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Last words

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Anne Ryder/Eyewitness News

Michigan City, March 2 - Twenty-three years on death row have given Donald Ray Wallace nothing but time, time to consider how the kid in a cowboy hat became a pariah, how an evil act is born and whether it ever dies, even when he does.

The house where it happened on Aspen Drive looks much the same as it did 25 years ago. But the pain is still fresh.

"It was like yesterday," says Diana Harrington. 'When I remember Pat and Theresa (Diana's sister) and the kids I remember them and there's this glimmer of good memories and then it smacks you in the face of what happened."

A family of four, the Gilligans, were bound with vacuum cleaner cord and murdered with six shots to the head and a barbell by the man they caught burglarizing their home.

For 25 years Harrington has carried the burden of wondering about the last moments of her sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew. "Did the children watch? Was my sister first? Was there a lot of pain? It's like going to the dentist and the dentist says its only going to hurt for a couple of seconds, those seconds last for eternity."

It didn't take long to find the killer, Donald Ray Wallace, a 22-year-old drug addicted burglar with a violent past. His arrogance and intellect made him a lightning rod. He has a near genius IQ.

"I think he's brilliant." Stan Levco prosecuted the case. "Not one of the most intelligent murderers or intelligent criminals, one of the most intelligent people. His words are perfect. He says the perfect words."

"I'm on death row. All the machinery of the state is grinding to kill me." Wallace's words are poetic, written in letters from prison where he has now spent more than half his life.

"I watch birds fly over. Sometimes I can hear dogs barking and children playing somewhere beyond our wall that terminates our rec yard. And all these things are wondrous to behold."

Wallace, now 47, has never given an interview. This is his first and his last.

Why? "I would like people to know I'm rational. I'm not a raving maniac. I'm not hostile, that I'm not whatever you think a murderer is supposed to be."

Anne Ryder: Are you saying that here a new man has grown?

Wallace: Yeah, I'm saying that. I was a dope fiend. I had no moral center. I had no spiritual center. I had no rational center. It's a simple fact of life. You live and grow and mature and for the most part we become better people.

Wallace, for the first time publicly, is taking full and sole responsibility for what happened on Aspen Drive January 14, 1980.

Wallace: Who wants to be responsible for this? Who wants to look in the mirror and say you did that, you know, you.

Ryder: How do you explain why, why this happened?

Wallace: What happened that night was a moment of utter madness. It was panic, because my original intention was not to kill anyone, it was to get the situation under control, and Patrick attacked, which I can't blame him for. I would too if I were in his position. Once the shooting started all hell broke loose.

Ryder: Why the kids? How do you kill kids?

Wallace: It was almost like watching a movie or something, like I became completely disconnected from everything that was going on. It's like a dream, or nightmare. I can't tell you why. I've asked myself a million times why. I don't know. I can't say why.

Ryder: Diana Harrington says his apology is always an implied apology.

Wallace: If she wants it here, I do say that I am eternally sorry for what I did to your family. I wish I could take it back, but I can't. I can't change the past. This line from Omar Khayam keeps coming back to me time and time again in my life. Something to the effect of, "The hand of history having writ, moves on, and all your tears can't call back one word of it.

Ryder: And you have shed tears?

Wallace: I have shed tears.

Ryder: Have you suffered?

Wallace: Yeah, I have suffered a lot, but I wouldn't give my own back for anything because it's the suffering that sort of leads you to truth.

In prison Wallace has read 4,000 books, learning Greek, Latin and some Hebrew and Arabic.

Ryder: Where are you on God?

Wallace: I believe there's only one creator of the universe. There's only one person that judges in the end. Only one architect of all that is. Whatever you call him, I call him God.

And he calls death row his monastery.

Wallace: The person I was 25 years ago has long since been dead. I got rid of him.

Ryder: You wrote, "Life is a pearl beyond price."

Wallace: I had to understand that to understand what I had taken from the people I killed, and having come to that, I'm ready to give my life now.

He sat on death row for so long because he exhausted every appeal and with each new attorney came mounds of evidence to wade through. It sat on one judge's desk seven years.

What happens to turn a kid in a cowboy hat into a killer? Wallace has a genius IQ and some thoughts on the matter. He says he's changed and wants to reach kids headed down his path before he dies next week.

