UNION COUNTY, Tenn. — Updated Story (8/15/19 8:31 p.m.): Stephen West, a Union County death row inmate convicted in an East Tennessee double-murder in the 1980s, has died after the State of Tennessee executed him at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.
The Tennessee Department of Corrections confirmed West had died at 8:27 p.m. EDT by means of electrocution.
Original Story (8/15/19 11:30 a.m.): After more than 30 years as an inmate on death row, Stephen Michael West is set to die Thursday, Aug. 15 at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.
West chose to be executed by electrocution in a last-minute decision on Wednesday.
The 56-year-old Union County man was convicted in 1987 for the double-murder of 51-year-old Wanda Romines and her 15-year-old daughter, Shelia Romines. West was also convicted for raping Sheila.
Wanda Romines and Shelia Romines lived in Union County with their husband and father Jack Romines. Shelia was a student at Anderson County High School.
Family member Eddie Campbell told 10News that "Jack and Wanda loved each other for a long time."
Wanda Romines had children from a previous marriage, while 15-year-old Shelia was Jack Romine's first child.
"Sheila was his pride and joy," Campbell said. "Your first child, he was really affectionate and loving with Sheila. She was just a great kid. She loved to dance. I can still think about her clog dancing. She was also on the basketball team at Anderson County High School and was a really good ball player."
Jack Romines died in 2008, unable to see West executed for the crime. He passed that responsibility on to Campbell.
"He was such a great guy. He never got to see justice for his wife, Wanda, and his daughter, Sheila. Many times in life, he told me to make sure justice was done," Campbell said.
Who is Stephen West?
Stephen West was born September 16, 1962. According to clemency documents filed by his attorneys, West was born in an Indiana mental institution where his mother was committed after trying to kill herself by inhaling carbon monoxide from a gas oven while pregnant.
Later in life, according to his attorneys, West spent three years in the Army.
In 1986, West and 17-year-old Ronnie Martin worked together at the McDonald's in Lake City (since renamed Rocky Top).
Martin was a classmate of Shelia's at Anderson County High School.
The morning of March 17, 1986, Martin and West drove to the Romines' home near Big Ridge State Park in Union County.
Wanda and Shelia Romines were the only ones at home.
Court records state West and Martin knocked on the door and Martin told Wanda Romines he wanted to borrow money. Martin previously tried to date Sheila, but she rejected him, a clemency filing said.
Police said after the men were let in, both women were tied up, tortured, and stabbed to death inside their home. Shelia was also raped.
Wanda Romines' body was found face down in her bed with her arms tied behind her back. Sheila’s body was on the floor of a separate bedroom. Both suffered “torture type” knife wounds.
Sheila was stabbed 17 times and her mother multiple times, court filings state.
Jack Romines found their bodies when he returned home from work.
The next day, March 18, 1986, West and Martin were arrested and charged with double murder. Both West and Martin admitted to being at the Romines’ home, but blamed each other for the killings.
West and Martin’s cases were tried separately.
West's trial began the year after the crime, in 1987. During the trial, West admitted he witnessed the crime at the home and claimed Martin was responsible for butchering the women.
West's defense said he feared for his own life. Prosecutors countered that West, an Army veteran, was a willing participant in a crime that could not have been committed by one person.
A jury convicted West in March 1987 of both murders and rape. West was sentenced to die in the electric chair.
After West's conviction and sentencing, Martin pleaded guilty to double-murder and was given two life sentences. Because Martin was 17, a minor, when the crime happened, lawyers argued he was not eligible for the death penalty.
Martin is now eligible for parole in 2030.
Since the 1980s, West's execution has been scheduled and postponed repeatedly. The latest attempt for an appeal was a clemency plea filed to Governor Bill Lee. The application mentions that West has been taking powerful medications to treat mental illness.
In the clemency filing, his attorneys state that the jury never heard a jail recording from Martin saying that he carried out the killings, not West.
But a 1989 Tennessee State Supreme Court opinion rejected the recording as uncorroborated hearsay that wouldn't have exonerated West. West's attorney opted against playing the tape at sentencing because the judge would have allowed other recordings in which Martin incriminated West, court records show.
In the 1989 opinion, Tennessee’s Supreme Court upheld West’s conviction and death sentence, saying he met key conditions of the law after being proven to be a “major participant” with a mental state of “reckless indifference to human life.”
The court noted West offered multiple stories about what happened, but made no effort to leave, seek help, overpower Martin or report the killings afterward.
Governor Bill Lee’s office released this statement: "After thorough consideration of Stephen West’s request for clemency and a review of the case, the State of Tennessee’s sentence will stand, and I will not be intervening."
Preparing for Execution
On June 29, 2019, West declined to choose the method of his execution scheduled for Aug. 15. A non-decision would automatically result in his death by lethal injection. That’s the state's preferred method.
However, on Wednesday, Aug. 14, West chose electrocution as his preferred method of execution. It’s an option his lawyer described as “also unconstitutional, yet less painful” than the state’s preference of a lethal three-drug injection.
The state Department of Correction confirmed West made the request and said the Thursday execution will be carried out by electrocution using the electric chair.
West's last meal will be a Philly cheesesteak and French fries, per his request.
Death Row in Tennessee
Fifty-six people are currently on death row in the state: 55 men, 1 woman.
According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, 38 offenders are from the largest metropolitan counties: 26 from Shelby Co., five from Davidson Co., four from Knox Co., and three from Hamilton Co.
Fourteen offenders on death row were convicted in East Tennessee.
Billy Irick was executed last August. Before him, Tennessee's last execution was in December 2009, and the last time an East Tennessee man had been put to death was in 1960.
Two Tennessee inmates, David Miller and Edmund Zagorski, chose to die by electric chair in 2018 because of concerns about pain associated with the state's lethal injection procedure, particularly after Irick's execution.
Both unsuccessfully argued to courts that Tennessee's procedure, which uses the drug midazolam, results in a prolonged and torturous death.
Before 2018, the last time a state used the electric chair to execute an inmate was 2013.