Justice Delayed

Almost 20 years ago, the murder of an 8-year-old girl enraged Tucson; today, the convicted killer remains alive on death row

Vicki Lynne Hoskinson was a bright and cheery 8-year-old who had completed her day at Homer Davis Elementary School. She pedaled her pink bike that afternoon on what we all believed to be the safe streets of Flowing Wells. She was heading back from dropping a birthday card into a nearby mailbox.

Frank Jarvis Atwood was a 28-year-old pedophile, a drifter from California who lived off his parents. He had been paroled in May 1984 after serving prison time for a 1981 conviction; he'd been found guilty of kidnapping an 8-year-old boy. Atwood asked the boy for directions and then knocked down the boy's bike. He forced the boy to fellate him.

He also had been busted in 1974 for lewd and lascivious conduct with a 14-year-old girl and was sent to a mental health facility.

He used his 9-year-old Datsun 280Z to get Vicki Lynne, striking her bike with the car's bumper that bore telltale pink paint. The bike lay on Pocito Place near Root Lane.

Vicki Lynne's sister found the bike, and her mother rushed down the street to retrieve it. She called 911. Two teenage boys saw the young girl in the black Z. A Homer Davis teacher also saw the car, along with scruffy Atwood, and took down the license plate number.

Frank Jarvis Atwood returned later that day--Sept. 17, 1984--to his transient pals who were hanging out in De Anza Park on East Speedway Boulevard at Stone Avenue. He had blood on his hands and cactus needles on his pants. He boasted to his friends, including one who was coincidentally struck and killed by lightning four days later, that he stabbed a guy after a drug deal went awry. Atwood and his friend Jack McDonald visited with another man and went to a bar to play pool.

Atwood's buddies noticed that he was spending time sanding his knife. Atwood and McDonald left Tucson that night, taking Interstate 10 on their way to New Orleans.

The Z broke down in Kerrville, Texas, less than an hour from San Antonio. Atwood phoned home for help. McDonald heard this significant part of that conversation: "Even if I did do it, you have to help me."

The FBI had already called Atwood's parents, who told agents that their son was getting his car fixed at Ken Stoepel Ford in Kerrville. That's where they arrested him, searched his car and then arranged for it to be carted to San Antonio, where it was searched again.

Ten days after Vicki Lynne Hoskinson disappeared, Atwood was charged with kidnapping "with the intent to inflict death, physical injury or a sexual offense on the victim." Nearly seven more months passed before Vicki Lynne Hoskinson's remains were found.

Her family's immeasurable grief, the child's sweet face and Atwood's demonic look fanned a huge and unprecedented community and prosecutorial response. Victim's advocates groups, as well as and law-and-punishment organizations, sprung up with stunning force.

The media circus moved north to Phoenix; the trial was moved because of the overwhelming coverage. The trial didn't begin until January 1987. Stanton Bloom, a highly skilled defense lawyer, took over the case for Lamar Couser and pushed every limit, both procedurally and physically (the always-fit Bloom was so drained that he was briefly hospitalized), against an arrogant and rule-flouting, but effective, John Davis.

The jury convicted Atwood on March 26, 1987. He was sentenced on May 8, and the next day, he began his now-almost 17 years on Arizona's death row. His only travel since has been the transfer of death row from the old Cell Block 6 at the Florence prison to the Eyman Unit east of Florence.

That didn't stop Atwood from getting married, at age 35, on Dec. 17, 1991, to Rachel Lee Tenny, 29, of Tucson. The marriage, witnessed by Atwood's mother, was performed inside the old prison.

Atwood has studied enough to earn a degree in comparative religion. But he'll never rehabilitate himself in the eyes of most Tucsonans, who are simply awaiting his execution.

Atwood has burned just one appeal, one rejected not long after Arizona resumed executions after a 29-year hiatus brought on by changing laws and orders from the U.S. Supreme Court.

As lucky as he was to have a talented and tenacious fighter like Bloom, Atwood is also fortunate to have Larry Hammond handling his new appeal. Hammond, a genial lawyer who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Lewis Powell and Hugo Black, is committed to justice and equality. Fresh to Arizona, he and his Phoenix law-office colleagues joined underfunded and outmanned Rubin Salter when African Americans filed their landmark lawsuit against the Tucson Unified School District for its decades of official and de facto segregation.

Hammond does not have any confidence in the press when it comes to Atwood, whom he tries to see on a weekly basis. He does not believe there has been one thing written about the case that has been fair to Atwood. He believes emotions were further whipped up by photos in which Atwood's creepy looks were somehow worsened to make him look, as Hammond says, "like Charles Manson."

