welch explained to the News-Capital 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.” The beast, Welch had explained, is a three-headed dragon that guards the gates of Valhalla.

At 6 a.m. on the day of his execution, Welch was moved from the infirmary unit to the execution holding cell on death row. At around noon, Welch ate Long John Silvers’ fish filets with red cocktail sauce as his last meal, traditionally afforded to death row inmates on the day of their executions. He was also afforded the opportunity to speak with a spiritual advisor, but chose not to.

Welch received his death sentence for the Aug. 25, 1994, slaying of 35-year-old Robert Dean Hardcastle in Miami, Okla.

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 sentence 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.

Even up until the day of his execution, Welch maintained that his killing of Hardcaslte was in self-defense. However, Welch’s death sentence was upheld by all courts, as all of his appeals were denied.

Welch was denied clemency on Dec. 5 by a 3-2 vote by the Oklahoma State Pardon and Parole Board. Then, on Dec. 16, Welch attempted to take his own life by cutting his neck with a homemade device constructed out of shaving razors. He was found bleeding in his cell and had to be rushed to the McAlester Regional Health Center, a local hospital, where he spent three days in the intensive care unit.

Welch’s suicide attempt is not the first time OSP officials have had to deal with a death-row inmate attempting to end his own life as his execution date neared.

In 1995, Robert Brecheen overdosed on drugs the very day of his scheduled execution and he was rushed to a local hospital. Brecheen’s life was saved by doctor’s who pumped his stomach and he was returned to the prison where he was executed a few hours later than originally scheduled.

The last execution to take place at OSP 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. All of his appeals were also denied.

Although there is not another scheduled execution at OSP, the Oklahoma State Attorney General has requested an execution date for Oklahoma death row inmate Garry Thomas Allen, sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of his wife, Lawanna Gail Titsworth. Allen was convicted of gunning down Titsworth just days after she moved out of their home with their two sons, who were ages 6 and 2 at the time.

Although family members of Hardcastle were present during Welch’s execution, they chose not to make a statement to the press after the execution was complete.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt gave this written statement regarding Welch’s execution:

“Gary Welch had a 15-year history of violent crimes that included multiple assaults on women and police officers, burglary, stabbings and carrying concealed weapons before his conviction for murder. The punishment of death as chosen by a jury of Welch’s peers is reserved for the most heinous crimes. My thoughts are with Robert Hardcastle’s family and what they have endured for the past 17 years.”

Contact Rachel Petersen at rpetersen@mcalesternews.com.

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