PARCHMAN Before he died Wednesday evening, death row inmate Dale Leo Bishop apologized to his victim's family, thanked America and urged people to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"For those who oppose the death penalty and want to see it end, our best bet is to vote for Barack Obama because his supporters have been working behind the scenes to end this practice," Bishop said.
Bishop, 34, was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 6:14 p.m. - the second inmate put to death in Mississippi in two months. Earl Wesley Berry, 49, was executed May 21.
The execution culminated a flurry of last-minute appeals that began late last month seeking to save Bishop's life.
A Lee County jury convicted Bishop in 2000 of participating in the murder of Marcus Gentry, who was beaten to death in December 1998 with a claw hammer. His body was found along a logging road near Saltillo.
Bishop did not deliver the fatal blows. He became only the eighth person put to death who did not directly kill his victim among the more than 1,100 executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 - not including contract killings.
Described as talkative in his final hours, Bishop visited with family, including his parents, and finished his last meal - three pieces of pineapple supreme pizza, cherries-and-cream-flavored ice cream and root beer. He declined a final shower and sedative.
Bishop's final words were: "God bless America. It has been great living here. That's all."
Bishop called Gentry's beating death on Dec. 10, 1998, a "senseless and needless act." Earlier in the day, Bishop described the fatal beating as "a fight that had gone too far," state Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said.
About an hour before Bishop was executed, the nation's high court denied his last appeal. Gov. Haley Barbour had denied clemency earlier Wednesday.
"Justice has been rendered for this horrible crime," Barbour said in a statement after the execution.
Bishop, who was mentally ill, asked a judge for the death penalty after he was convicted.
Gentry's mother, Kathy Gentry, and uncle, Gerald Gentry, witnessed the execution. They did not speak to the media, but a victim's advocate read a written statement from them.
"We had to relive all the memories and emotions from that December," part of the statement said. "The pain and loss that this man helped put on us will never be forgotten. We lost Mark not by chance but by the choice of two ungodly men."
The other man convicted of Gentry's murder, Jessie Johnson, who was tried separately, is serving a life sentence.
Protesters have used the disparity in the two sentences to illustrate the injustice they say is inherent in the death penalty. Under Mississippi law, an accessory before the fact can be convicted of the same crime someone else commits.
Gentry's family members said they felt "a small piece of justice" was served.
Bishop's ex-wife, Tonya Cunningham, his nephew, David Wolf, and his attorneys also watched the execution. None spoke to reporters later.
Though Bishop eight years ago had asked a judge for the death penalty, officials said he had changed his mind.
"He wants to live, at least that's what he indicated to us," Epps said a few hours before the execution. "He said when he asked to be sentenced to death he was at a low point in his life. He was getting separated, and his wife was taking their three kids."
C. Daryl Neely, a policy adviser to Barbour and execution witness, said Bishop was writing Wednesday afternoon when he and Epps visited him at his cell.
"One of the things he wrote was, 'A man who takes no action has no regret,' " Neely said. "I asked him what that meant, and he admitted there are some things in his life he regrets."
Helping kill Gentry was one of them.
Epps said he asked Bishop about Johnson. "He indicated to me he thought Johnson should be where is now - on death row," Epps said.
On the night Gentry was killed, he, Johnson, Bishop and Ricky Myhand had been riding around and drinking beer. An argument began after Johnson accused Gentry of getting Johnson's brother in trouble with the law.
Johnson hit Gentry over the head with a hammer, and Bishop grabbed him in a headlock and hit him, according to testimony. When Gentry jumped from the car and fled, Bishop ran after him and took him back to the car, where he was hit and kicked numerous times. Bishop acknowledged holding Gentry while Johnson struck him.
Myhand reported the killing to police. He was not charged.
At trial, forensic pathologist Steven Hayne testified there were 23 injuries to the head, neck and hand produced by a blunt object.