Today was the day we'd find out if Virginia would give Robert Gleason, Jr. his wish.
It's the day sentencing was scheduled to be sentenced for the murder of his cellie, Harvey Watson. It was no ordinary killing. Gleason had begged the prison authorities to separate the two of them. After the killing, Gleason managed to keep the fact that Watson was dead a secret through two standing counts and several meals. The guards lied in their reports about it.
Anyway, Gleason was capitally charged, and he wanted to be executed. He fired his lawyers when they worked out a plea bargain for life. He entered a guilty plea and asked for death. He issued a threat. If I'm not sentenced to die, he said, I'll kill again. I wrote about that here.
While waiting for sentencing, he decided (or so it is alleged, and he reportedly conceded the point) to demonstrate that he could carry out his threat by killing Alexander Cooper while they were both in Virginia's supermax prison - you know, the one where inmates are never within touching range unless they're separated by a physical barrier.
Again, it was a bizarre killing that shouldn't have been possible. (You can read about it here.) It's almost inconceivable (if the story given to the media is true) that it could have occurred without the acquiescence of the prison guards. Gleason hasn't been charged with killing Cooper. That one's still under investigation.
Anyway, today Gleason was to be sentenced.
But things don't always go quite as expected.
Instead of getting sentenced, Gleason withdrew his guilty plea. The judge gave him new lawyers, and he's heading for a trial. According to Dena Potter, writing for the AP, Gleason didn't say why he wanted to change his plea, though he's said that he wants to put the prison guards on the witness stand.
What happens now?
It's hard to say. He could, after all, fire his lawyers and plead guilty again. He might effect another murder using his mystical skills. He might demand and get death.
Then again . . . .
Here's what I know. When he said he wanted to be killed, Watson's sister was against it. Dena Potter wrote at the time,
Watson's sister, Barbara McLeod of Longmont, Colo., said Gleason should be forced to spend the rest of his life in prison with no privileges.
"He doesn't deserve to be able to control his own destiny at this point. He doesn't deserve to have his death on the conscience of the state of Virginia," she said.
Some things don't change.
Potter spoke with her again.
"I still believe that he needs to spend his life -- his natural life as long as he's intended to live -- he needs to spend it in solitude and isolation with minimum privileges. He doesn't need to live in luxury at the expense of the state," she said. "Yes, it costs more money but it is disgusting that the state of Virginia cannot stop this man from murdering."
The financial thing is tricky, since volunteers, at least, don't generally run up terribly high legal bills after sentencing. But money aside, and McLeod pretty clearly does put it aside, she's right. If Gleason's killing folks while he's in prison and the guards are watching, then Virginia's not doing its job. As for Gleason himself? The one rule is that the prisoner doesn't get to set the terms.
Trial is scheduled for two weeks, beginning February 21.