The father of a woman slain 16 years ago in what authorities initially said was retribution by 5 black men for centuries of racial oppression won't make the trip to South Carolina to see his daughter's killer put to death Friday.
"I'm not going to view the execution because it will just open old wounds," said Clair McLauchlin, 76, who lives with his wife Patricia in Live Oak, a small town in northern Florida.
McLauchlin said the death by lethal injection of Joseph Gardner, 38, on Friday also won't bring closure for his family, even after all these years.
"I can tell you right now, it will never be closed," said McLauchlin, who expects to get a phone call from prison officials when the execution is carried out.
"He was sentenced to death, but he sentenced us to a life sentence when he killed her," McLauchlin said. "It's never going to change. It's never going to go away."
The brutal kidnapping, rape and slaying of 25-year-old Melissa "Missi" McLauchlin, who was white, brought worries about racial unrest just months after the 1992 Los Angeles riots stemming from the acquittals of white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King.
At the time of the shooting, police said Gardner and his co-defendants decided to kill a white woman as retribution for the mistreatment of blacks during slavery. They said a letter found during the investigation contained racial slurs and statements justifying revenge against whites.
But at the trial, there was little mention of race. The victim's family and Gardner's attorneys don't think the killing really had anything to do with racial revenge.
"We have found over the years people will use the most convenient excuse that they can find for their actions if they get caught," McLauchlin said. "In this case, the excuse was 400 years of persecution."
Tim Kulp, the court-appointed defense attorney for Gardner, agrees.
"I don't think there was any specific intention of trolling for a white girl," said Kulp. "I think they were just out doing drugs, cruising around and she was at the worst place at the worst time."
Gardner, a Detroit native, was 1 of 5 men convicted in the McLauchlin case and the only one sentenced to death. He went AWOL from his Charleston-based Navy ship and was on the FBI's Most Wanted List before his arrest in Philadelphia almost 2 years later.
Prosecutors said several defendants saw Missi McLauchlin, who was living in North Charleston, walking along a road near her home on Dec. 30, 1992. The men offered her drugs in exchange for sex and 5 men later raped her at gunpoint at a mobile home, authorities said. They then made her bathe, bound and blindfolded her and forced onto the floor of a car.
Gardner shot McLauchlin twice when she managed to free herself from the handcuffs and then 3 more times by the side of a road near Summerville where her body was left, authorities said. After the slaying, the McLauchlins, who then lived in Michigan, went to the media urging calm in both Detroit and in South Carolina amid reports the slaying was racially motivated.
"There were 2 things then," McLauchlin recalled, "We definitely felt that way and we didn't want anybody hurt and 2, if the law enforcement people are running around trying to quell riots ... they are not going to be looking for the guy who shot her."
During Gardner's trial, co-defendant Matthew Carl Mack, sentenced to life for his part in the crime, said the defendants spent the hours before the slaying watching pornographic movies as well as movies showing real executions and deaths.
They also watched a recap of the Rodney King beating story, he said.
Mack testified Gardner commented at the time, "That's 400 years of oppression. That's why that could happen." He also testified Gardner said he would kill a police officer if he had been the one who had been beaten.
Another defendant got a life sentence; 2 others who raped the victim received less than 10 years in prison as a result of plea deals.
Gardner will be the 40th person executed in South Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, and the 3rd inmate put to death in the state this year.
(source: Associated Press)