Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Daniel Remeta: On the Road to Destruction

The Execution of Daniel Remeta

Daniel Remeta (l) & Attny Jerry Fairbanks
Daniel Remeta (l) & Attny Jerry Fairbanks

During the time Lisa Dunn and James Hunter were appealing their convictions, Daniel Remeta was busy with trials of his own. In 1986, he was extradited from Kansas to Florida and tried for Chet Reeder's murder. He didn't put up much of a fight at the time and was quickly convicted and sentenced to die in "Old Sparky," Florida's balky electric chair.

Florida state electric chair
Florida state electric chair

The next year, Florida sent him to Arkansas, where he was tried and convicted of murder there, again receiving the death penalty.

Early on in his incarceration, Remeta made it clear that he didn't want to grow old in prison. In one letter, he wrote, "If I don't try for the death penalty I'll die in some prison, this is why I'm trying to get extradited."  In another letter, he stated, "I'm gonna try for the death penalty if I can."

Regardless of the inmate's wishes, the capital punishment process moves slowly. Even so-called "volunteers" who opt not to pursue every possible avenue of appeal do not go from trial to punishment quickly, and most states with death-penalty statutes have certain mandatory appellate reviews built into the system. More often than not, brash murderers like Daniel Remeta who actively seek execution begin to get cold feet as appellate deadlines pass and the inevitable long walk to the death chamber grows nearer. Although the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act has somewhat streamlined the appeals process and limited the number of times a case can be reviewed, there is little to stop a condemned convict with second thoughts from filing an 11th-hour appeal.

Former Florida governor, Lawton Chiles
Former Florida governor,
Lawton Chiles

Such was the case for Daniel Remeta after Florida Governor Lawton Chiles set a March 31, 1998 execution date. Remeta probably had many reasons to fight his execution. He had met and married a sympathetic woman, rediscovered his Native American roots, and was a prolific poet, writing about the cruelty of imprisonment and the unfairness of the death penalty. The fact that the last man executed in Florida's electric chair the year before had flames shooting from his head probably motivated him as well.

As March 31 grew closer, Remeta and his attorneys pulled out all the stops. In a death row interview, he told a reporter he only pleaded guilty to the killings to save Dunn from execution. "I'm a thief and all that, but I'm not a killer," he said.

Because the Florida prosecutors used his pleas in Kansas and Arkansas as a basis to seek the death penalty there, he tried to recant his guilty pleas,  to no avail. In court papers, he claimed it was all Dunn's doing: "Dunn dominated and directed Mr. Remeta during the crime spree," the brief said.

On March 30, 1998, 40-year-old Daniel Remeta downed his last meal, which consisted of two 44-ounce Icees. He met with his family, attorneys, friends and his spiritual advisor and awaited the 7 a.m. execution.

He showed no emotion as officials strapped him into the chair and placed the headgear and electrodes on top of his head. Remeta declined to make a final statement, and then the hood was pulled down over his face. In an adjacent room, a black-hooded executioner received the go-ahead from the prison warden and pulled the switch that sent thousands of volts coursing through the killer's body.

His muscles tightened, straining against the straps that held him down. In just over 30 seconds, it was over. He was declared dead at 7:12 a.m.

Outside the prison in Raiford, Daniel Remeta's spiritual advisor shared his final statement with the crowd.

"For past actions and events there is genuine remorse and even greater sorrow that none of it can be undone," the man said, reading from a statement Remeta composed two hours before the execution. "I would give 1,000 lifetimes to undo past deeds . . . If this death brings comfort to the friends and family of those harmed and initiates a real healing process then justice is truly served for them."

Although the statement doesn't reflect it, Remeta reportedly admitted to almost all of the killings that occurred during the spree. He was unable to speak about one that occurred during a drug-and-alcohol-induced blackout.

Daniel Remeta
Daniel Remeta

In Kansas, not far from where trucks rush by on Interstate 70, reaction to his statement was, for the most part, unforgiving.

"I could care less what Daniel Remeta says 13 years later," said Colby Police Chief Randall Jones. "What lasts with me was how he was the day he took lives here in Kansas."

Rick Schroeder's father, John, summed up the paradoxical closure that survivors of crime victims feel when the ultimate punishment is carried out.

"It takes so long to get something over with," he told reporters. "It doesn't sound like he felt sorry for anyone. It sounded like he didn't have any remorse. But when you kill someone, it's not a happy day."

 

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