James Robertson is on death row for murder.
James Robertson is on death row for murder.

DEATH ROW DESIRE: Killer’s sick wish for final lethal goodbye

THE tiny cells, terrible company and trauma associated with the long wait to be executed on death row in the United States have rarely been so romanticised.

But a 54-year-old killer awaiting his fate by lethal injection or electrocution loves his new - albeit temporary - home. James Robertson knew he'd love it before he got there, and he killed just to prove himself right.

Robertson is one of a handful of degenerates on death row in Florida. He is locked up day after day with nothing to look forward to but the certainty that his life will soon be over. And that's just the way he likes it.

In a new documentary, titled I am a Killer, Robertson admits openly that he aspired to reside on death row because it seemed better than the life he lived before.

In prison for a minor theft charge in 1980, Robertson quickly found himself on the wrong side of the law. His sentence was extended time and time again for assaults behind bars until, eventually, he was staring down the barrel of 100 years at the Charlotte Correctional Institution.

So difficult was Robertson to control, prison officers kept him locked away in solitary confinement - known in Florida as "close management".

In footage recorded from death row, Robertson tells documentary makers from TV network A+E he was targeted unfairly by prison officers and the lure of a bigger cell, a television and some yard time became too much to ignore.

"They just put somebody in the cell, man, and take all of his privileges from him for years and years and years," he said.

"I knew they was going to use any excuse they could to keep me (in solitary confinement). Any excuse … Finally I got mad and I said, 'I'ma go ahead and kill somebody'. It was premeditated."

In December of 2008, Robertson was lying awake in his cell at the Punta Gorda-based prison where he shared close quarters with an older inmate named Frank Hart.

Hart was on the top bunk when guards turned out the lights and passed by for a quick inspection.


James Robertson is on death row and he’s happy about it. Picture: A+E
James Robertson is on death row and he’s happy about it. Picture: A+E


A window of 30 minutes presented itself and Robertson pounced, armed with a makeshift garrotte he had fashioned with a pair of white sports socks tied together tightly. It took five minutes for Hart to stop convulsing.

The facts of the case tendered in the Florida Supreme Court, seen by news.com.au, reveal Robertson "waited for and watched corrections officers complete their scheduled security check, obtained two socks and … fashioned a weapon.

"At approximately 12.41am, Frank Hart was asleep in his bunk," the notes state.

"(Robertson) then woke Hart up, engaged in a brief conversation with him and began strangling him with the previously obtained weapon.

"Frank Hart briefly struggled and tried to kick the cell door before (Robertson) pulled him away from the door and finished strangling him to death."

According to doctors who examined the killer, he "committed the offence in a wilful, deliberate matter with the intended aim of terminating his cellmate's life since he had reached the limit of tolerance".

One said: "He knew that his actions were wrong and he was aware of their consequences."

In the latest episode of Crime and Investigation's I am a Killer series, Robertson said he had two clear choices and made the most sensible choice available to him.

"I'd much rather have a needle stuck in me than be electrocuted but I could go either way. You read how it's 'inhumane' but that's a load of bulls**t. You don't feel anything."

Revisiting the murder of Hart, Robertson laughs. The few teeth that he has left are yellow and decaying.

"I don't feel bad about it," he says.

There have been 96 executions in the Sunshine State since 1979. The last man to be executed was Eric Branch, who was put to death on February 22 this year after 24 years on death row for the 1993 murder of Susan Morris.

Morris was brutally raped, beaten and left to die in a shallow grave near the University of West Florida. Her killer was also convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

The Supreme Court rejected his last-minute bid for the execution to be halted and when the drugs began coursing through Branch's veins, he "let out a bloodcurdling scream", according to the Pensacola News Journal.

One of the last things he shouted at his executioners before his heart stopped was "murderers".