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James P. FREE Jr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 24, 1978
Date of birth: 1958
Victim profile: Bonnie Serpico (female, 34)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: DuPage County, Illinois, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Illinois on April 6, 1995

James Free Jr., 36. Fatally shot Bonnie Serpico, 34, of Glen Ellyn, after raping her and another woman April 24, 1978, in a Glen Ellyn factory.



James Free was convicted of the 1978 murder of Bonnie Serpico, 34. He was on leave from the Army when he slipped into the office of a data-processing company in a suburb of Chicago and, carrying a gun and a knife and wearing a towel wrapped around his face, tried to rape Ms. Serpico and a co-worker. Ms. Serpico broke away, and Mr. Free shot her to death. He also shot the co-worker, who survived.



2 Executions In Illinois, Rarity There

By Don Terry - The New York Times

March 23, 1995

The first double execution in Illinois in 43 years, and the first outside the South since the 1976 Supreme Court ruling that allowed reinstatement of the death penalty, was carried out by lethal injection at the Stateville Correctional Center near here early this morning.

As killers go, the two men put to death were "just a couple of average Joes," and so the carnival atmosphere that often accompanies the end of more notorious criminals was absent outside the prison's high walls.

Baptist ministers opposed to capital punishment prayed for the souls of the condemned men and for the state, a woman walked through the cold darkness carrying a sign that said, "Execute Justice, Not People," and most of the demonstrators on both sides of the issue had gone home before the executions were complete.

When the serial killer John Wayne Gacy was executed last May behind the same prison walls, people sold T-shirts. And they chanted "Let the clown die!" so loudly that a man who lives a couple of miles away, Jesse Cantu, heard the commotion and hurried to the prison to join the fun.

In contrast to that night, when Mr. Cantu found hundreds of people eager for the condemned prisoner's death, this time there were only a few death-penalty proponents like himself, along with several dozen opponents.

"These were just a couple of average Joes, who committed one terrible crime apiece," Mr. Cantu said. "They're not famous. Maybe that's why more people aren't here. But I came out to have some fun and to support the death penalty."

Indeed, if there was anything at all extraordinary about this early morning's proceedings, it was just how ordinary the ritual of executions has become. A total of 270 people have now been put to death by the states since the Supreme Court's 1976 ruling, and the routine outside the prisons has become all but unvarying: Officials emerge to tick off the details matter-of-factly -- the condemned's last meal, his last words -- and protesters pack up their candles and begin planning their next vigil.

One demonstrator today, Bill Pelke, a 47-year-old steelworker, said that last year he stood outside four prisons, from Idaho to Indiana, to protest executions. Today's vigil was his first of this year, he said, "and I hope my last, but I know it won't be."

"They're all the same," he said. "Tragic."

The condemned men -- Hernando Williams, the 40-year-old son of a Chicago minister, and James P. Free Jr., 41, a former Army mechanic who grew up in Chicago's western suburbs -- committed unrelated murders and did not know each other until they were sent to death row nearly 17 years ago.

They died about an hour apart.

Mr. Williams was black, Mr. Free white. They were executed together, prison officials said, simply because their appeals had been exhausted at the same time. But some protesters outside the prison said they believed that the state had timed the executions to coincide as a way of demonstrating that capital punishment in Illinois was applied without prejudice.

Mr. Williams was sent to his death for the 1978 murder of Linda Goldstone, a 29-year-old childbirth instructor. He forced her into the trunk of his car in Chicago and drove her around the city for 36 hours, raping her at least twice and keeping her in the trunk even as he attended a court hearing on an earlier rape charge.

After once giving her $1.25 for bus fare and freeing her, he changed his mind a few minutes later, recaptured her and forced her back into his car. Finally he shot her to death.

The Williams case has become a bizarre issue in a current City Council race in Chicago. Mr. Williams was briefly married to Shirley Coleman, who is now a Councilwoman, and, although they were divorced before the murder, her opponent in an April 4 runoff, Hal Baskin, has been quoted in The Chicago Sun-Times as apparently blaming her at least partly for the crime. "She may not have been giving the man what he needed at home," he said.

As for Mr. Free, he was convicted of the 1978 murder of Bonnie Serpico, 34. He was on leave from the Army when he slipped into the office of a data-processing company in a suburb of Chicago and, carrying a gun and a knife and wearing a towel wrapped around his face, tried to rape Ms. Serpico and a co-worker. Ms. Serpico broke away, and Mr. Free shot her to death. He also shot the co-worker, who survived.

When it came time for Mr. Williams to die today, he had no last words, the authorities said.

Mr. Free, however, asked for forgiveness, adding, "Taking my life will not bring back the victims."

"Capital punishment," he said, "is not the answer."


