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Virginia Prisoner Kills Cellmate, Requests Death Sentence

“I murdered that man cold-bloodedly. I planned it, and I’m gonna do it again,” said Virginia state prisoner Robert Gleason, Jr., 40, after murdering his cellmate, Harvey Gray Watson, Jr. “Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is to put me on death row.”

Watson was transferred to Wallens Ridge State Prison on April 23, 2009 after setting fire to his cell at Sussex II State Prison the previous day. On May 1, 2009, prison officials moved him into Gleason’s 8-by-10-foot cell. Gleason reportedly begged guards and counselors for seven days to move Watson, but they never did.

Watson talked of having “drowned” two television sets because they “had voodoo in them,” Gleason claimed. Watson also drank his own urine and sang, screamed, masturbated and engaged in other offensive behavior. Gleason said his cellmate was driving him crazy, and that he was going to snap.

And snap he did. On May 8, 2009, guards found Watson’s bound, gagged, beaten and strangled corpse in Gleason’s cell. “Wallens Ridge forced my hand,” Gleason later said.
Watson’s death went unnoticed for 15 hours because guards had falsified their population counts, including two mandatory standing counts. Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor declined to comment, other than to say two guards were disciplined and two were fired, though one of the terminated guards was reinstated on appeal.

“You can’t be upset with someone like that,” Gleason said of his victim. “He needed help.” Indeed, Watson did need help – but when prisons become dumping grounds for the mentally ill and prison officials refuse to heed the warnings of a prisoner who begs them to move his cellmate before he “snaps,” this is what happens.

Gleason was serving a life sentence before he killed Watson, and fired his attorneys because they were trying to prevent him from getting the death penalty. “I did this. I deserve it,” he said. “That man, he didn’t deserve to die.”

But Gleason apparently decided that someone else did deserve to die. He was indicted in January 2011 for the July 28, 2010 murder of prisoner Aaron Cooper at Red Onion State Prison, Virginia’s supermax, where Gleason had been transferred after killing Watson. Cooper was in a separate recreation cage but Gleason allegedly managed to strangle him to death.

Gleason pleaded guilty to murdering Watson, withdrew the plea, then reinstated his guilty plea. He is scheduled to be sentenced on February 22, 2011.

Sources: Associated Press,,

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