"I was a runaway train. I was waiting for the wreck." Wallace is picking up the pieces of his life, just in time to lose it. He'll die by lethal injection at the Indiana State prison next week.

Wallace says he's just a shadow of the young man who arrived in 1982; the arrogant, angry, drug addicted burglar who murdered a family of four.

"It's just one moment, one crazy insane moment that I wished for all these years I could take back."

January, 1980, Patrick and Teresa Gilligan, five-year-old Lisa and four-year-old Greg surprised Wallace when they arrived home during a burglary. He tied them in vacuum cleaner cord and shot them execution style.

"You can't really put closure on such a tragedy as this." Diana Harrington now wears her late sister's ring, the one Wallace stole.

She and her husband Ted have moved from Evansville, but, like the city, can't put the murder behind them. "He asked why Evansville still thinks of him as a demon. Why shouldn't they?"

"Imagine trying not to change in 25 years. You can't do it. Life instructs you." In prison, Wallace has become a scholar of philosophy, language and religious study.

Anne Ryder: What have you learned about yourself?

Wallace: I've learned that I don't want to hurt anybody. I don't want to be superior to anyone. I don't want to do any evil to anyone. There are two forces in life. On one hand you have love and hope and on the other hand you have fear and mistrust. Love and hope, they take chances. Love is brave. It wants to see people redeemed. So if you believe in a loving God and a hateful adversary, which one of those belongs to whom?

Ted Harrington calls Wallace "a mass murderer and he needs to be remembered that way."

The Harrington's say Wallace never gave their relatives a second chance.

"Theres only one person who will be able to judge him," says Diana.

Ryder: People in Evansville say this man is a con man, a manipulator, he has no conscience.

Wallace: That's convenient. They're getting ready to kill me, so it would be better if that were the case. But as for being a con man, to what end? What do I gain at this point? As I leave this world, to anyone I've hurt, I am sorry for what pain I caused you. This is sincere. It's absolute.

Wallace was in trouble early, a kid without a rudder passed among his relatives, acting out by age 10. "If (I) would have only once turned around and looked at the future and saw how wide it was, then my life would have been completely different."

Ryder: Were you a monster?

Wallace: No, I became something pretty bad. I was scared to death and fear is such a powerful thing. It can make you cringe and paralyze you, but if you really go with it it becomes like a war engine. It makes you really dangerous.

He cloaked himself in a tough guy mantra during a stint in prison at age 17. "Don't think, don't try to talk your way out of it. Strike hard, strike fast and don't stop till you win or you're dead. That's the condition you find me in January 14, 1980 with this deadliness full of drugs. The result was probably inevitable."

He says he's concerned about kids who are like he was. "Even if just one person turns away from what happened to me, good."

Ryder: Do you believe in hell and if not hell, where does atonement come in?

Wallace: I just know I've done everything I can here and now to try to atone for what I did and become a better human being, and whatever befalls me (on) the other side, I leave that to God.

"I'm just gonna miss him so much." His half-sister Kathleen knows the burden of growing up Wallace in Evansville. "There goes the murderer's sister. I will always love him. I always have and I always will and I don't care what anyone else things of him."

Wallace: That's one of the curious things about the death penalty. When the state kills me you're doubling the amount of misery.

Ryder: Have you thought about what you're going to say?

Wallace: Yeah, I think that's part of why I'm doing this interview too, so I can get all the saying out of the way and just leave time for the dying.

But Wallace says he dies with a reverence for what he truly stole that January night 25 years ago. "Life is an incomprehensibly wonderful gift. No matter what happens. No matter how bad things seem, is it not good to be alive?

And isn't every moment as good as a brand new beginning if you want it to be?"

Wallace, after availing himself of 23 years of appeals, is not seeking clemency.

Asked whether he deserves to die, he said, "I leave that to God."

This murder still hits a nerve in Evansville. Twenty-five years later there is much anger and pain.

The Gilligan's relatives will lead a prayer service in Evansville the night of Wallace's execution. He is to die at midnight the morning of March 10.

 

What happens to turn a kid in a cowboy hat into a killer?  Donald Ray Wallace junior has a genius I-Q and some thoughts on the matter.

He says he's changed and wants to reach kids headed down his path before he dies next week.

Eyewitness News reporter has corresponded with him from seven for seven years from death row.  Wallace chooses to make his last words through this interview with Eyewitness News.

