Smile: The Mystery of the Gun in the Typewriter
In 1995, a loaded gun was found inside an inmate’s modified typewriter on Virginia’s death row. How did it get there?
This is an excerpt from my latest book, “Closing the Slaughterhouse: The Inside story of Death Penalty Abolition in Virginia,” available worldwide at all online sellers.
LONG TIME VIRGINIA DEATH ROW INMATE WILLIE LLOYD TURNER once claimed to journalist Laura Lafay that he resented corrections officials’ attempts to make him “sound like an amateur, like a fool.”
Turner turned the tables on them.
A firestorm of controversy surrounded the execution of Turner for the 1978 murder of W. Jack Smith, Jr. Turner’s death by lethal injection on May 25, 1995 ended what was at the time the most extended death row term in Virginia history. The 49-year-old had refused to seek clemency from Gov. George Allen after being turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The controversy surrounded not the execution but what happened one hour afterward.
On death row, Turner wrote an 800-page account of his 15 years of incarceration titled “The Real Deal” on a Smith-Corona typewriter. Weeks before his execution, he told his attorney, Walter J. Walvick, that he should take a good look at the typewriter after his execution. Walvick thought little of the comment at the time.
After Turner was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m., corrections officers helped Walvick load that typewriter, case and Turner’s personal belongings into his car. After speaking to two journalists, Laura LaFay and June Arney, he asked them to join him and his wife in an Emporia Hotel room, where they would look at the typewriter per Turner’s request.
LaFay told Walvick that Turner wrote the word “Gun” two days before his execution and showed it to her.
Once in the room, Walvick opened the typewriter case with the two reporters as witnesses. Inside they found a compartment sealed with chewing gum and a paste made from water and dried coffee creamer…