PHOENIX — Ryanne Costello just wanted to know the last words her father said before he was murdered 17 years ago.
She learned everything she could about his killer and even tried to set up a meeting with him after his trial, then again several years ago, and then again recently as the killer neared execution. She wanted closure. She wanted to understand why her father was dead and how he faced his last moments.
"I was prepared for it," Costello said. "He could have told me anything."
She never got the chance.
The killer, Robert Jones, 43, will be executed Wednesday by lethal injection at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence. It will be the second execution this month.
Jones will not be executed for killing Costello's father, Richard Roels, a retired Arizona Republic executive who was murdered during a home invasion in Phoenix in August 1996. Jones pleaded guilty to that murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
But Roels' killing led police to Jones, and he was soon tied to six murders committed during two armed robberies in Tucson earlier that year. He was sentenced to death six times for those killings. There was no point in seeking a seventh death sentence.
On May 30, 1996, two men burst through the doors of the Moon Smoke Shop in Tucson. A red-haired man, believed to be Jones, wearing a black cowboy hat and dark sunglasses immediately shot a customer named Chip O'Dell in the head, killing him, survivors said.
Store employees dropped to the floor behind the counter as the gunman continued to fire. The gunman then chased an employee named Tom Hardman to a back room, where the gunman killed him, as well. Two employees fled; a third was wounded. One of the survivors saw a light-colored pickup truck speeding away from the scene with two people in it.
Two weeks later, on June13, 1996, four bodies were found at the Fire Fighters Union Hall, also in Tucson: a bartender named Carol Lynn Noel and club members Maribeth Munn and Judy and Arthur Bell. Noel had been beaten and shot twice; the others were apparently shot in the back of the head after being made to put their heads on the bar. Police believed $1,300 was taken from the cash register.
Ryanne Costello had lunch at her father's house in central Phoenix on Aug.23, 1996, the day he was killed. If the killers had arrived two hours earlier, "the homicide detective said they would have killed me, too," Costello said.
Roels was bound with duct tape and shot in the head.
"Jones killed everybody the same way," Costello said. "He shot them all the same way."
But Phoenix police quickly tracked Roels' stolen credit cards and found that they had been used in the hours after the killing to buy pizzas and a pair of cowboy boots. Then, as the killers tried to buy ammunition at a gun-supply store, a suspicious store clerk called police and turned over surveillance photos of the two men.
The police then sent the photos to local hotels to see if anyone recognized the two men. Staff at a motel near Interstate 17 and Indian School Road identified them.
Jones and an accomplice named Stephen Coats were leaving the motel as a police helicopter tracked them. The two men led police on a car chase through city streets that reached speeds of 80mph. Then, the killers stopped at a car dealership, hot-wired a Corvette and sped down Camelback Road at 100mph.
They eluded police on Arizona 51 at top speeds of nearly 130mph. The Corvette ran out of gas in Tempe, where Jones and Coats split up. Coats forced his way into an apartment at gunpoint; Jones hot-wired a Porsche that he crashed.
When he was arrested, Jones was wearing the watch that Roels received from the newspaper on his retirement.
The link to the Tucson murders came when a man named David Nordstrom went to Tucson police and told them that he had been with Jones and his own brother Scott Nordstrom on the day they robbed the Moon Smoke Shop.
David, who was on parole and wearing an electronic-monitoring device, said he was driving the pickup truck when the first murders and robbery were committed. Jones fit the description of the gunman; for that matter, so did David Nordstrom. But David pinned the murders on Scott Nordstrom and Jones. He also said he knew of the other robbery and murders from what Jones and Scott told him.
David Nordstrom was initially charged in some of the murders, but the charges were dropped in exchange for his testimony. Jones and Scott Nordstrom were both sentenced to death. Coats, who had nothing to do with the Tucson robberies, was sentenced to life in prison for Roels' murder.
Jones is one of 122 people on death row, 120 men and two women.
He was born on Christmas Day, 1969, in Tyler, Texas.
Jones' natural father was absent from the home during Jones' childhood, according to court records. Jones' two successive stepfathers beat him, and when he became big enough to defend himself at about age 15, he was kicked out of his mother's house. Jones dropped out of school and began using cocaine and methamphetamine.
His defense attorneys maintained to the end that the Tucson murders were a case of mistaken identity, pointing out that David Nordstrom resembled Jones. There was no physical evidence that linked Jones to the murders. However, he pleaded guilty to Roels' murder.
But in the last weeks, state and federal courts refused to grant a stay of execution. Jones and another death-row inmate, Edward Schad, filed a lawsuit against the state to get the Arizona Department of Corrections to reveal the source of the barbiturate pentobarbital, which would be used in both men's executions. The two men appeared side by side on closed-circuit TV during the federal court hearings earlier this month.
The judge ordered the Corrections Department to provide the information, which it did, although the inmates' attorneys asked for more. Schad was executed Oct.9. The suit will continue even after Jones' death.
Jones did not attend his clemency hearing last week, claiming that there was no chance that the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency would commute his sentence or grant him a reprieve.
Ryanne Costello tried to learn as much as she could about Jones in the 17 years since her father was murdered. Shortly after the crime, he called her from jail to threaten her if she continued to ask his friends questions about him, she said. At his trial, she watched him closely.
"There was just nothing there," she said of his effect. "I almost felt sorry for him."
As the execution nears, Costello said, it has brought back a lot of old memories.
Costello will witness Jones' execution today, she said.
"I'm ready for it to be over," she said.