TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Now that her daughter’s killer has been executed, Cherri West says she feels at peace.
The federal government put 45-year-old Keith Dwayne Nelson to death by lethal injection at 3:32 p.m. Friday at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He had no final words.
Nelson was convicted in the death of 10-year-old Pamela Butler from Kansas City, Kansas.
“I feel at peace now, and I feel Pammy’s soul is at peace and that she can rest,” West said Friday. “That was my number one goal is for Pammy to get her justice so that she can rest.”
“You know, I don’t feel that she was ever at rest. I think she was always behind me and guiding me to keep fighting, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Pamela was rollerblading in front of her home in 1999 when Nelson drove up and abducted her. He later raped her before strangling her to death with a wire.
“What happened to Pammy was horrible,” her mother said. “She suffered a horrible death.”
A neighbor heard Pamela’s sister yelling at the time of the abduction and was able to get Nelson’s license plate number. A manhunt ensued.
Nelson was arrested on the banks of the Kansas River two days after Pamela disappeared. He pleaded guilty in federal court in 2001 and was sentenced to death. He’s been sitting on death row ever since, exhausting all possible appeals.
Just before his execution Friday, a prison official asked Nelson if he had any last words. He didn’t respond. He didn’t even shake his head.
After a long pause, the execution process began; it took about nine minutes for Nelson to die. He is now the fifth federal inmate executed this year and the second this week.
Protesters against the death penalty were gathered outside the Indiana prison and Sister Barbara Battista of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, a group that also opposes the death penalty, was inside the death chamber during his execution at Nelson’s request.
Battista told The Associated Press her interpretation of his silence during the public portion was that he was afraid if he said anything, he might then say something inappropriate.
West was present Friday at Nelson’s execution, standing in the family witness room.
She said it didn’t bother her that Nelson didn’t apologize or say any final words. She didn’t expect him to. She said, if anything, she thought he might curse at her and her family as he had done during criminal proceedings.
West is simply focused on the fact that she now has justice — more than 20 years later.
“I’ve been fighting this fight for a very long time. I feel relieved.”