This story was originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune on April 21, 1992. It is being posted online from the U-T archives to mark the 25th anniversary of the Robert Alton Harris execution at San Quentin.
SAN QUENTIN — After an exhausting night of uncertainty and three last-minute legal delays, condemned San Diego murderer Robert Alton Harris was put to death at dawn today in California’s gas chamber.
San Quentin state prison Warden Daniel Vasquez said Harris told him that his final statement was, “You can be a king or a street-sweeper, but everybody dances with the Grim Reaper.”
Harris, 39, who already had been strapped into the gas-chamber chair once and then removed exactly two hours earlier, was led to the chamber a second time at 6:01 a.m., after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a one-day stay granted by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson.
Three officers then strapped Harris into the chair and bound his feet and chest.
Harris nodded, winking at one officer who stood outside waiting to witness his death. He was serious, much more somber than he had been two hours earlier.
“It was almost as if Robert Harris knew this time that he was going to die,” said San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Lorie Hearn, one of 18 media witnesses to the execution. A total of 49 people were present to watch.
“He didn’t joke, he didn’t laugh, he didn’t roll his eyes, as he did frequently during the earlier failed attempt to kill him. And as gas filled the glowing…
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