Tarver to be executed here at 12:01 a.m. Friday
Published 2:37 am Wednesday, February 2, 2000
By By Sherry Digmon
Advance Staff Writer
The town of Cottonton sits a stone's throw from the Chattahoochee River and the Georgia border. It's surrounded by other little towns about its size – Glenville, Pittsview, Holy Trinity.
It's the kind of small Alabama town in which nothing much happened n until Sept. 15, 1984.
That's the night Robert Lee Tarver robbed and murdered Hugh Kite, a 63-year old grocer who was closing up his store. He was convicted of shooting Kite three times with a .38-caliber revolver.
Tarver is scheduled to die in Holman's electric chair Friday, Feb. 4, at 12:01 a.m., after having spent 15 years on death row.
Andrew Lee Richardson was with Tarver the night Kite was murdered. During the trial in 1985 in Russell County, he testified that the two men were drinking beer in Tarver's car in a pasture near Kite's store. Richardson said Tarver, armed with a gun, got out of the car and walked toward the store. When Tarver came back, he gave Richardson $80 and said "he had to kill Pete."
Richardson pleaded guilty to lesser charges of first-degree robbery. He was sentenced to 25 years and is eligible for parole in April 2001.
Physical evidence linking Tarver to the murder included tire tracks matching those on Tarver's car, leading to and from the pasture where the two parked and drank, a fingerprint matching Tarver's on an empty beer can found in the pasture and a pistol that a ballistics report linked to the murder.
Tarver, who was on parole for a previous robbery, took the stand in his own defense. He testified that he was nowhere near Kite's store on the night of the murder and denied killing him.
The jury found him guilty and recommended a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
But Russell County Circuit Court Judge Wayne Johnson overrode the jury's recommendation and imposed the death sentence. Appeals began that lasted 15 years.
Tarver, who is now 52, has maintained his innocence.
According to published reports, Tarver's appeal was denied in January by a Russell County Circuit Court judge. His appeal argued that the electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment.
Bryan A. Stevenson, one of Tarver's attorneys, said he will appeal that decision to the Alabama Court of Appeals. If denied, his next step will be an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.
The locals have said that Kite's murder "robbed" them also.
According to published reports, Kite's Grocery and Bait Store was a gathering place. Kite also operated a post office inside the store. Most people in the area knew Kite, including Tarver and Richardson.
In an interview with the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, William Allen Motley, who operated a small grocery store in nearby Jernigan until a few years ago, said Kite's murder changed the way the community thought about country life.