TODAY'S RAGING national debate over the death penalty has quietly bypassed James Elledge, now of Walla Walla. There's nothing to debate, he says; take my life, please.
"I hate myself!" Elledge says in a letter from his state penitentiary cell. "And I do not want to go on living."
Convicted in 1998, the 58-year-old Snohomish County murderer is actively campaigning to become the next to die at the Walls. He seeks a swift death by lethal injection, hoping to leapfrog his execution over 13 other death row inmates, some of whom have been there 10 years. He expects this to be his last summer. "I am sick and disgusted of how my life turned out," he writes.
His speedy-execution campaign began shortly after he choked and stabbed former neighbor Eloise Fitzner, 47, on April 18, 1998, in the Lynnwood church where he worked as a janitor.
Elledge said he had been in a year-long rage over a letter Fitzner wrote to a woman she knew urging her to stop dating "that awful man"—Elledge. He ultimately lured Fitzner and a friend to the church by offering them a tour followed by dinner.
The women arrived dressed for an outing. Instead, Elledge led them to a Bible-study room, pulled a knife, tied up both women, and sealed Fitzner's mouth with duct tape, then strangled her and stabbed her in the neck (the horrified other woman was released and went to police). Fitzner, known for her kindness and Christian ways, died with her hands clasped in prayer.
Elledge said he had "just boiled over." He turned himself in to police three days later. In court, he put on no defense and pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated first-degree murder. He ordered his attorney to tell the sentencing jury that he didn't deserve leniency. He tried to avoid an appeal (which by law was mandatory anyway), then waived his appellant rights and asked court-appointed attorneys not to help him other than to see that he dies.
Snohomish public defender William Jaquette, who is opposed to the death penalty, argued for it on behalf of Elledge during a state Supreme Court hearing, in essence joining his opponent, the prosecutor, in urging a final judgment for Elledge. Oral arguments were held in November, and a looming high court decision will almost assuredly confirm the death ruling. Then "I want to make my peace with Jesus and die," says Elledge.
Fitzner, it turned out, wasn't Elledge's first murder victim. In 1974 he killed a Seattle motel manager with a hammer following a dispute over rent (he was on parole for that murder when he killed Fitzner). He spent much of his young life in jail, starting at age 10 in Louisiana for burglary, and at age 21 he robbed a Western Union office and took a clerk hostage.
Having followed Elledge's case, I had dropped him a letter asking if he'd changed his mind about a swift execution. He would be the state's third death row inmate to not challenge his sentence: Child-killer Westley Allan Dodd was hanged in 1993, and triple-murderer Jeremy Sagastegui was executed by lethal injection in 1998 (see "Killing me quickly," SW, June 11, 1998).
Elledge doesn't seem to have wavered from the day he told his sentencing judge, "There is a very wicked part of me, and this wicked part of me needs to die."
His "entire life has been nothing but a big crime wave," he writes, "auto theft, burglary, armed robbery, kidnapping, assault, convicted two different times for first-degree murder.
"And aside from all of those crimes I really did try to clean up my act. Every time I would get close to cleaning my act up, I would self-destruct!
"I have spent over 35 years of my life locked up and I am sick and disgusted of how my life turned out.
"I am more disgusted for taking the lives of those poor women. My heart really goes out to them. And I do not want to go on living. . . .
"Sincerely, Jim Elledge, #245086."