Famous Last Words
Robert Alton Harris
San Quentin, California
April 21, 1992
“You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the Grim Reaper.”
Harris led a troubled life from the start; he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and 2 months premature when his father kicked his mother in the abdomen. He was also reportedly beaten by his Army sergeant father who believed Harris was the product of an affair. At 13, Harris was placed in a juvenile detention center for stealing a car; he was raped repeatedly during his sentence. At 14, his mother abandoned him.
On July 5, 1978, Robert and his brother Daniel found John Mayeski and Michael Baker, both 16, eating hamburgers in Mayeski’s car celebrating his new driver’s license. The brothers ordered the teens to drive to a lake, then forced them to kneel. Mayeski and Baker were shot multiple times before the brothers stole the car to use as a getaway vehicle.
The brothers then robbed a branch of the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank, stealing around $2,000. A witness to the bank robbery followed the brothers to their home and notified police who arrested them within an hour of the robbery. One of the arresting officers was Steven Baker, father of one of the murdered boys, though at the time he was unaware of his son’s death.
Harris’ last words were a paraphrase of the Grim Reaper’s rap in the movie Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. The original quote was “You might be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later you dance with the reaper.” He was the first person to be executed in California after the death penalty was reinstated, following Aaron Mitchell in 1967.
Robert’s brother Daniel was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 6 years.