Local News

Sanderson Executed in State's Gas Chamber

Posted January 29, 1998

— Ricky Lee Sanderson was executed in the state's gas chamber early Friday for the murder of a Davidson County teen. He was the first person executed in North Carolina in more than two years.

Sanderson confessed to the murder of 16-year-old Suzi Holliman of Davidson County in 1987, two years after the killing, while he was serving a life-plus-110-year sentence for two rapes. His confession freed a man who had been charged and who was a month away from trial.

Throughout the legal process, including three sentencing hearings after mandatory state appeals, Sanderson wanted to be executed, said his attorney, Davis North.

Seconds before two burly guards put a leather mask over Sanderson's face, he appeared to be praying and smiling and he looked at the 14 witnesses through a double-paned window.

He said ``Thank you Jesus, I'm going home'' as he waited patiently for his death.

As the gas was released in a thick mist, Sanderson looked as if he was breathing deeply before his body arched against the thick leather straps that held him in the state's old electric chair.

About 18 minutes later, at 2:19 a.m., he was pronounced dead.

North was one of three witnesses who left the tiny room while Sanderson died. A detective on the front row said he needed air and a reporter standing in back also felt faint. North mopped his brow with paper towels and gripped the shoulder of a chaplain as his client's chest heaved in death throes.

Hugh Holliman, Suzi Holliman's father, stared silently at Sanderson as he died.

Barbara McGahey was one of the last people to talk to him.

"He said that there was no clemency or appeal for Suzi Holliman (his victim), so why would he deserve one," she said.

District Attorney Gene Morris of Lexington was one of the people who witnessed the execution.

"Having worked on that case for a long time, knowing what he said he did to Suzie Holliman, his death tonight pales in comparison to what he did to her," Morris said. "Please don't forget Suzi Holliman."

In his final statement, Sanderson said he wanted to pass on his last meal request in memory of the millions of aborted babies in this country, whom he says died for no reason. He also thanked God for being gracious to him.

`I'm dying for a deed I did and I deserve death for it and I'm glad Christ forgave me,'' Sanderson, 38, said before breathing cyanide gas. Sanderson said he became a Christian in prison and read the Bible completely every two months.

Hours before the execution, groups of people opposed to the death penalty stood outside Central Prison on Western Boulevard with crosses, signs and candles, protesting quietly against capital punishment. Former UNC law professor Daniel Pollitt calls capital punishment cruel and unusual.

"I resent that our society has created outcasts, and then when the outcasts do what can be anticipated, our only answer is the gas chamber," Pollitt said.

Sanderson became the ninth person executed in North Carolina since the the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Seven of the nine inmates were executed by lethal injections.


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