HUNTSVILLE, Texas – James Vernon Allridge III, whose flair for art attracted international attention, went to his death Thursday evening expressing remorse for the 1985 killing of a Fort Worth, Texas, convenience store clerk.

Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known death-penalty opponent, witnessed the execution at Allridge’s request.

But as he lay on the gurney inside the death chamber, Allridge spoke only to the relatives of his victim, Brian Clendennen.

“Shane, I hope you find peace,” Allridge said to a brother of his victim.

“I’m sorry I destroyed y’all’s life. I really am.”

Doris Clendennen, Brian’s mother, asked a prison official if she could ask Allridge a question but was told she could not.

Allridge, 41, was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m. CDT, the 12th Texas inmate executed this year and the 325th since executions resumed in 1982.

“I just wanted to ask him if he was truly born again,” Doris Clendennen said.

Prejean watched from another room with two of Allridge’s brothers and three friends. She prayed, “Father, into your hands we commend his spirit.”

The film “Dead Man Walking” was based on Prejean’s memoir of Louisiana’s Death Row. Actress Susan Sarandon, who won an Oscar in 1996 for her portrayal of Prejean in the film, visited Allridge on July 14. Sarandon had purchased some of Allridge’s art and exchanged letters for several years.

Sarandon also appeared on a video prepared by Allridge’s lawyers to show to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which rejected the inmate’s petition that his sentence be commuted.

Like several former prison officials who also appeared on the video, Sarandon had hoped to convince the parole board that Allridge had been rehabilitated on Death Row.

All of Allridge’s appeals, including a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution, were denied.

in the final 48 hours of his life.

Allridge’s journey to Death Row began when he and his brother Ronald Allridge set out to rob several convenience stores and fast-food restaurants in early 1985.

Ronald Allridge killed a woman during the March 25, 1985, robbery of a Fort Worth fast-food restaurant. He was executed in 1995. Unlike James Allridge, who had no criminal record before the spree, Ronald Allridge had served time for killing a classmate at age 15.

James Allridge was convicted and condemned for killing Brian Clendennen, 21, on Feb. 4, 1985, during the robbery of the Circle K convenience store where Clendennen worked. Allridge recognized Clendennen from a training program they attended together, prosecutors said. Allridge tied Clendennen’s hands behind his back and forced him to kneel before shooting him.

While on Death Row, Allridge taught himself to paint landscapes and flowers, which he sold on the Internet. The positive attention that Allridge received for his art and his good behavior in prison outraged Clendennen’s relatives.

Clendennen, too, had artistic talent, his family said, and one of his oil paintings hangs in Everman’s City Hall.

“Any person in his right mind should be ashamed of himself for standing up for a murderer,” Shane Clendennen said. “It’s appalling. It makes me sick.”

In addition to Doris and Shane Clendennen, other witnesses on the victim’s behalf were his sister, Donna Ryals and her husband, Lenn Ryals; and family friend Ray Stewart.

Allridge’s witnesses declined to speak with reporters after the execution. But they released a written statement that the execution did not solve anything.

“As friends of James Allridge, our hearts go out to the Clendennen family and the Allridge family,” the statement said. “Two priceless lives are lost. We wish and hope for healing and peace for both families.”

Prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Allridge spent his last hours in a holding cell in Huntsville’s Walls Unit a few feet from the death chamber. He spent about half an hour talking with Prejean and then was allowed to make some phone calls.

Earlier in the day, he spent several hours visiting with relatives in Livingston’s Polunsky Unit, home to Texas Death Row, about 45 miles east of Huntsville.

“He was calm, that’s the best way to put it,” said Lyons, who spoke briefly with Allridge about 2 p.m. CDT.

Allridge requested a last meal of a double-meat bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomatoes and salad dressing. He also requested shoestring french fries with ketchup, banana pudding, watermelon and seedless grapes.

Donna Ryals said the clinical atmosphere of the execution was a stark contrast to the scene at the convenience store 19 1/2 years ago.

“He died with his hands tied behind him back in a stockroom of a convenience store,” Ryals said. “I am so mad right now.”

As for Allridge, she added: “I wouldn’t forgive him for nothing. He got what he deserved. At least he gets to meet his brother now.”



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