Gaskins had never killed a victim on Death Row.
Rudolph Tyner was already marked for death by the state, but he wasnt dying
fast enough to please some people. Condemned for the holdup murders of Bill and
Myrtle Moon at Murrells Inlet, in Williamson County, Tyner expected to drag his
case out for a decade or more with appeals before he kept his date with the
electric chair. He might even beat the rap, since racial aspects of the case --
black gunman, white victims -- added weight to his appeals. South Carolinas
death penalty statutes had been twice invalidated by Supreme Court rulings in
the past eight years, proving that anything was possible. Tyners worst problem
on Death Row, so far, was feeding his insatiable narcotics addiction.
Outside the prison walls, Tony Cimo schemed to accelerate Tyners execution.
Cimo was Myrtle Moons son by a previous marriage, bent on avenging his mothers
death. Through prison contacts, he negotiated for the hit, passed along from one
convict to the next until he connected with Donald Gaskins. Finally, he had a
contact who could guarantee results for a price. A maintenance trusty housed
next-door to Death Row, Gaskins had free access to condemned inmates, mending
broken pipes, toilets, light fixtures, anything at all. Unknown to Cimo, Gaskins
also had a tape recorder, capturing their conversations for posterity -- a
blackmail tool as good as money in the bank if he should ever manage to escape
Gaskins decided poison was the way to go. Befriending Tyner on his visits to
Death Row, Gaskins began to slip the holdup killer junk food, marijuana, pills
and heroin. Tyner received the gifts, unquestioning, and begged for more. Cimo
supplied a box of candy laced with poison strong enough to kill a horse, but
Tyner merely suffered stomach pains. Over the next 12 months, Gaskins repeated
the experiment five times, spiking his targets food and drugs with ever-larger
toxic doses, all in vain. Tyner lived on, oblivious to the coincidence between
his gifts and stomach-churning trips to the infirmary.
Six strikes and out. Gaskins gave up on poison and decided to construct a
bomb. Cimo supplied the wiring, hardware and C-4 plastic explosive (smuggled
past distracted guards in the hollowed-out heels of cowboy boots). Tyner agreed
to let Gaskins connect a homemade intercom between their cells. Gaskins strung
wire through prison heating ducts, constructed a receiver for his target from a
plastic cup, and packed it with C-4. The two men synchronized their watches for
a test run on the evening of Sept. 12, 1982.
At the appointed hour, Tyner pressed the loaded plastic cup against his ear
and spoke to Gaskins, on the far side of the wall between their cells. The last
thing he heard through that speaker-cup before it blew his head off, Gaskins
later said, was me laughing.
But the last laugh belonged to his jailers.
Press reports initially described Tyners death as suicide, but there are no
real secrets in prison. Snitches started talking, and Tony Cimo soon confessed
his role in the plot. A grand jury was impaneled, indicting Gaskins and Cimo
with two inmate accessories for murder and conspiracy.
After prolonged investigation, a grand jury indicted Gaskins and Tony Cimo
for Tyners murder, along with inmate go-betweens Jack Martin and Charles Lee.
Charges against Lee were dismissed after another convict, James Brown, claimed
he took the explosive cup to Tyners cell without knowledge of its purpose.
(Brown was never charged.) Prosecutor James Anders tried Gaskins separately,
calling Ken Summerford as a witness to display photos of Pee Wees other victims,
and Judge Dan Laney sentenced Gaskins to die.
Tony Cimo, more sympathetic than Gaskins in court, received a 25-year prison
sentence with parole eligibility after 30 months. He served the minimum and
returned to Murrells Inlet, where he died from a prescription drug overdose on
June 10, 2001.
Gaskins, meanwhile, spent the first three years of his new sentence not on
Death Row, but in a rat-infested isolation unit. His attorneys appealed the
confinement in 1985, but lawmen cited reliable information that Gaskins planned
to have cronies kidnap the prosecutors child and bargain for his release. Only
after his petition for release from solitary was rejected did police determine
the report was an empty threat. A year later, freed from solitary after the
isolation unit was condemned as unfit for human habitation, Gaskins found Death
Row a lot nicer than his previous quarters. In 1990, Gaskins and the states
electric chair were moved again, this time to the Broad River Correctional
Institute outside Columbia.
Gaskins filled his last months with an art scam, tracing cartoon characters
for sale to collectors of Death Row memorabilia, and dictating his memoirs on
tape for author Wilton Earl (published as Final Truth in 1993). As death
approached, Pee Wee waxed philosophical. I truly dont mind dying, he wrote. Ive
lived a damned full and good life.
In fact, he decided, it was even better than that. I have walked the same
path as God, Gaskins raved. By taking lives and making others afraid, I became
Gods equal. Through killing others, I became my own master. Through my own power
I come to my own redemption..
He was even optimistic about his date with the chair, telling Earls tape
recorder, When they put me to death, Ill die remembering the freedom and
pleasure of my life. Ill die knowing that there are others coming along to take
my place, and that most of them wont never get caught.
There was no escape for Pee Wee, though. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his
final appeal in June 1991, clearing the way for Gaskins to be executed in
September. Hours before his date with Old Sparky, Gaskins slashed his arms from
wrists to elbows with a razor blade he had swallowed days earlier, then
regurgitated in a futile effort to postpone death. Prison medics stitched his
wounds in time for Gaskins to meet his fate at 1:05 A.M. on Sept. 6, 1991.