21 April 1992 – Robert Alton Harris

Robert Alton Harris The gas chamber marked California’s return to the death penalty in 1992 – the first execution for over 25 years and certainly since the sentence was reinstated in 1976.

It was the dubious honour of callous killer Robert Alton Harris to christen the noxious enclosure, after he was found guilty of the senseless murder of two young lads.

Descent into hell

There’s a school of thought that believes psychopaths are born with killer tendencies. But it’s nurture that ultimately morphs those tendencies into full-blown depravity. If that is the case, then Harris didn’t have a hope in hell. Even in the womb he was a victim, having been born three months premature after his mum got kicked in the stomach by his surly dad.

By the age of two, he’d suffered a broken jaw at the hands of his nutter of a dad. And he’d be forced to run outside and hide within 30 minutes, or his dad vowed to shoot his children down. So was it any wonder his destiny was to descend into killer?

Eats, shoots and leaves

And so to the murder; Harris abducted two 16-year-old boys who worked at a fast-food outlet, along with his brother Daniel. He then proceeded to persecute them before burying a bullet in both their brains. He then calmly finished off the burgers he’d stolen off them.

The brother had no hand in the murders, however later that day the two of them did do a bank over. But the real clincher was that Harris had already done time for manslaughter. His original crime had been deemed manslaughter, because he heaped his defence on the fact that he’d been protecting a woman against her husband. Of course, that didn’t explain why the first victim was beaten to death as well as doused in lighter fluid in an attempt to set him alight. Harris bizarrely even cut the victim’s hair off.

The fact that Harris had previous meant that his card was marked. As a result, the punishment was death. He was sent to the gas chamber and poisoned to death.

Of all the profundities Harris could have reserved for his last words on this mortal coil, he plumped for a quote from that seminal film, ‘Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey’: “You may be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later you’ll dance with the Reaper”.

Also on this day

21 April 1876 – Johnny Dolan
21 April 2006 – Willie Brown Jnr

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15 Responses to “21 April 1992 – Robert Alton Harris”

  1. Robert Alton Harris Jr Says:

    I guess the only problem I have with the punishment my father received is this. Can we be absoulutely sure that the man who was executed in 1992 was infact the same man that committed the hanus crime in 1978. Do I believe that Capital Punishment is a necessary evil. Yes, I actually do. But, at some point, we as a society must come to the realization that the human body has the ablility to heal itself. Thus, the mental defect in my fathers brain could have been corrected those many years later when he was put to death. So the question is, are we punishing the man for what he did, or what he was? Can we still hold a person who was sick at the time the crime was committed guilty if he is later cured of the sickness that compelled him to commit these crimes?

    • Matt Says:

      Look Robert I understand that this man was your father and it must be a hard thing for you to have to live through life with the attachment of what he did, and the end result of that. And I can even understand the point that your bringing up. But you have to realize the impact of what he did affected so many people in such a way that he not only destroyed the lives of those two young men but also their loved ones. My grandmother never recoverd from the death of her son, it sapped the life right out of her and that effected everyone that she loved and loved her. I don’t place blame anymore and maybe your dad is in peace.Something he might not have had in this life. But don’t think that for one minuet that he was so ill as not to understand what he was doing. Michael Baker begged for his life with tears, sobbing. He was sixteen. And didn’t receive the mercy he deserved. And neither did your father. That may sound harsh and my apologies to you but its hard for me to hear every ones excuses for what he did. Its easy to focus on the Person who committed the crimes and very easy to forget the person the crimes were committed against. I was five and my uncle john was a happy teen of the few memories that I have of that age his smile is there in my mind and I miss him. So maybe instead of rationalizing his actions, because you are not him and he is not you. Maybe you can help heal old wound,s that he could never account for, and with his dying breath never did. These Scars run DEEP.

    • Shirley Says:

      John Mayeski was my cousin’s brother-in-law and neither John nor his friend deserved to die the way they did. Capital punishment is allowed in this country & we have to tolerate it, whether we like it or not & whether we agree or not. In this case, justice was served.

