SAN QUENTIN, Calif. -- With the help of four prison guards, Clarence Ray Allen shuffled from his wheelchair to a gurney inside San Quentin's death chamber early yesterday, a day after his 76th birthday. Though legally blind, Allen raised his head to search among execution witnesses for relatives.
''Hoka hey, it's a good day to die," Allen said in a nod to his Choctaw Indian heritage. ''Thank you very much. I love you all. Goodbye."
Having had a heart attack in September, Allen, California's oldest condemned inmate, had asked prison authorities to let him die if he went into cardiac arrest before his execution, a request prison officials said they would not honor.
''At no point are we not going to value the sanctity of life," said prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon. ''We would resuscitate him."
But the prisoner's heart was strong to the end: Doctors had to administer a second shot of potassium chloride to stop it.
''It's not unusual. This guy's heart had been going for 76 years," said Warden Stephen Ornoski.
Allen, condemned for ordering from behind bars the killing of three people, was the second-oldest inmate executed in the United States since capital punishment resumed nearly 30 years ago, behind only a 77-year-old in Mississippi last month.
His lawyers had pleaded with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the US Supreme Court to spare his life, contending that executing a man as old and feeble as Allen amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and that the 23 years he spent on death row were unconstitutionally cruel, too.
Allen was nearly deaf and had diabetes. Medical records show he was indeed ailing, and prison officials did not dispute his condition; however, some observers said they saw a man in better condition than had been portrayed.
''For 76 years old, he looked to be in remarkably good shape," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, who witnessed the execution as a Republican member of a legislative committee debating a moratorium on the death penalty.
Allen died wearing a beaded headband, a medicine bag around his neck, and an eagle feather on his chest.