Finally, in Arizona, the Murderer of Theresa Tyson May Die.
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
[Editor's Note: Two references to "today" are Jan. 23 references]
Nearly two decades ago, for 12 steamy monsoon days in August of 1978, police combed the Southwest for two escaped Arizona murderers and the three sons who sprung them from an Arizona state prison.
In those more easygoing times, Arizona's medium security facilities apparently offered little trouble to Gary Tison's three sons -- Donald, 20, Ricky, 19, and Raymond, 18 -- when they decided to sneak in an ice chest containing revolvers and sawed-off shotguns on visitors' day.
They broke out their father, Gary Tison, serving a life sentence for killing a Phoenix jail guard in 1967. Randy Greenawalt, serving his own life term for shooting a Flagstaff truck driver through the head in order to rob him in 1974, tagged along.
The five raced for the California state line, but suffered a flat tire near Quartzite. When Marine Sgt. John Lyons, 24, of Yuma stopped with his family to help, the five fugitives shot and killed them all.
Lyons' 15-year-old niece, Theresa Tyson, survived longest. Mortally wounded when a bullet shattered her thigh, sending bone fragments into her abdomen, she crawled a quarter mile into the desert to escape. Her body was found five days later, huddled over the small dog with whom the family had traveled, as though to protect it. The dog was also dead.
In July, the Western Arizona sun can kill within hours.
Also murdered were Sgt. Lyons' 23-year-old wife, Donnelda, and the 22-month-old infant she clutched in her arms.
Eldest of three children, Theresa Tyson was the "star" of her family. After her death, her younger brother tried to fill her shoes, taking over the training of the family dogs. When one of the animals dashed out into the street a month after Theresa's death, her brother followed ... was himself struck by a truck and killed.
The Tison gang are believed to have killed two more innocents to accomplish their next car switch -- a honeymooning couple from Amarillo who probably had the misfortune to encounter the gang at a construction roadblock in Colorado.
The bodies of James and Margeen Judge were finally found in November, at a remote Colorado campsite.
When the gang was finally stopped by a curtain of bullets at a police roadblock near Casa Grande on Aug. 11, 1978, driver Donald Tison was the first to die. His father, Gary, fled into the desert, perishing of exposure within two days. Greenawalt and the surviving Tyson brothers were convicted of four counts of murder, each, and sentenced to death in March, 1979.
Now, 18 years later, multiple murderer Randy Greenawalt's appeals finally seem to have reached an end. Arizona might actually execute Greenawalt today, Jan. 23.
It's easy to bellow bloodthirsty noises from a distance, if one is not personally required to throw the switch. Capital punishment is the ultimate use of the state's massive power, and there's no denying it has been misused in the past.
On the other hand, those who argue that individuals deserve the liberty to bear arms and generally do as we please, up to the point where we assault the liberties of others, are fond of mouthing easy assurances that "All we have to do is hold people responsible if and when they do harm others."
Hold responsible, how? Convict Greenawalt was already locked up "for life" for his first murder. Fat lot of good that did.
In the words of Bob Corbin, who went on to head the NRA after serving as Arizona's attorney general from 1978 to 1990: "He deserves it. I hope the hell they carry it out this time. If they'd executed him for his crime the first time, those people might still be alive today."
That's the context in which this terrible closure should be viewed. At each step, he and his accomplices had the option of not killing the people whose cars they stole.
Will the late Sgt. Lyons ever have the "choice" whether to attend the high school graduation of his son Christopher ... his tiny head blown off by a shotgun blast as he lay clutched in his terrified mother's arms in their back seat on July 31, 1978?
And what about Theresa Tyson, 15, mortally wounded and dragging herself off to die in the desert, removing her dog's collar and tags and placing them around her own leg as her last act in this world, in hopes that someone finding her bones would at least be able to tell her parents where she'd reached her final rest?
The victims are too often forgotten, as the now-gray-haired prisoners "find religion," hone their book-learning, and while away their days authoring endless, ornate appeals based on every nuance of legal flummery.
After 18 years, today is a good day for Randy Greenawalt to die.
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/.
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