By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"The question in regard to whether Mr. Comer's decision is voluntary is a complex one," Dr. Johnson wrote. "Society has mandated through its jury system that Mr. Comer be put to death. The implication is that the normal position for Mr. Comer would be to disagree with society's mandate. Mr. Comer, on the other hand, states he accepts the jury's decision. . . . He explains that his current conditions of confinement are not the motivating factor for his decision [to drop his appeals]."
She added: "Mr. Comer expressed remorse for his behavior, and felt it was just that he be punished for his behavior within our society. He does not appear to have any irrational or delusional thinking regarding death. He does not believe he is able to be rehabilitated, and does not wish to have continued involvement with anti-death penalty attorneys."
Security was extremely tight at the federal courthouse on March 27, the day Robert Comer was to testify before Judge Silver.
Spectators had to sign in outside the courtroom, then step through a metal detector. Comer's girlfriend, Amy Young, was there, along with no fewer than a dozen prison officials. Some were in plainclothes, some in uniform. They sat and stood near every door in the expansive courtroom.
Four bulky men wearing bulletproof jackets and safety goggles flanked Comer.
The inmate sat attentively at a table in an orange jumpsuit between his pro-execution attorneys Kimerer and Gieszl. He was handcuffed, shackled, and wearing a belly chain. Attorneys Pete Eckerstrom and Julie Hall sat directly across the room at another table.
It was the first time Comer had been in a courtroom since his bizarre wheelchair-bound sentencing in 1988. More remarkably, it was the first time he'd ever testified in court.
Silver started the proceedings by asking Comer, "How are you feeling today mentally?"
Doctors Kupers and Johnson reiterated their opinions that Comer is, respectively, incompetent and competent to drop his appeals.
Straight-talking deputy warden Blaine Marshall, who oversees death row at SMU II, testified that Comer is coherent and bluntly honest with him, and has consistently expressed a wish to be executed.
Corrections sergeant Wendy Hackney said Comer often has spoken with her about wanting to speed up his execution. "I've never doubted that he understands everything going on," she testified.
Finally, it was Comer's turn. During questioning by Holly Gieszl, he came across as a man who has spent many hours contemplating his past, his present and his future:
"I ended a whole bunch of innocent people's lives, and changed their lives forever. I was sentenced to death. That's the legal sentence. I pulled my appeal. I owe that to them. I owe it to myself, man. I was totally wrong. . . . God, you guys are a lot more humane to me than I ever was to Larry [Pritchard]. Remember I stuck a gun in this guy's ear and pulled the trigger, scrambled his brains, right?"
What came next was an extraordinary dialogue between a jurist and a killer. A no-nonsense former prosecutor, Silver asked Comer direct questions, and he answered them thoughtfully and, by any definition of the word, competently.
"This has to do with me being tired," he told the judge. "Has to do with me paying my debt to society. Let's do it. I don't know what everybody's so scared about. Death is not that damned bad. Living ain't that damned bad. But I killed Larry . . ."
Comer agreed that his life on SMU II is no joy ride. However, contrary to Dr. Kupers' conclusions, he testified he's been able to survive it intact:
"I don't believe I have a life that will make me jump up and down and clap my hands and go to a party or nothing. Within the limits that I have, I try to live it fully . . . I mean, I can't get a weekend pass to go to the bowling alley, and I love to bowl. But I don't live dead in that cell."
Comer said he should be locked up at SMU II because of his violent streak: "I'm the guy who they invented super-maxes for. They let me out and walk around the halls, I'll get along just like everybody else. Except I have this problem. Someone runs their mouth at me, I deal with it."
Silver continued to grill Comer about that life.
"It seems Dr. Kupers is saying that your traumatic experiences in prison -- and elsewhere -- has been so bad that you're unable to cope now, and that this has affected your decision to voluntarily decide the most fundamental decision in life, which is to live or die. You understand?"
"Why should I think, and why should any court who reviews my decision, if I should agree with you, believe that you're not just saying that in order to end your life now, because it's so bad?"
"Ma'am, I've spent 15 years in an isolation cell. Already. And look at me. What is wrong with me that I'm hiding? What am I hiding?"
"I don't think anybody would question that you have enormous capacity for human endurance, enormous capacity," Silver responded. "But I have heard you say a number of times that you're tired."