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Opinion: Don Harding killed my husband and others. Executing him didn’t erase the pain, but it brought me some peace. Victims’ families deserve that, at least.

I understand Arizona is considering execution by lethal gas again and that it’ll stir the passion of activists seeking to end capital punishment. I wish I could be sympathetic to their cause.

I’m not.

My husband, Marty Concannon, was murdered by a depraved sociopath in 1980. As was his business partner, Bob Wise. They were hogtied, gagged and beaten in their motel room in Tucson before being shot in the head and chest. The killer robbed a third man, Allan Gage, in similar fashion and choked him to death.

Don Harding deserved the death penalty. It took 12 years to see justice served.

I was relieved the day Harding was put to death. I remain so now.

The smell of smoke in Marty’s car haunted me

For a long time after his arrest, I suffered from nightmares and paranoia.

I learned that he had my name and that of Bob Wise’s wife circled in red when he was arrested. I had no idea what he intended but I feared the worst.

He was caught driving my husband’s car and when it was returned, it had the stench of cigar. Marty didn’t smoke. The smell itself was an assault on my psyche. Some time later, I found out he had planned an escape from prison with the help of a sympathetic guard who played cards with him. 

I read this week his attorney’s op-ed about witnessing Harding’s death in the gas chamber and his objection to putting a man to death that way. I don’t think he gets what the families of victims go through.

I don’t think most people get it because, frankly, they haven’t experienced the anguish we experienced.

We’d been married a year when he was murdered

Marty and I met in 1977 in Green Valley, a retirement community near Tucson where we both worked. He was 6-foot-5, 200 pounds and was a Green Beret who had seen combat action in Vietnam.

For all that, he was a sensitive soul and very easygoing, and kids and old folks alike loved him. I fell for him immediately.

We had been married for only a year when I got that call in January 1980. It was devastating.

I often wonder that had only a circumstance changed here or there, things would have turned out different. Harding tied up and robbed an older couple and instructed them to stay put while he fled. They took some time in contacting police, but he was long gone by then.

It was their gun he used to kill Marty and Bob. Had they called the authorities earlier, Marty would still be here. Maybe.

In some cases, the death penalty is necessary

I left Phoenix for my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, after Marty’s death. When the execution was finally scheduled in April 1992, I had thoughts of going, but I didn’t want the memory of watching him die.

A friend of mine in Arizona held up a telephone to the local news coverage after the execution. I felt an immediate sense of relief.

I am now 66. I never remarried. I never met anyone else like Marty. Sometimes I see older couples out together and it’s very sad for me, to see others have that longevity of a relationship.

I became a nurse practitioner and have been for close to three decades. It’s a profession of helping people, doing the best for people, and it may seem in conflict with the concept of capital punishment.

It may be hard to understand. It comes across as such a cruel thing to do, but in some cases, the death penalty is so warranted and necessary. Even in a civilized society. The way I saw it, the man was never going to be soft. He was going to finagle his way out.

I cannot imagine living today thinking he was still in prison and that escape was a possibility.

The pain’s not gone, but I feel some relief

Until this week, I hadn’t talked much about the past. The funny thing is, Marty’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Maybe it’s because I lost my mom and Marty’s only brother has passed, too. So has his cousin. I’m getting older; it just seems a lot of people I love are no longer around.

Yet, he’s in my life very much still. I talk about him with the one sister of mine who lives in town and on occasion I play an audiotape of Marty being interviewed by a high school student about his Green Beret experience because I love hearing his voice. It’s a precious thing, that little cassette tape.

I was quoted in the media shortly after the execution, “I was worried that I was going to feel bad. I don’t. I felt like I had been holding my breath all these years. And today, I was able to take a deep breath.”

Twenty nine years later, I still feel that way.

As told to Arizona Republic editor Abe Kwok, who covered Don Harding’s appeals and execution in 1992. Pam Concannon, a nurse practitioner, lives in Youngstown, Ohio.

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