Arizona executes inmate who killed teen girls in Cochise County

Richard Dale Stokley

Photo courtesy of Arizona Department of Corrections

After covering the criminal justice system for more than 20 years, one might think I'd get tired of it or burned out. It's just the opposite.

I remain fascinated and still struggle to capture and explain every aspect of it without being sensational. 

Take Arizona v. Stokley for example.

Richard Stokley was executed yesterday for murdering two 13-year-old girls back in 1991. 

Obviously, the most important aspect of the case is the tragic loss of two beautiful little girls and the pain suffered by both their families every day since.

As Elisha Gonzales said following the execution, her sister, Mary Snyder, and Mandy Meyers never got to learn how to drive a car, go to high school, get asked to the prom, let alone grow up, marry, have children.

Then there's the defendants themselves. Who were these men and how did they get to the point where they could and would rape and murder?

Because Randy Brazeal didn't go to trial, I don't know nearly as much about him as I do Stokley. Stokley's life is laid out for all to see in court documents.

I do know though, that Patty Hancock wanted to set the record straight about how Mandy knew Brazeal.

Apparently, Brazeal, who was 20 when he killed the girls, took her oldest daughter, Nikki, then 16, to the movies twice, Patty said.

"It wasn't a relationship," Patty said.

Brazeal moved to Elfrida in April 1991 and his father owned the restaurant where Patty worked as a cook and Nikki would sometimes waitress, Patty said.

Nikki met Brazeal at the restaurant.

As for Stokley, a March 2009 federal court opinion filed after one of his many appeals gives a glimpse into his life.

According to it:

1) He was born to a 17-year-old girl in Texas and never knew his father.

2) His mother married, had another child and divorced his stepfather. At various times he lived with his mother, grandparents and an aunt and uncle.

3) Stokley dropped out of the 10th grade, got his GED and went into the Army. He was honorably discharged because of knee issues.

4) He married and divorced four times.

5) Stokley worked short stints as a laborer and the defense team speculated that was because he began drinking a pint of whiskey a day in his teens and then later used all sorts of illicit drugs.

6) Stokley suffered multiple head injuries over the years and one doctor said they impacted his ability to "understand, interpret and respond to his environment." He also said head injuries lead to impulsive behavior sometimes.

7) He attempted suicide five times, including once when he wrapped dynamite around himself in 1983.

The federal opinion also said Stokley went to a psychologist two weeks before the murders to see if he could qualify for disability. That psychologist discovered Stokley had an IQ of 128, which is considered superior.

The doctor also said Stokley could do any job he was qualified to do, but "emotionally, chronic pain, hostility and possibly a mood disorder, could impair his relationships with co-workers and the public."

Another angle to the story was the lethal injection process itself. 

Yesterday was the third time witnesses got to watch the medical team insert the IVs into a condemned prisoner. Up until recently, our first glimpse of the condemned was after the IVs were inserted and it was time for the death warrant to be read.

The medical team found one vein right away in Stokley's right arm, just below what looked like an anchor tattoo. However, they pricked Stokley's left arm at least three times before giving up and moving to Stokley's groin.

As we watched on a TV monitor, the team cut open the side of what looked to be a diaper and shaved the uppermost portion of his thigh. It took several long minutes using an ultrasound machine to find an appropriate vein.

I wouldn't say Stokley was jovial during this entire process, but he was calm, talkative and nice. (I couldn't help but wonder what would've happened had he been combative.)

When someone thanked him for warning them he had hepatitis, Stokley said, "Ain't no sense in anybody else getting it."

He told a corny joke, expressed his belief that "Orientals make the best phlebotomists" and said he was surprised they tried to find a vein in his bicep.

"That's a first for me, I didn't know anything was up there," Stokley said.

When told they would give him a local anesthetic before inserting the groin IV, Stokley said -- without a hint of irony -- "I appreciate that. I've always hated needles."

Once it was in, Stokley was told they were going to stitch it in so he wouldn't have to get poked again. He laughed and said "That's good."

He then politely told the team he was "really trying" not to pass gas for their sake.

When told he'd done well throughout the entire process, Stokley thanked the team for their efforts.

It was the last thing he said before declining to give a formal final statement.

Stokley never looked at the 30 to 35 people staring at him during his final 72 minutes on this Earth.