Arizona's Worst Criminal

Page 6 of 7

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."

"I am tired. I'm not depressed, but tired."

Comer had indicated earlier that he's against the death penalty, which led the judge to ask him, "If you don't believe in the death penalty, how can you voluntarily decide to take your life, unless you're being overwhelmed by your conditions such that you just want to take your life?"

"It's the law," Comer said, sounding more like a prosecutor than a convict. "Just because I say the law's wrong doesn't make the law wrong. I just don't believe in it. I was sentenced to die, legally sentenced to die here."

Silver noted that Comer may yet win a new trial in his murder case.

"Yeah," Comer replied, "it's a good appeal, but it's for you all, not for me. I killed Larry Pritchard. There is no doubt about that. So [prosecutor] K.C. Scull called me a monster. What was I trying to make him call me? Sure didn't want to be called Goldilocks."

"Do you understand you could be found not guilty?" the judge asked.

"Yes, ma'am."

"And I presume that you don't believe that that's really much of a possibility, am I right?"

"No, ma'am."

"And why?"

"I did it."

On April 6, Judge Silver drove to Florence to see for herself how inmate Comer lives. What she saw was this:

Comer's cell measures about eight feet by 11 and a half feet. A narrow bed is attached to the back wall, with a thin, baby-blue blanket neatly tucked under its mattress. At the foot of the bed is a television, which prison officials recently provided as a reward for Comer's staying out of trouble for almost a year.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin