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Florida, Texas execute convicted killers

By Karen Brooks and Bill Cotterell

AUSTIN, Texas/TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Texas and Florida each executed a killer by injection on Wednesday, including one who murdered an East Texas man at the end of a six-month crime spree that the killer described in court as "a whole lot of fun."

Elroy Chester, 43, was put to death at a Texas state prison and William Van Poyck, 58, at a prison in Florida, officials from both states said. They were the 14th and 15th inmates executed in the United States this year.

Van Poyck, who was condemned for the murder a prison guard during a failed attempt to help an inmate escape, said "set me free" when asked if he had a final statement.

Chester was executed after expressing regret to the family of firefighter Willie Ryman, who he killed during a 1998 home invasion in Port Arthur, about 100 miles east of Houston, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said.

"God watches everything, don't hate me," Chester said in a final statement released by the department. "I'm sorry for taking your loved one."

Chester had admitted killing five people and sexually assaulting or raping three girls during a spree in 1997 and 1998, according to the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Defense attorneys for Chester had argued that with an IQ repeatedly measured at a level of mild mental retardation, he was not mentally competent to be executed.

Chester was the seventh man executed in Texas this year.

According to prosecutors, Ryman was shot dead by Chester as he entered a house to check on two teenage nieces he thought were home alone.

Chester had cut the phone lines and broken into the home wearing a ski mask, raped the girls and cleaned out jewelry and money, prosecutors said. Ryman's slaying was the last in Chester's spree.

Asked to describe his feelings about burglarizing homes, Chester said in court that it was "a whole lot of fun," according to the state attorney general's account.

In Florida, Howard said Van Poyck declined a last meal and spent part of the afternoon visiting with his sister, Lisa Van Poyck, three family friends and a spiritual adviser.

Van Poyck and another man, Frank Valdes, tried to free an inmate who was being transported by van to a doctor's office in 1987. A guard was shot and killed after he tossed the van's keys into the bushes in a bid to disrupt the escape attempt.

Van Poyck and Valdes fled without the prisoner they hoped to free and were captured after crashing a getaway car into a tree.

Valdes was stomped to death in prison in 1999. Three prison guards were tried for his death but were acquitted.

(Editing by Kevin Gray, Cynthia Johnston, Bob Burgdorfer and Bill Trott)

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