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Saturday, December 6, 2008

South Carolina Executes Murderer of Melissa McClauchlin

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina man convicted of torturing and killing a woman 16 years ago has been executed by lethal injection.

Joseph M.L. Gardner was pronounced dead at 6:15 p.m. Friday in the state's death chamber in Columbia. He did not make a statement, but did mouth the words "Thank you. I'm OK," to a relative who witnessed his execution.

Gardner was convicted in the 1992 kidnapping, rape and slaying of 25-year-old Melissa "Missi" McLauchlin.

Police said Gardner and his co-defendants decided to kill a white woman as retribution for slavery. But the victim's relatives say they don't think the killing was triggered by racial revenge.

Gardner is the 40th person executed in South Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The Crime:

Melissa McLaughlan, 25, was a native of Wixom, Michigan, living with her fiancé’s family in North Charleston, South Carolina. On the night she died, she had an argument with her fiancé at a nightclub. She stormed out of the club and began to walk home. Police spotted her, obviously drunk, and gave her a ride home, but she quickly set out on foot for another club. Three black men, Matthew Mack, Matthew Williams, and Joseph Gardner pulled up alongside in a car and started a conversation. They offered her drugs if she would come back to their trailer and have sex with them. Melissa McLaughlan, who had a history of drug problems, foolishly accepted their offer. The men had spent most of the day drinking and watching pornographic videos of black men having sex with white women. At one point Mack exploded in anger at his white girlfriend, saying he wanted to “stab her,” but that “it ain’t got to be her, any white” would do. Williams said he wanted to have sex with a white woman. Two hours later, the group watched a television news account of the biggest stories of 1992. When the videotaped beating and arrest of Rodney King came on the air, the third man, Gardner, spoke of “four hundred years of oppression,” and made a “New Year’s resolution” to “kill a white bitch.” It was in this state of mind that the four returned to the trailer where the three blacks lived. The men offered Melissa McLaughlan no drugs, but she willingly had sex with them—at first. She began to resist, especially when the men wanted to sodomize her, and soon the men were raping her. They put out the word within the trailer park that they had “captured a white woman,” and three other blacks arrived and raped her. Two black women, girlfriends of some of the rapists, were present in another room of the trailer, but did nothing to stop the attack. After they had enough, the men decided to get rid of the evidence—including Melissa McLaughlan. They soaked her in bleach and hydrogen peroxide, and scrubbed her under the shower with a nylon brush, in the hope of ridding her skin of sperm or other evidence that could be linked to them. They forced her to scrub out her vagina with the same chemicals. They also talked openly of killing her. The men handcuffed her, blindfolded her, and put a heavy coat over her head. They then took her to a car, and forced her down onto the floorboards in the back. After they had driven for some time, she managed to get out of the handcuffs and began to struggle. Joseph Gardner, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, reached over the seat, held back her head, and shot her twice in the face. The driver pulled over 14 miles outside Charleston, where Gardner shot her three more times in the face and once in the arm. The men dumped her on the side of the road, drove back to Charleston, and went nightclubbing. A passing driver found Melissa McLaughlan, miraculously alive, but she died before the ambulance arrived. It took police four days to identify the body, and a day later they located the

trailer where Melissa McLaughlan was raped. By January 9, 1993, police had arrested seven people including two of the ringleaders—Matthew Mack and Matthew Williams—and two women, Edna Williams and Indira Simmons, who were charged with being accessories to murder and sexual assault. Three of the rapists were sailors stationed at nearby Charleston Naval Base. The only suspect not in custody was the triggerman, Joseph Gardner, who had carried out his New Year’s resolution. Gardner, who was AWOL from the Navy, eluded police for nearly two years, and might never have been caught had the FBI not put him on the “ten most wanted” list. He was living in Philadelphia when someone saw his picture in the post office and tipped off the police. He was arrested on October 20, 1994, and is now on death row. Police suspected a racial motivation from the start, since they found a “crudely written racial diatribe” in the trailer, complete with racial epithets about white oppression, which claimed blacks were “justified in seeking revenge.”

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