50 F.3d 1362

James P. FREE, Jr., Petitioner-Appellant,
Howard A. PETERS, III and Neil F. Hartigan, Respondents-Appellees.

No. 95-1692.

United States Court of Appeals,
Seventh Circuit.

Submitted March 21, 1995.
Decided March 21, 1995.1
Published March 29, 1995.

Before POSNER, Chief Judge, BAUER and CUDAHY, Circuit Judges.


Petitioner James P. Free, Jr. is scheduled to be executed by the State of Illinois on March 22, 1995. He filed a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) in the district court and sought a stay of the execution pending the U.S. Supreme Court's decision whether to grant a writ of certiorari in Lackey v. Texas, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 1274, 131 L.Ed.2d 192 (1995) which raises the issue of

[w]hether the execution of a death sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment as understood by the Framers if, as a result of inordinate delay not attributable to his own conduct, the condemned inmate is forced to endure nearly two decades on death row, during which time his execution is repeatedly rescheduled. Cert. Pet. at ii.

Dist. Ct. order of March 20, 1995.

The district court found the Lackey case was "clearly and materially distinguishable, and thus can provide no relief to Free." We agree. In Lackey the majority of the time that the defendant spent on death row was a result of very protracted proceedings in his mandatory direct appeals to the state supreme court. His discretionary state and federal actions accounted for relatively few years.

Free's mandatory direct appeal, on the other hand, was disposed of in about three and one half years in 1983. The remaining years since then have resulted from Free's pursuit of his discretionary appeals in both state and federal court. We agree with the district court that any inordinate delay in the execution of Free's sentence is directly attributable to his own conduct. The circumstances of this case are clearly distinguishable from Lackey. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED. Petitioner's Emergency Motion for a Stay of Execution is DENIED. The mandate shall issue immediately.


CUDAHY, Circuit Judge, dissenting with respect to emergency stay of execution:

Free has requested an emergency stay of execution of his death sentence pending the Supreme Court's decision scheduled for March 24, 1995 (three days from today) on whether to grant a writ of certiorari in Lackey v. Texas, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 1274, 131 L.Ed.2d 192 (1995). I would grant an emergency stay on the very limited basis requested.

Free has been on death row for fifteen and a half years since his sentence of death was originally imposed. He is scheduled to be executed in the early morning hours of March 22, 1995 (tomorrow). His death sentence was vacated by the district court in 1992 after hearings before a Magistrate Judge. The death penalty was reimposed by this court in 1993.

Free claims that at least six years of his time on death row are not attributable to his own conduct. He further asserts that, including the ten-year period of time he sought post-conviction relief as provided by Illinois law at the time in question, 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq., only a small fraction of this time on death row is attributable to his conduct. The Illinois Supreme Court set three execution dates for Free prior to the present one.

As Judge Aspen has pointed out, Free's case seems quite factually distinguishable from that of Lackey--a Texas prisoner likewise held for many years on death row. But the Supreme Court has up to now announced no law governing allegedly excessive death-row delay, exacerbated by the setting of multiple execution dates and similar arguably painful events, as possible violations of the Eighth Amendment.

It seems to me that in light of the exceedingly minimal stay requested and the potentially resounding impact of a grant of certiorari in the Lackey case, an emergency stay should be granted. A decision in Lackey might create a wholly new dimension in death cases.

Weighing the rather trivial consequences of a grant of an emergency stay against the grave and irrevocable consequences of a denial, the grant of the request of the emergency stay is appropriate. Cf. Pratt & Morgan v. Attorney General of Jamaica, Privy Council Appeal No. 10 of 1993, 3 WLR 995, 143 NLJ 1639, 2 AC 1, 4 All ER 769 (Nov. 2, 1993) (en banc) ("in any case in which the execution is to take place more than five years after sentence there will be strong grounds for believing that the delay is such as to constitute inhuman or degrading or other treatment"); Coleman v. Balkcom, 451 U.S. 949, 952, 101 S.Ct. 2031, 2033, 68 L.Ed.2d 334 (1981) (Stevens, J., concurring in the denial of certiorari); Solesbee v. Balkcom, 339 U.S. 9, 14, 70 S.Ct. 457, 460, 94 L.Ed. 604 (1950) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting); Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 288-89, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 2751-52, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972) (Brennan, J., concurring); People v. Anderson, 6 Cal.3d 628, 100 Cal.Rptr. 152, 493 P.2d 880, cert. denied, 406 U.S. 958, 92 S.Ct. 2060, 32 L.Ed.2d 344 (1972); District Attorney for Suffolk District v. Watson, 381 Mass. 648, 411 N.E.2d 1274, 1289-95 (1980).

I would therefore grant an emergency stay pending the decision of the Supreme Court with respect to certiorari in Lackey.



This opinion was originally released in typescript form



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