After 5 years, SC inmate to get his wish to die

This undated photo released Thursday, May 5, 2011, by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows Jeffrey Motts.

COLUMBIA — Jeffrey Motts told investigators he was ready to die just a few hours after he strangled his cellmate to settle a prison dispute. On Friday, he is expected to get his wish.

Motts is scheduled to die by injection at 6 p.m. for killing Charles “Chuck” Martin in December 2005 in the cell they shared at a state prison in Greenville County on South Carolina’s northern edge.

Motts had wavered briefly from his death wish when his lawyer suggested he might be a kidney donor for his sick sister. But when he learned they weren’t a match, he renewed his push to drop all his appeals and leave prison in a body bag as fast as he could.

“I’m guilty of a horrible crime. I was found guilty, the jury thought I deserved death, the judge agreed, and I also agree. I accept responsibility for my actions and I’m ready to accept my punishment,” Motts wrote in a September letter to Chief Justice Jean Toal of the state’s Supreme Court.

Motts, who turned 36 on Thursday, will be the first prisoner executed in South Carolina using a new combination of drugs. The state will use pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental. The change is necessary because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized the state’s supply of sodium thiopental last month. The agency has taken the drug away from several states because of concerns that officials broke the law by buying doses from England, which banned the drug’s export for executions.

South Carolina has not put an inmate to death in nearly two years.

Motts’ journey to the death chamber began in the medium-security Perry Correctional Institution around 4 a.m. Dec. 5, 2005, as Motts was playing cards with his cellmate. Motts told investigators he asked Martin why he lied about a stolen radio and Martin replied with a threat, saying “it was either you or me.”

Motts said it sent him into a rage. He punched Martin in the head, knocking him out long enough for Motts to tear a bedsheet and bind his cellmate’s arms and legs and tie him to the bottom bunk. Martin regained consciousness and begged Motts for his life. Motts testified at his trial he then choked Martin to death.

Motts said he later dragged Martin’s body to a common area, kicked him in the head and said “this is what snitches get.”

Both men had asked prison officials to separate them. Martin was only a few weeks away from finishing his five-year sentence for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and trespassing. His family received an $85,000 settlement from the state after his death.

Motts was serving a life sentence for killing his 73-year-old great-aunt and a 79-year-old man in her home in Spartanburg County in 1995. Authorities said Motts robbed the pair because he wanted money for crack.

“Remember, this is a crime that is a virtual copy of his first two murders,” prosecutor Bob Ariail said in his closing statement in the trial for Martin’s killing. “Tied them up. Vulnerable. Couldn’t hurt him. Killed them. Says he can’t remember it, It’s a rage. It was a blind rage. It was all like a dream. I was on crack. It was not my fault.”

Motts confessed to a state investigator hours after the killing. “I want to tell the solicitor that I don’t want to waste a bunch of money on a trial because I already got two life sentences and a third won’t be any worse,” Motts said in a statement taken by the officer.

Motts didn’t even want to go through a trial, but relented because he didn’t want his parents to think he wasn’t fighting for his life, said one of his trial attorneys, Stephen Henry, at a hearing to determine if Motts was competent to drop his appeals.

His determination to be put to death was tempered briefly when he was told he might be a kidney donor match for his sister. When that effort failed, Motts asked his parents if it would be more painful for them if he was executed now or after exhausting his appeals in 20 years. When they told him they would hurt just the same, Motts started pushing to be a death penalty volunteer, Henry said.

At his death penalty trial, a social worker testified Motts had horrible migraine headaches throughout his childhood and cut himself intentionally as a teen. He suffered from anxiety and depression and found himself stealing so he could use $500 to $600 in crack a day before he turned 16.

But Motts stood before the jury at the trial’s end and said he could make no excuse for what he did.

“I never denied it or tried to justify it. I think if me and Chuck hadn’t been put in the room together, I wouldn’t be here today,” Motts said. “But that’s not an excuse. I’m responsible for what I did.”