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Anthony Quinn COOK





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Abduction - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 9, 1988
Date of birth: January 4, 1953
Victim profile: David Dirck VanTassel, Jr., 35
Method of murder: Shooting (.22 caliber pistol)
Location: Milam County, Texas, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Texas on November 11, 1993


Date of Execution:
November 10, 1993
Anthony Cook #918
Last Statement:
I just want to tell my family I love them, and I thank the Lord Jesus for giving me another chance and for saving me.

Anthony Quinn Cook
and his accomplice, Robert Moore, abducted David Dirck VanTassel, Jr. while in his car parked outside his motel room.  The University of Texas law school graduate was in Austin to take a review course for the bar exam.  Cook and Moore drove VanTassel to a roadside park near Cameron, about 50 miles northeast of Austin, shot him four times in the head, robbed him and stole his car.

The murder “was totally random, it just happened,” Moore said. “VanTassel was at his car and we were walking by when Cook pulled the pistol and told me to drive. There was no plan to do anything like that. There was surely no plan to kill VanTassel.  Cook decided to do that when we got to that rest stop or he may have been intended it all along, I really don’t know.  I asked him why he did that and he told me he wanted to, like he wanted to see what it felt like or something!”

Cook and Moore had just left a bar before the murder and were high on speed.

Cook was later arrested for trying to set up a drug lab.  He was carrying VanTassel’s wallet.  A man who said they sold him VanTassel’s car identified Cook and Moore in a lineup.

“Cook was on parole just 13 days after serving a fraction of an eight-year-sentence for theft” when he and Moore, “another recent parolee, abducted VanTassel” (Michael Graczyk, AP writer).  Before the murder, Cook had been in and out of prison, serving time for aggravated assault, burglary and theft.  He was paroled after just one year, then sent back six months later for violating parole. “It’s very frustrating,” Charles Lance, the former District Attorney who prosecuted Cook.  “The system is not doing its job.” But, he was back out in another six months when Cook and Moore met back up again.

Cook underwent a religious conversion while on Death Row, and decided he deserved to die.  He wrote to District Attorney Hollis Lewis.  The letter stated that he could not persist in an appeal where they were alleging that a co-defendant actually pulled the trigger.”  He said, “I am the one who did it.  I can no longer lie about it.”  Cook wrote to authorities for two years that he had a religious conversion and wanted his punishment carried out.   Cook also sent a letter to VanTassel’s widow apologizing for the crime.

Moore testified against Cook and received a 50-year prison term.  “I come up for parole again for the 4th time in June of 2000, but there is no set date for me to be released and its not likely I ever will,” Moore said.

Anthony Quinn Cook was executed on Nov. 11, 1993 for the 1988 murder of David Dirck VanTassel, Jr.


A Day in the Death of Inmate no. 918

November 14, 2003

HUNTSVILLE - Execution of Inmate No. 918 was nothing if not efficient. At the stroke of midnight Tuesday, the inmate took the last steps of his life on Earth from a holding cell into the death chamber.

By 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, five thick tan straps secured his legs, waist, and torso to a stainless steel gurney with a cushion on top.

His arms were stretched wide. Intervenes tubes were quickly inserted into each.

His head lay flat. His eyes blinked rapidly. He stared into the microphone, suspended two feet above his mouth. Above the microphone, was a bright fluorescent light.

At 12:03, a harmless saline solution began flowing into his left arm and, at 12:05, into his right.

Witnesses quickly were ushered into the adjoining room with drab brown carpet and white curtains around the walls. A glass partition and bars separated the witnesses from inmate No. 918.

The instant the last witness was in the room, a figure appeared from a room behind the death chamber. The figure nodded to Warden Morris Jones, standing by the gurney. It was 12:08.

"We're ready warden," he said.

Two minutes alter, Anthony Cook, who said he had turned his soul over to Jesus Christ, forfeited his life to the State of Texas. In that regard, his case is not unique. Texas has executed 70 men since 1982, more than any other state.

But Cook's case was unusual in two ways. Unlike most condemned prisoners, he submitted to his fate by choosing not to appeal his death sentence. And, for the first time since the state resumed execution 11 years ago, it executed a killer whose victim lived in Travis County.