  2. Diane Says:

    It doesn’t matter who your father had become after brutally murdering those two boys. It doesn’t matter that he was “sick” at the time. The punishment he received, and it was not “cruel and unusual punishment” as was his cry, was the consequence for taking two 16 yr. old boys’ lives. What WAS cruel was him taking their lives away through murder, and changing their families lives forever. If I remember right, John Mayeski’s mother passed away about a year before she saw justice for her son.

    When this happened, I was 20, and I lived in Mira Mesa at the time, a mile from where your father, and the boys lived. There has never been a day before that, or since that I wish I could go back and change. It made an impact on me, and I will never forget it. You will never know the sick feeling I had the morning I got up and read the newspaper. My mother didn’t realize that she knew the mother of one of the boys until I told her. I feel sick just having to type that.

    Prior to this, I had never been a supporter of the death penalty. Since that time, I am a strong advocate for the death penalty. It caused me to think about the victims of crimes, the true victims. Personally, I’m sick to death of hearing about the criminals, and how their lives have changed since they murdered an innocent person. It’s not about who they are now, it’s about the crimes they committed, and the fact that you must pay the consequences for the crimes you commit.

    The punishment your father received was just. Be thankful he had time to say good bye to his loved ones. John Mayeski, and Michael Baker never had that opportunity because your father took that away from them. Be thankful he didn’t have someone telling him he could go, and then shoot him in the back when he was running away, like he did to one of the boys.

  3. Too bad he didnt have to suffer. They should torture killers and use them for medical research

  4. OUTLOOK ON THE LAW Says:

    I understand everyones point of view on the issue. However the point of Robert Harris death is just this,could it have been a more humane punishment carried out according to our constitutional rights. Our country is built on the hearts of forgiveness and our ability to be fair even in our darkest hour.That is what makes us stand out from any other country. Our willingness to forgive and open our hearts to others. So again I must say I understand everyones point of view however could it have been a more humane way of carrying out this man’s death sentence other than lethal gas. One who takes the life of another for the purpose of pleasure deserves to have his life taken as well but without violating that persons constitutional rights.

  5. Robert Alton Harris was clearly a victim of severe child abuse. If such abuse does not permanently damage the heart, mind and soul of its victims, then why do we consider such crimes so heinous? The answer is obvious: if anyone deserved clemency, it was Robert Alton Harris, a victim of child abuse. But no, the heartless mob must have its vengeance, the same sort of mob that laid palm branches at the feet of Jesus Christ upon his entry to Jerusalem, only to cry for his crucifixion within the week, lest they be associated with his crimes (whatever they are supposed to be). So we must put Harris to death, or else what? We are down with killing 16 year olds? THINK PEOPLE! As for capital punishment, how is it supposed to be a deterrent when it is not done in public for all to see? Just like human slavery and human sacrifice, capital punishment should be abolished. If anything, capital punishment is a human sacrifice to the blood thirsty god you all worship.

  6. Melissa Says:

    John Mayeski was my brother’s best friend in Mira Mesa. We lived on the other side of the neighborhood pool from him and my brother hung out with him every single day. We moved out of the state 6 months before Harris took those boys at that Jack in the Box. My brother probably would have been one of them. I was eight years old and remember when my family watched it on the news from Michigan one month before we moved back to Mira Mesa. We were spared. But we will never forget what Harris did to our community.

    If you knew me you’d probably say I’m not the type of person who you would expect to be pro-death penalty. But from what I know, people usually can’t be “fixed” and be “made better later” when they’re SOCIOPATHS. I experienced my share of neglect and abuse as a child but I didn’t kill any cats…or people! I’m very sorry Harris was born with the inability to think of better ways to handle his stress in life. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. And that’s the way the murderer gets fried.

  7. Melissa Says:

    Furthermore, there is scientific evidence that shows that sociopathy is indeed genetic. In these studies, twins separated at birth who are found later to be sociopathic are very often found to be similarly sociopathic. Also, adopted children raised in healthy homes often exhibit sociopathic behavior resembling a sociopathic birth parent they never even knew.