"I was a runaway train. I was waiting for the wreck" says death row inmate Donald Ray Wallace.

Donald Ray Wallace is picking up the pieces of his life, just in time to lose it. He'll die by lethal injection at the Indiana State prison next week.

Wallace says he's just a shadow of the young man who arrived in 1982--the arrogant, angry drug addicted burglar who murdered a family of four.

Wallace continues, "Its just one moment-one crazy insane moment that I wished for all these years I could take back."

January, 1980.  Patrick and Teresa Gilligan, 5 year old Lisa and 4 year old Greg  surprised Wallace when they arrived home during a burglary.
 
He tied them in vacuum cleaner cord and shot them execution style.

"You can't really put closure on such a tragedy as this" says the Diana Harrington the sister of one of the victims.
 
Diana Harrington now wears her late sister's ring, the one Wallace stole.

She and her husband Ted have moved from Evansville, but, like the city, can't put the murder behind them.

"He asked why Evansville still thinks of him as a demon, why shouldn't they?" says Harrington. 

"Imagine trying not to change in 25 years. You can't do it. Life instructs you." Wallace reflects.

In prison, Wallace has become a scholar of philosophy, language and religious study.

Anne Ryder: What have your learned about yourself?

Wallace: I've learned that I don't want to hurt anybody. I don't want to be superior to anyone. I don't want to do any evil to anyone. There are two forces in life.

On one hand you have love and hope and on the other hand you have fear and mistrust.
Love and hope-they take chances. Love is brave. It wants to see people redeemed.

So if you believe in a loving god and a hateful adversary, which one of those belongs to whom?

Ted Harrington the brother-in-law of the victims says "He's a mass murderer and he needs to be remembered that way."

The Harrington's say Wallace never gave their relatives a second chance.

Diana: There's only one person who will be able to judge him. People in Evansville say this man is a con man, a manipulator, he has no conscnience.

Wallace: That's convenient. They're getting ready to kill me so it would be better if that were the case but as for being a con man-to what end. What do I gain at this point.

 As I leave this world, to anyone I've hurt, I am sorry for what pain I caused you. This is sincere. Its absolute.

Wallace was in trouble early a kid without a rudder passed among his relatives acting out by age 10.

Wallace: If would have only once turned around and looked at the future and saw how wide it was then my life would have been completely different.

Anner Ryder:  Were you a Monster?

Wallace:No I became something pretty bad. I was scared to death and fear is such a powerful thing. It can make you cringe and paralyze you but if you really go with it it becomes like a war engine. It makes you really dangerous.

He cloaked himself in a tough guy mantra during a stint in prison at age 17.

Wallace: Don't think don't try to talk your way out of it, strike hard, strike fast and don't stop till you win or youre dead. That's the condition you find me in January 14th 1980 with this deadliness full of drugs. The result was probably inevitable.

He says he's concerned about kids who are like he was.

Wallace: Even if just one person turns away from what happened to me-good.

Anne Ryder: Do you believe in hell and if not hell where does atonement come in?

Wallace: I just know I've done everything I can here and now to try to atone for what I did and become a better human being.  And whatever befalls me the other side. I leave that to God.

Kathleen Wallace Mason, his half sister says, " I'm just gonna miss him so much."

His half sister Kathleen knows the burden of growing up Wallace in Evansville.

Kathleen Wallace: There goes the murderer's sister. I will always love him. I always have and I always will and I don't care what anyone else things of him.

Donald Ray Wallace: That's one of the curious things about the death penalty.  When the state kills me  you're doubling the amount of misery.

Anne Ryder: Have you thought about what you're going to say?

Wallace: Yeah I think that's part of why I'm doing this interview too so I can get all the saying out of the way and just leave time for the dying.

But Wallace says he dies with a reverence for what he truly stole that january night 25 years ago.

Wallace: Life is an incomprehensibly wonderful gift. No matter what happens. No matter how bad things seem, is it not good to be alive? And isn't every moment as good as a brand new beginning if you want it to be?
 
Wallace after availing himself of 23 years of appeals is not seeking clemency. He is schedule to die at 12:01 a-m next Thursday.

Asked whether he deserves to die--he said--I leave that to God.

The Harringtons will spend that evening at a prayer service for the victims in Evansville.