California prosecutor pushes for execution of Mitchell Sims, also convicted of two Hanahan killings

1988 file photo of Mitchell Sims

Los Angeles’ top prosecutor is asking California court officials to order the execution of a Death Row inmate also convicted of spree killings in South Carolina.

L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley filed a request this week requesting that convicted killer Mitchell Sims and another inmate be put to death using a court-approved, single-drug method used in other parts of the country.

Sims, 52, earned a cell on California’s Death Row for killing a Domino’s Pizza delivery man in the Golden State in 1985. That murder occurred just days after Sims gunned down two co-workers at a Domino’s Pizza parlor in Hanahan, a crime for which he earned a second death sentence.

An agreement between the states sent Sims back to California to await his execution. But that state’s notoriously circuitous appeals process and challenges to California’s lethal injection policies have long delayed Sims’ date with death.

Executions in California have been on hold for years due to allegations that a three-drug protocol the Golden State used for executions put the condemned at risk of pain and suffering.

Motions filed by Cooley’s office seek to resume executions using a one-drug protocol used in Ohio, Washington and Arizona. That would eliminate two of the drugs that allegedly put the condemned at risk, his office said in a statement.

If granted, Cooley’s motions could end Sims’ quarter-century wait for the needle.

“It is time to enforce the law of the state and carry out the death sentences that have been returned by juries, imposed by trial judges and affirmed by our appellate court system,” Cooley said.

On Dec. 3, 1985, Sims hid a 25-caliber pistol in his clothes and walked to a Domino’s Pizza shop on Yeamans Hall Road where he worked as a delivery man. Inside were Gary Melke and Christopher Zerr, Charleston Navy Hospital corpsmen who worked at the pizza shop part time. They both were 24 years old. Sims pulled out his gun, looted the safe and bound both men with telephone cord. He then shot the two men execution-style, firing one bullet into Zerr’s head and four more into Melke’s head and neck. After the shooting, Sims returned home and went to sleep.

Zerr died in the shop, but Melke managed to drive and walk to the Hanahan police station, where he told authorities “Mitch Sims” had shot him. Melke died at a hospital days later.

Sims, meanwhile, made his getaway and traveled to California with his girlfriend, Ruby Padgett. On Dec. 10, 1985, they ordered a Domino’s pizza to their motel room in Glendale and then killed the delivery man when he arrived. The victim, John Harrigan, was tied up and drowned in a bathtub.

His attackers then stole Harrigan’s truck and held up the Domino’s shop where he worked, tying two employees in a walk-in refrigerator in such a way that they had to stand on tiptoes to avoid hanging themselves.

Sims and Padgett were arrested later that same month in Las Vegas. She was later sentenced to life in prison. Sims was tried first in California and then in South Carolina.

A witness at Sims’ California trial testified that Sims held a grudge against Domino’s from the time he worked as a manager of a franchise in West Columbia and quit over a reduction in bonus payments.

But Bill Runyon, one of Sims’ defense attorneys in South Carolina, has said his former client simply needed cash and knew the practices and procedures of Domino’s from his work there. “He never had a dislike of Domino’s,” Runyon has said. “It was a crime of convenience.”

Runyon said Sims had a horrible childhood and became an alcoholic at age 14. Witnesses at his South Carolina trial testified that he was beaten and sexually abused by a stepfather who forced Sims and his siblings to have sex with him, each other and their mother.

At his trial in Aiken in 1989, Sims asked the jury for mercy and said he had relived the horror of his crimes over and over. He also made this blunt admission: “I am not a nice guy. You know it and I know it.”

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or

Watchdog/Public Service Editor

Glenn Smith is editor of the Watchdog and Public Service team and helped write the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, “Till Death Do Us Part.” He is a Connecticut native and a longtime crime reporter.