In the Shadow of the Chair, Killer John Evans Plans to Seek No Reprieve from Death
“If you’ve got to be robbed,” says John Louis Evans III, with what might appropriately be called gallows humor, “you want to be robbed by a guy like me.” Leaving them laughing, according to Evans, was always his style in a lifetime of crime. It worked, more or less, until the January day in 1977 when Evans shot a pawnbroker, Edward Nassar, in Mobile, Ala. “I didn’t want to shoot him,” Evans says, “but when the man went for a gun, I didn’t have any choice. One of the things I regret more than anything else is that his two little girls saw what happened.”
Pausing in his reminiscence, the 29-year-old killer glances through a window in the Alabama prison interview room toward the yellow electric chair in which he was scheduled to die April 6. “Oh yeah,” he nods with a laugh. “Ol’ Sparky. The chair.”
Should he be electrocuted without further delay, Evans will be the first man to be executed in the U.S. since Gary Gilmore died before a firing squad in Utah on Jan. 17, 1977. It is a prospect he professes to welcome, and he has instructed his lawyers to halt any efforts to win him a stay. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in jail,” Evans explains. “Not even 10 years. Dying, to me, is going to be the easy part. I’ve been flirting with death all my life.”
Evans’ arrest by the FBI, in March of 1977, ended a binge of stickups that he and his prison partner, Wayne Ritter, had planned as their “last crime spree. It was a deadly game you play with the police. We knew we would be caught,” says Evans. “We’ve got nine kidnappings, two extortions, 37 armed robberies,” he continues. “We would never have gotten out of prison, not with all that hanging over us. We figured up one time that we were facing a minimum of 2,500 years—seven life-without-parole sentences! So I decided to go for the death penalty all the way.” Evans and Ritter laughed at their sentencing, and vowed if they were ever released that they would come back and murder the jurors. (Ritter, however, since has appealed his conviction to the Alabama supreme court and is in no immediate danger of execution.)
As Evans awaits the death he has courted so eagerly, he shows little patience with those who would plumb his murderer’s psyche. “I come from a superloving family,” says Evans, a onetime Boy Scout and altar boy. “I was never abused. I was just a rotten kid. People say there’s no such thing, but I proved there is.” In grammar school in Beaumont, Texas, Evans adds, he began “swiping little things” to see if he could get away with it. Ultimately he graduated to car theft and armed robbery—but never, he says, with any intention of hurting people.
“There’s no real tough guy here,” Evans insists. “They can go find their John Dillinger someplace else.” He regrets only that he must die by electrocution instead of by lethal injection. That, he insists, would be “the most humane way—and it would also make an inmate able to donate his vital organs. I had one lady from Honolulu ask me for my eyes when I’m executed. But they’re not going to be any good, because in electrocution organs are destroyed. That’s sad, a waste.”
Otherwise, he regards it as the ultimate release. “I have lived a vile life around vile people,” he explains. “I’ve seen guys die slow and horrible. What are you going to do in jail? Cut your wrist? Use a sheet for a rope and hang yourself? Naw, that’s a hard way to die. You sit there in that chair, and it’s 2,500 volts. You never know what hits you. But I’m a coward. I want to go quick.”