Texas the Leader

For years, the Supreme Court has been whittling away at efforts by capital punishment opponents to get death sentences overturned. And for years, opponents have warned that what had been a trickle of executions was about to become a torrent.

Cook's execution which took a total of 15 minutes start to finish, shows how routine they have become in Texas. Indeed, seven more executions have been scheduled over the next 31 days, although almost all of these are likely to be stayed. Across the nation, 38 people have been executed this year and 17 in Texas.

The first women likely to be executed by the State of Texas -Karla Faye Tucker- had been scheduled to die early Friday. But she received a stay last week.

Proponents of capital punishment shed no tears for the inmates, pointing out that their executions are painless compared with the often brutal agony their victims faced before they died. Opponents, however, still cringe at the loss of one human's life, no matter the circumstances.

Consent to Die

Cook's execution went quickly, even by Huntsville standards. Indeed, his case was unusual because there was no appeal pending, no waiting for the phone call that might signal the 11th hour reprieve. Prison officials were ready to proceed when the clock struck midnight, as called for in the death warrant.

Cook was sentenced to lethal injection for the 1988 murder of David Dirck Van Tassel Jr., a University of Texas law school graduate who was abducted from the parking lot of a downtown hotel and driven to Milam County, where he was shot four times and robbed of his car, wallet and watch.

At first, Cook proclaimed his innocence in the crime, which was prosecuted in Milam County. But then he found Jesus. Though he did not relish the thought of execution, he decided that the Bible decreed he should die for his crime. He waived all his appeals, except the one required by state law. Lawyers could do nothing.

Condemned inmates spend an average of 8.4 years on death row before execution. Cook spent five years there. He was what death penalty opponents call "a consensual." Prison officials could not remember a similar case since James Smith consented to execution on June 6, 1990.

Outside the Walls Unit, Dennis Longmire stood with one other death penalty opponent shortly before midnight. A rolling mist chilled the university professor?s bones. What was about to happen inside chilled his soul.

"This is an odd one to be at since the guy is volunteering for it," said the Sam Houston State University criminology professor. "The more (executions) we do, the easier it becomes, I believe. It greatly concerns me."

Barbara Stetzelberger, the slain victim's widow, waited in Austin for a phone call informing her that her husband's killer was dead.

"I don?t have any wish for his death," Stezelberger said. "I feel that's a decision we've made as a society. I think God is the only one who knows justice.

"I have a good life, but it's never the same," she added. "You go on and rebuild, but it's not the same. It gives you a good idea of what people in wars go through. I think our wars are on the streets."

"Mood Appears Calm"

Van Tassel's murder was sudden and brutal. Cook's execution, like all others, was well planned. His last 24 hours were documented meticulously.

By the time execution day arrives, condemned inmates have drawn up their last will and testament. They have specified what will be done with their bodies. They have decided what they want, if anything, for their final meal.

Prison employees monitor condemned inmates constantly during the final 24 hours. In 1974, the state, responding to a U.S. Supreme Court verdict, rewrote its death penalty statues. The very first inmate sent to death row under the new laws cheated the executioner by killing himself on July 1 of that year.

The Cook vigil began at midnight Monday.

"Lying on bunk," read the guard's log.

At 1:15a.m., he sat up and wrote a letter. Ninety minutes later, he sipped coffee and chatted with a guard named O'Ginn.

Three a.m. brought an early breakfast: pancakes, syrup, oatmeal, gravy, butter, sugar, milk and coffee. He followed the meal with a nap. For the final 24 hours, when it comes to eating and sleeping, normalcy is suspended.

At 8:20 a.m., Cook began saying goodbye to his family. The visits continued on and off throughout the day, until 4 p.m. Then it was time to say goodbye to "The Row."

Condemned prisoners are moved to the Walls Unit the day before the execution. Death row is located in the Ellis Unit, 16 miles north of Huntsville. For security reasons inmates are moved at various times, and different routes are used. Only a few people know the time and the route for each trip to the holding cell next to the death chamber. Cook was picked up at 4 p.m. He was ushered into a holding cell next to the death chamber at 4:30 p.m.

