Nicholas Ingram goes to the chair, hoping for something better in the next life

Rupert Cornwell
Saturday 08 April 1995 23:02 BST

THE FIRST four seconds were surely enough: 2,000 volts surging through Nicholas Ingram's body, before the charge was cut automatically, first to 1,000 volts and then to 208 volts. "Old Sparky" may be one of the unloveliest devices invented by man, but at 9.06pm here on Friday night it did its work exactly as intended.

As they positioned the metal cap on his head and fastened the brown leather mask over his face, Ingram's knuckles clenched tight on the arms of the electric chair. Then the executioner pressed the button. "He shot back in the chair with a tremendous jolt," said a witness. "There was no smoke, no sizzle, no sign of movement, nothing."

Thus ended the wretched odyssey of Nick Ingram, from broken home to drinking and petty crime, before his savage murder of JC Sawyer, a retired military veteran in an affluent Atlanta suburb in 1983. He spent the last 12 of his 31 years on Death Row, and he departed this life much as he had lived it - angry, defiant, and contemptuous of all around him.

At his own request he walked by himself to the electric chair. He said nothing, glaring one by one at the guards, prison officials and witnesses who watched him die, at even his own attorney. When the warden, Albert "Gerry" Thomas asked him if he had any last words, Ingram simply spat at him.

What remorse he had only emerged afterwards, through his lawyer, Mr Clive Stafford Smith. A specialist in death penalty cases, Mr Stafford Smith was distraught, choking back tears.

"Nicky wasn't very good at speaking. He asked me to make a statement for him. He asked me to say he wasn't the one getting hurt, but his family and the family of the Sawyers. He told me he hoped for something better now, because what had happened in this life had been so sad."

As the moment of death approached, a strange silence settled on those outside the prison, even among the small group of death penalty supporters who had cheered the hearse that would collect Ingram's body.Then Mrs Vicki Gavalas, the prison department spokeswoman, announced: "The order of the court has been carried out. Nicholas Lee Ingram was pronounced dead at 9.15 pm."

And others will follow him. More than 3,000 inmates are on Death Row in the US, 112 of them in H-5 block here at the Diagnostic and Classification Center - a euphemism of which Heinrich Himmler would have been proud for Georgia's maximum security prison.

Almost certainly, 1995 will set an annual record for executions in the US since capital punishment resumed 18 years ago, as labyrinthine appeal processes are exhausted and the country's thirst for vengeance against violent criminals grows.

In Georgia the only rights are victims' rights, the only complaint that Ingram didn't get his deserts far sooner.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," said Mike Bowers, the state's attorney general as he left the prison having watched Ingram die. "Our system should work better, 12 years is just too long." And if the chair is terrifying, that is as it should be. "You can't turn an execution into a surgical procedure."

In fact, albeit for very different reasons, advocates and opponents of capital punishment agree that the average 11 years an executed felon spends on Death Row makes a mockery of the process. Mr Bowers sees a legal system gone berserk, offering criminals the chance to escape punishment.

For the minority like Clive Stafford Smith, a process under which his client lives in the shadow of death for a decade is an obscenity.

n "Well, he's dead now and they can't hurt him no more," said Johnny Ingram, Nick Ingram's father yesterday.

Ann and Johnny Ingram last saw their son eight hours before his execution, writes Steve Boggan. He had worn a baseball cap to spare them the traumatic sight of his shaved head.

"There's nothing to be said. It has happened and nothing's going to bring him back," said Ann Ingram. "Now we must pick up the pieces of our lives."

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