Killer Strangled, Raped, Set Fire To Woman
POSTED: 12:16 pm EST November 4, 2005
SMYRNA, Del. -- Virginia Thomas will never have to worry about getting another letter from the man who killed her daughter.
"Now, hopefully, we will have some peace and closure," Thomas said Friday after Brian Steckel, 36, died by lethal injection at Delaware Correctional Center.
Steckel, who was pronounced dead at 12:21 a.m., was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Sandra Lee Long, a neighbor who burned to death in a fire he set after strangling her into unconsciousness and raping and sodomizing her, having gained entry to her apartment by asking if he could use her telephone.
Hours after attacking Long, Steckel called The (Wilmington) News Journal to boast of the killing and identify another woman, to whom he had been making obscene phone calls, as his next victim.
While awaiting trial in prison, Steckel sent more than 75 taunting and threatening letters to prosecutors, a judge and others involved in the case. In one of seven letters sent to Virginia Thomas, he enclosed a copy of an autopsy report on which he had scribbled, "Happy, happy, joy, joy ... Read it and weep. She is gone forever. Don't cry over burnt flesh."
Thomas thanked judicial system officials for their help in ending what she described as "this terrible nightmare."
"I just want to say I'm sorry for the cruel things I did," Steckel said as he lay strapped to a gurney waiting for the lethal drugs to course through his body. "... I'm not the same man I was when I came to jail. I'm a better person."
Steckel apologized to Long's family and professed his love for his own family, whom he had asked not to witness his death. He apologized to his mother for putting her through "25 years of hell."
"Is this going to bring closure to anybody? I don't think so," said Steckel's cousin, Mary Kolesnik, an execution witness.
About 60 demonstrators staged rallies for and against the death penalty outside the prison. Among them was Johnny Hall, 43, one of two men who tried in vain to pull Long from her burning apartment. Hall was carrying a sign that said, "I was there. I watched her die."
Sandra Jones, a Rowan University sociologist and death penalty opponent who befriended Steckel and witnessed the execution, called his death "premeditated homicide."
"I think the way Brian Steckel handled himself in there this evening is evidence that he's not the same man who committed this terrible crime 11 years ago," she said.
Witnesses entered the execution chamber about seven minutes after midnight; Steckel was pronounced dead about 14 minutes later.
"Why is it taking so long?" Steckel said at one point, looking up at prison warden Thomas Carroll.
Despite the length of time for the execution, there were no technical difficulties, according to deputy warden Betty Burris.
While waiting to die, Steckel alternately stared at the ceiling and continued talking with Kolesnik and Jones, asking if they had received his mail and even joking with them.
"You have beautiful eyes," he said, looking at Jones. "You, too, Mary. You too, Deckers," he said, smiling at his attorney, John Deckers.
About 12:18 a.m., Steckel took a deep breath, gave a raspy, snorting wheeze, puffed his cheeks and blew a breath out, then was still.
Shortly before he died, Steckel said, "It's time to get out of here. The journey away begins ... I'm at peace."
Steckel was the 14th inmate executed by Delaware since the state resumed executions since 1992. Friday's execution was Delaware's first since 2001, when Abdullah T. Hameen, 37, was put to death for a 1991 drug-related murder.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.