By Michael Newton -
Donald Henry Gaskins Jr
Murdered Rudolph Tyner On Death Row
Executed September 6th, 1991
Mugshot of a young Pee Wee Gaskins
Mugshot of a young
 Pee Wee Gaskins

Murder had lost its novelty for Donald Gaskins by the fall of 1980. A prolific killer, dubbed the Redneck Charlie Manson in some press accounts, he had claimed his first victim at age 19, in a jailhouse stabbing that got him sentenced to nine years for manslaughter. Now, in middle age, he was serving nine life terms in South Carolinas state prison  --  one for each of nine victims police had recovered  --  and that tally barely scratched the surface of his crimes. Gaskins was well acquainted with the means of violent death. It held no mysteries.

But the crime he had in mind this time was different.

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 from custody.

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.

Death Watch

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.