June 25, 1976
Jimmy Lee Gray rapes and murders 3-year-old Deressa Jean Scales
Gray had recently been paroled following an Arizona murder conviction of his 16-year-old girlfriend Elda L. Prince when he killed Deressa Jean Scales on June 25, 1976. He kidnapped the toddler, sodomized her, and pushed her head into a creek to drown her. As he was leaving, he heard her gurgling in the water and returned to stomp the back of her neck, breaking it. Gray lived in the same apartment complex as the Scales family. During questioning, he initially claimed Deressa had followed him into the woods, accidentally fell in a creek, and drowned, though he later confessed to the murder. He was convicted of first-degree murder in December of 1976 and sentenced to death.
Leading up to Gray’s execution, people gathered outside the prison and Governor’s Mansion. Candlelight vigils were held in his honor, songs sung defending him, and pastors spoke on his behalf asking for clemency on the grounds that he had become a Christian in prison. None of these pleas were successful.
On September 2, 1987, Gray was executed in the gas chamber. The chamber had a vertical bar positioned behind the head of the condemned. His executioner, Barry Bruce, did not strap Gray’s head down, nor was a cushion placed behind Gray’s head. As the lethal gas entered Gray’s lungs, he began to thrash about, striking his head against the metal pole until he was unconscious. The witness room was cleared before Gray was dead due to the graphic nature of the execution. It was later revealed Bruce had been drunk during the execution.