"Mood appears to be calm," the guard noted in his log.

The Last Meal

The best-known ritual of capital punishment is the last meal.

Most of the 70 inmates who have been executed in Texas since 1982 requested traditional fare such as T-bone steaks or cheeseburgers.

Some eat heartily. One inmate in 1990 asked for a T-bone steak and four pieces of chicken (two breasts, two thighs), fresh corn and iced tea. Another that same year wanted three hamburgers, french fries and chocolate ice cream with nuts.

Others eat sparingly. One inmate in 1985 requested a flour tortilla and water. Another in 1991 asked for an apple.

The requests are occasionally exotic. Last August, Carl Kelly asked for ?wild game or whatever is on menu.? He left uneaten the cheeseburger and french fries that the prison officials brought.

Increasingly, as Texas picks up the pace of execution, inmates are refusing their last meals, perhaps in protest. Of the first 25 inmates executed since 1982, only one turned down a last meal. Of the past 17 condemned inmates, seven have refused to eat.

Occasionally, the requests are ethereal in nature: Carlos Santana in March asked for "Justice, temperance, with mercy." Danny Harris, executed in July, sought "God's saving grace, love, truth, peace, freedom."

In his mind, Cook had those. He requested a double-meat bacon cheeseburger and a strawberry shake. His meal was delivered between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday. After that, he showered, according to policy, and donned a pair of state-issued pants, a shirt and his personal tennis shoes.

"It's so weird to come here"

An hour before midnight, reporters who would witness the execution gathered in the office of prison spokesman Charles Brown. Brown had just received an update form prison officials.

"They said he's just ready to go," Brown said. "They said he's just real calm."

The reporters represented the Austin American-Statesman, Huntsville Item, The Associated Press, United Press International and Harper's.

Some of the reporters present had seen dozens of executions. One was a novice to the process. For two of them, this was the next assignment after a Huntsville City Council meeting.

"It's so weird to come here from City Council," one said.

"I don't know. Some days, I'd like to see some of them hooked up," another said. He said he had seen "somewhere over 30" executions.

The phone rang. It was almost time. The witnesses were summoned to a visiting room less then a minute form the death chamber.

Guards pat-searched the witnesses for contraband - male guards for the male witnesses, female guards for the women. A beeper was confiscated from a reporter, to be returned after the execution.

Again, the phone. "That could be the call," one reporter said.

"We're ready," a guard said. Another walk, this one down a white corridor, outside through two chain link fences into yet another building, past the holding cell that kept Cook for seven hours and a few precious minutes.

The witnesses were whisked into a room. The figure stepped out from the hidden room. Signaled. Stepped back in.

Warden Jones asked Inmate No. 918 if he had any final words.

"Yessir," Cook responded. He licked his lips once and stared at the bright fluorescent light. "I just want to tell my family I love them and I want to thank the Lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me another chance and for saving me. That's it."

At 12:08 a.m., a mixture of pancuronium bromide, which relaxes the muscles, potassium chloride, which stops the heart, and sodium thiopental, which induces unconsciousness, began flowing into Inmate No. 918?s veins. The average cost of the drugs is $71.50 per execution.

Inmate No. 918 gulped, blinked. His stomach moved up and down strangely. The effect of the drugs seemed immediate. Inmate No. 918 strained against the heavy tan straps and coughed or chocked, as if seeking air.

At 12:10 a.m., the flow of the drugs subsided. No one moved. The chaplain, inside the death chamber, starred at the floor.

The witnesses watched the corpse intently, as if expecting Inmate No. 918 to arise. The reflection of their faces could be seen in the glass partition separating the rooms.

Finally, Warden Jones made a motion toward the door to the death chamber. He admitted a medical doctor, who pulled out a stethoscope. He several minutes hunched over the body, probably, listening.

He removed his stethoscope, looked at his watch and looked at the warden.

"I've got 12:15," he said.

"12:15," the warden repeated.

Three hundred and sixty inmates remain on Texas' death row. More than 600 capital murder cases are pending on the dockets of the state's six largest counties.

source: David Elliot, Austin-American Statesman



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