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Updated Oct 9, 2013 - 3:37 pm

Arizona executes its oldest death-row inmate

(Arizona Department of Corrections Photo)

FLORENCE, Ariz. -- Arizona on Wednesday executed the oldest person on its death row, nearly 35 years after he was charged with murdering a man during a robbery and dumping his body along a highway.

The execution of 71-year-old Edward Harold Schad Jr. came about two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeals.

At about 10 a.m., the warden at the state prison in Florence read Schad's execution warrant and asked him if he had anything to say.

Schad responded: ``Well, after 34 years, I'm free to fly away home. Thank you, warden. Those are my last words.''

He lay quietly and looked at the ceiling as he was given a lethal dose of pentobarbital through IV needles in both arms. He then took a long, deep breath and exhaled. He was pronounced dead at 10:12 a.m.

His pastor, the Rev. Ronald Koplitz, said Schad's final statement likely was a reference to ``I'll Fly Away,'' a Gospel song he gave Schad a couple of weeks ago.

Koplitz met Schad when the Lutheran minister first arrived at the Florence prison in 1981 and served as the prison Chaplin. Koplitz said he kept in touch with him after that, and gave him last rites just before the execution and served as a witness. ``He was not your typical inmate,'' Koplitz said.

``He was a good guy. Whether he did the murder or not, I don't know,'' Koplitz said afterward. ``He always told me he didn't, like he told everybody else.''

Schad was sentenced to death for killing Lorimer ``Leroy'' Grove, whose body was found Aug. 9, 1978, in underbrush off the shoulder of U.S. 89 south of Prescott. A sash-like cord used to strangle Grove was still knotted around his neck.

Schad was arrested several weeks later in Utah while driving Grove's Cadillac. Authorities say he had driven the car across the country, used Grove's credit cards and forged a check from the Bisbee man's bank account.

At the time, Schad was on parole for second-degree murder in the 1968 accidental strangulation death of a male sex partner in Utah.

Schad was convicted in Grove's death in 1979 and again in 1985 after the previous conviction was thrown out. The conviction was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1989 but later became tied up in a series of federal court appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June lifted a stay put in place by an appeals court, ordering the court to issue the execution authorization.

Although Schad acknowledged driving Grove's stolen car and using his credit cards, he always maintained he didn't kill Grove. Regardless, he told the state's clemency board at a hearing last week that he had accepted his fate.

A top Yavapai County prosecutor told the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency that despite Schad's denial, he was twice convicted by juries that rejected his assertion of innocence.

``He doesn't take any responsibility for what he did,'' chief deputy Dennis McGrane told the board. ``Accidents two times, died of strangulation? I don't think so.''

The board refused to recommend to Gov. Jan Brewer that Schad's sentenced be commuted to life in prison.

Schad's execution was Arizona's 35th since 1992. It leaves 121 people on death row in the state, including two women.

Only a handful of people older than 71 have been executed in the U.S. since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The oldest was John Nixon, who was executed in Mississippi in 2005 at age 77.

In his final hours, Schad thanked his lawyers and corrections officers who watched over him during the 35 days since his execution was scheduled, said Kelley Henry, a federal public defender who helped represent him.

``Ed Schad was a model inmate to the end,'' Henry said in a statement released by the defender's office in Phoenix.

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