PHOENIX - Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories.
One is a man who was brought to justice by the determination of a couple who had been beaten and bruised, but refused to give up to make sure their attacker was put behind bars. The crime was showcased in the 1994 movie "Terror in the Night."
ROBERT CHARLES COMER
Date of Birth: December 14, 1956
Executed: May 22, 2007
On February 23, 1987, Robert Comer and his girlfriend, Juneva Willis, were camping near Apache Lake.
The crime was showcased in the 1994 movie "Terror in the Night."
Larry Pritchard was at the wrong place at the wrong time, as his campsite happened to be next to theirs. Comer and Willis extended a friendly invitation of dinner and drinks, and Pritchard accepted.
Around 9 p.m., Comer shot Pritchard in the head and slashed his throat, killing him and stealing his belongings.
Around 11 p.m., Comer and Willis posed as law enforcement officers and went to another campsite occupied by a couple.
They stole the couple's property, Comer hogtied the man to a car fender, then raped his 19-year-old girlfriend in front of him. Comer and Willis left the area in Comer's truck taking the teenager with them, but leaving the man behind, still tied to the car. Several hours later, the victim managed to free himself and call police, launching a large manhunt.
The next morning, while Comer was fixing his truck, the kidnapped teenager escaped and ran barefoot through the high desert for 23 hours before being picked up by a passing motorist. She later said that Willis helped her in her escape.
The kidnapped teenager escaped and ran barefoot through the high desert for 23 hours
Searchers scouring the area where the woman was found eventually spotted an abandoned blue pickup truck in dense vegetation.
Payson Justice of the Peace, Ron McDaniel, said his tracking dog, Brute, picked up the scent from the truck and tracked it to Comer's camp four miles away. Comer and Willis were arrested, and her two children were taken by the state.
The 19-year-old woman who escaped was a compelling witness at Comer's trial; detailing the attacks, her escape and how Comer shot and killed Pritchard's Beagle, a charge Comer denied.
Juneva Willis pled guilty to kidnapping and was sentenced to 8 years in prison. She was released in 1996. She turned on Comer, testifying against him in court.
On April 11, 1988, Judge Ronald Reinstein demanded Comer be present at his sentencing for his conviction.
There was a fight in Comer's jail cell, as Comer used a long shank to try to stab the deputies who tried to remove him from his cell. They used high powered water hoses, strapped him to a wheelchair and wheeled him into the court room. Comer finally did appear in court, wet and bloodied.
During his time behind bars, Comer violated prison rules 37 times, including possession and manufacture of weapons and arson. But he found a friend in fellow death row inmate 'Banzai' Bob Vickers.
In a court hearing, Comer testified, "He was not just a friend, he was my brother... We spilled blood together. We kept each other going, watched each other's back, survived day to day... Everybody knew if they messed with one of us, they had to take both of us. You don't find that in prison. I would give my life for him, as he would for me. We shared loyalty, honor, tribe, brotherhood, friendship and kinship."
Comer withdrew his federal appeal in March of 2000, and seven years later, the 9th Circuit Court granted his request.
In an April 2002 interview with the Phoenix New Times, Comer said, "I killed for no good reason and screwed up the lives of many innocent people," "I think it's just time for me to pay the price." "It's just time to end it."
He was the first person to be executed in Arizona after a seven year hiatus.