    It isn’t just all nurture. If you have kids of your own you can see your temperament in them as well as the temperament of their other parent. It’s true they have a better chance at a good outcome if you’re a good nurturer. But, sometimes you can do everything possible to nurture the best out of a child and sometimes you still only end up with the worst. It’s not really polite to say it’s all environmental. Do you realize how many excellent parents are out there with sociopathic children running around? You’re offending every one of them with your theory.

  8. Robert Alton Harris Jr. Says:

    Ok,

    I have read all of the posts to my first comments. It has been a while since my first comment and I have something else to add. I never knew my father, and for that I am grateful. I was not arguing that my father did not deserve death. On the contrary, i support capital punishment. Infact, i personally do not believe we extend the death penalty far enough. Murder, so far is the only crime punishable by death. I think it should extend to Rapist and child molesters.
    What I will argue is this. Robert Alton Harris was justifiably killed some 14 years after his crime. If your going to impose the death penalty, then carry it out swiftly. I understand our constitution protects the due process rights of criminals…but 14 years….come on. That’s crazy. And for all those who believe Robert Alton Harris should be accountable for his actions, regardless of the time span between crime and punishment, think of the shit you have done. You may not deserve the death penalty for your actions, but I bet you would argue that after 14 years, your not the same person who made the horrible mistakes you regret.
    Justice does not embody emotional response’s, Revenge does. That’s all I’m trying to say. Did he deserve to die? I think so. Do I have any sympathy for the victims, absolutely. If it were my kids that were killed, I personally would have wanted to kill the man myself. But his crime is not the issue here, the time is. Justice demands action, swift action. So carry out Justice swiftly.
    And for all of you who believe that capitol punishment is “cruel”..Your insane. I just hope it does not take “you” loosing a loved one to finally feel the rage that has only one resolution. Justice by whatever hand is dealt to the one who has taken a life.

    • Hi Robert,
      Just came accross this webpages. I am a Dutch filmmaker and in 1995 made a documentary about the execution of your father. I would like to be in touch with you. You may contact me : jaapATvanhoewijk.nl. Look forward to hearing from you.
      kind regards,

      Jaap

  9. SPURWING PLOVER Says:

    Harris murdered two innocent young men ate the burgers they had ordered and used their stole car to rob a bank and to all those bleedinghearts who opposed the exiction this was justice carried out now if they had only did this with CHARLES MANSON and the MANENDEZE BROTHERS despite all thier stupid sniveling and crying

  10. Juandering Says:

    Robert jr.,

    I was driving up to the bank when your father and uncle were running out. Imy girlfriend and I chased them for their plate and they tried to kill us for our efforts. I testified against them in court. There is much more to the story than you probably know.
    I understand what you mean about punishing him 14 years later. To paraphrase the then current governor it was to late for R.A.H. the man, but not too late for you. Find me, we should talk.
    Nothing is written. You have been unfairly burdened but a better life lies before you. Take care.

  11. The death penalty is unjust. It doesn’t bring back the deceased or undo the the damage of crimes done. Life without parole is far more justifiable. Incarceration takes the persons life away without carrying out another murder just because some may feel that murder is justified. It remains true that several criminals have turned their lives around in prison and had a positive affect on the outside world from behind bars. Many people are far too dangerous to be on the streets, I agree with that, I simply don’t think it’s right to murder them. By definition murder is death by intention of another/ others. Also, there are flaws in the justice system, and there have been people wrongly convicted…not that I am saying Robert Sr. Was unjustly convicted, but it has happened. One other thing to point out, the gas chamber has been determined cruel and unusual…

  12. The Harris execution is indeed bizarre, a police officer’s son is murdered and he investigates it and later views the execution.
    I agree that lethal gas is not a kind, gentle way to leave the world
    but I oppose lethal injection even more, it makes the death penalty
    even more easier to pay out. I’m afraid death penalty will be passed
    out like parking tickets.

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