Death Row Diaries: Native American man performs two hour ceremony before 1999 execution

PHOENIX - Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories including this execution where a Native American man performed a purification ceremony prior to his execution.

DARRICK LEONARD GERLAUGH

Date of Birth: June 17, 1960

Executed: February 3, 1999

 

The Crime:

On January 24, 1980, Gerlaugh and two others were hitchhiking from Chandler to Phoenix when they came across a man named Scott Schwartz. Schwartz was a man who needed a leg brace and used crutches, due to a leg injury. Around 11:30 p.m. Schwartz offered them a ride. A short while later the three men forced the victim at gunpoint to drive them to the outskirts of Mesa. All four of them exited the car when Gerlaugh pointed the gun at the victim demanding money. Schwartz actually was able to disarm Gerlaugh while escaping and pointed the gun at them, but when he pulled the trigger, the gun did not fire. 

There’s no bullets in the gun.

Gerlaugh yelled at Schwartz, “There’s no bullets in the gun.”

Finally, Gerlaugh succeeded in running over the victim with the Lincoln Continental; however the victim was still alive. Gerlaugh and the others made sure he didn’t stay that way by stabbing him several times with a screwdriver. They later hid the body in an alfalfa field.

How do you feel when you kill game?

When Gerlaugh was later asked by investigators about how he felt when he killed the victim, Gerlaugh said, “How do you feel when you kill game?”

Several days after the killing one of the other suspects confided in a friend what they had done and this friend relayed the information to police.

The three were arrested and confessed to their crimes with one of the other suspects serving 21 years for his part in the murder. He was released in 2002.

 

The Trial:

The four day trial started December 15, 1980 with Gerlaugh getting convicted.

During the 18 year appeals process, ten of the fifty claims advanced to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit but were found to have no merit.  

 

The execution, a national first:

Gerlaugh spent two hours praying and singing.

In the days preceding his execution on February 3, 1999, Gerlaugh became the first Native American death row inmate allowed to use a sweat lodge on prison grounds for purification ceremonies. Gerlaugh spent two hours praying and singing ancient Native American songs to prepare for his death. A few days later he also took part in a “pipe ceremony.”

According to experts , the purification ceremony is commonly referred to as the sweat lodge, but this is a misnomer, says William J. Walk Sacred, a Cree medicine man: "When you come out of a purification lodge, you don't feel the same as when you come out of a sauna. The ceremony is a rebirthing process. There's something that happens in a spiritual sense that is powerful and uplifting."

The pipe ceremony is a sacred ritual for connecting physical and spiritual worlds. "The pipe is a link between the earth and the sky," explains White Deer of Autumn. "Nothing is more sacred. The pipe is our prayers in physical form. Smoke becomes our words; it goes out, touches everything, and becomes a part of all there is. The fire in the pipe is the same fire in the sun, which is the source of life." The reason why tobacco is used to connect the worlds is that the plant's roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the heavens.

 

Gerlaugh’s last meal: 

  • New York steak cooked medium rare with Worcestershire sauce
  • Two eggs
  • Eight strips of bacon
  • Two slices of toasted bread w/butter
  • Peppermint ice cream
  • Apple juice

 

Last words: 

None.

 

Information gathered from AZ. Dept. of Corrections, AZ. Attorney General’s Office and 898 F. Supp. 1388 (1995) Darrick Leonard GERLAUGH, Petitioner,
v.
Samuel LEWIS, et al., Respondents.

No. CIV-85-1647-PHX-RGS.

United States District Court, D. Arizona.  July 10, 1995.

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