Hammond teaches courses at Arizona State University's College of Law on wrongful convictions. He says he is convinced Atwood did not receive a fair trial. "This case has been treated as if it is the most clear example of a horrific crime in history.

"There is tremendous hatred for Frank," says Hammond, who declines to offer any details on the appeal.

"Why on Earth would I want to talk to the arrogant, ignorant press?" asks Hammond, who is considerably more gracious than the comment would indicate. He adds that he would rather run through a path of rattlesnakes than discuss Atwood's case with a reporter.

Only 22 men, of the 126 people on Arizona's death row, have been there longer than Atwood. It is a stark and numbingly depressing place. And the atmosphere changed in 1992, when shortly after midnight on April 6, Don Eugene Harding, a runty and unbalanced man, was killed in the gas chamber. The years of warehousing were over.

Harding overpowered and killed two salesmen at the La Quinta, now a Ramada, just off of Interstate 10 at St. Mary's Road. At his execution, Harding flipped off Attorney General Grant Woods, then twisted and writhed and strained. His skin turned a supernatural deep red; his body collapsed and then rose again against the restraints. It took 10 minutes and 31 seconds for Harding to die. Prison officials who witnessed Harding's predecessor, Manuel Silvas, die in the gas chamber in March 1963, told reporters that it would be over quickly, with a gasp of air and then unconsciousness.

Harding's death was so horrific that the state Legislature moved with rare speed to allow voters to change the method to lethal injection.

Defense lawyers and death-penalty abolitionists feared Harding's execution would open the floodgates. But in 12 years, there have been only 22 executions. Nine were executed for murders committed in Pima County (see the sidebar). The last execution was in November 2000, and the U.S. Supreme Court's Ring decision--putting punishment in the hands of the jury instead of the judge--has placed a number of death cases in limbo.

As those sentences are sent to back to juries, the abolitionist movement is evolving. Many death-penalty opponents no longer want to coddle or glorify the killers they seek to keep alive. They don't instantly insist on the innocence of those in prison. And they are not in the business of forgiving those on death row for their heinous crimes. They have genuine sympathy and concern for the families and loved ones of the victims.

Until that is understood, they say, the abolition movement will lack necessary support.

Meanwhile, Hammond works on Atwood's appeal, and those who remember Vicki Lynne Hoskinson keep waiting.

Meals to Die For

The last-meal requests by nine of the men executed for crimes committed in Pima County since the re-institution of capital punishment in 1992, as noted by the Arizona Department of Corrections:

Don Harding, April 6, 1992: Several fried eggs, several strips of bacon, toast, butter, honey and jelly.

Jimmie Wayne Jeffers, Sept. 13, 1995: Ten-ounce steak, peas, rolls with butter, baked potato with shredded cheddar cheese, strawberry pie with whipped cream, large chocolate malt.

Daren L. Bolton, June 19, 1996: no menu provided.

Arthur Martin Ross, April 29, 1998: Three grilled-cheese-and-fried-egg sandwiches, macaroni and cheese ("lots"), pint of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, two cans of Pepsi.

Douglas Edward Gretzler, June 3, 1998: Six fried eggs over easy, four strips of bacon (chewy), two slices of white bread toast (buttered), one cup of real coffee, two Classic Cokes over ice.

Karl Hinze LaGrand, Feb. 24, 1999: Two BLTs on white bread, mayonnaise, four fried eggs over easy, medium portion of hash-brown potatoes, two breakfast rolls, small portion of strawberry jelly, one half-pint of pineapple sherbet, one 22-ounce black hot coffee, one medium slice of German chocolate cake, one 12-ounce milk.

Walter Burnhart LaGrand, March 3, 1999: Six fried eggs over easy, 16 strips of bacon, large portion of hash-browns, one pint of pineapple sherbet, one breakfast steak well-done, 16-ounce cup of ice, one 7Up, one Dr. Pepper, one Coke, one portion of hot sauce, one cup of coffee, two packets of sugar and four Rolaids tablets.

Ignacio Alberto Ortiz, Oct. 27, 1999: Two fried eggs, 4-ounce Pace hot sauce, four strips of bacon, one 12-ounce sirloin, 10-ounce french fries, 3-ounce ketchup, one pint vanilla ice cream, one pint of milk, one cup of hot coffee.

Donald Jay Miller, Nov. 8, 2000: Two guacamole tostados, two tacos, one strawberry malt, one Dr. Pepper, one lemon meringue pie, five whole jalapeños, one lemon, one lime, one quart strawberry ice cream.

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