BUTTS COUNTY -- After hours of waiting, Andrew Allen Cooks execution moved quickly to conclusion late Thursday once the process began.
Cook was guided into the death chamber on the back side of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center about 10:45 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 11:22.
In his final statement, Cook seemed remorseful.
I would like to apologize to the victims families. ... I apologize. It was senseless. Im sorry, he said. I know yall cannot forgive me. Im not going to ask yall to.
Though none of his family members attended, Cook said he was sorry for them, too.
The one person there for him was the former pastor of Macons Mabel White Memorial Baptist Church, minister Steve Johnson.
Johnson, the final witness ushered in, gave the condemned man a quick wave. It wasnt clear whether Cook saw it.
Cook was 20 years old in January 1995 when he happened upon Mercer students Grant Hendrickson, 22, and Michele Cartagena, 19, and shot them to death. They were sitting in her new Honda Civic at Lake Juliette, about 11 miles north of Macon.
Cook didnt know his victims.
The youngest of four children, he had lived with his mother in Jones County before moving into a trailer northeast of Gray.
He sometimes fished at Lake Juliette.
He was alone the night of the killings, out for a late drive after playing pool and drinking a beer with a friend.
It was past midnight when Cook wheeled up at the lake shore in his low-rider 1987 Honda CRX. Armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, he got out and fired 14 bullets into the couples car. He squeezed off five more blasts with a 9mm pistol.
The slain students bodies were found by a camper about seven hours later, shortly after daybreak on Jan. 3, 1995.
By then, Cook was long gone.
Nearly two years passed before investigators suspected him. They closed in after linking him to the murder weapons and, later, through a DNA saliva match, to tobacco spit they found on Cartagenas left thigh.
While in custody soon after his arrest, Cook confessed to his father, an FBI agent.
Cooks only known explanation for killing the couple came in the days before he was jailed. Cook, who worked at a diaper plant, sensed police were onto him. An investigator was calling people who knew him, asking questions. Without going into specifics, Cook confided to a co-worker that hed killed someone to see if I could do it and get away with it.
Hours after Cook was locked up on Dec. 5, 1996, authorities let his father, John, in to talk to him. At one point, John Cook put his hand on his sons shoulder and said, What you did was bad, very bad. ... There will be some super-serious consequences.
The slayings of Cartagena, from Columbus, and the Macon-raised Hendrickson stunned locals and baffled authorities.
The tall, dark-haired Cartagena, her parents only child, was born in California. Her father, Luis, was a lieutenant colonel in the Army. He retired at Fort Benning.
Before enrolling at Mercer, Cartagena was valedictorian at Spencer High School in Columbus. She played softball, volleyball, tennis and ran track.
Not too long ago, a caretaker at Parkhill Cemetery in Columbus told a visitor that her father shows up at her grave every morning. It bears the inscription: Our Pride And Joy.
Hendrickson, also an only child, was an honor graduate at Tattnall Square Academy. He went to Highland Hills Baptist Church. At Mercer, he was a cheerleader, a senior majoring in physics and electrical engineering.
His grave marker at Riverside Cemetery reads: Grant, and beneath it, Beloved Son.
In fall 1996, gun-sale records at a Macon pawn shop where Cook hocked his assault rifle helped investigators zero in on him.
Cooks apprehension in December 1996 drew international media attention. Over the years, details of the case have been fodder for network news programs and true-crime TV shows.
Cook was convicted in March 1998 and sentenced to die. At the time, People magazine quoted courtroom testimony from his father, pleading for his sons life: The prosecution has painted him as being a heinous monster. But I see him as a little boy, and there is a spark of goodness in him.
No recorded statement
Thursday evening, Andrew Cook ate a last meal of fried shrimp and steak with a baked potato and potato wedges. He had lemon meringue pie for dessert. He turned down the chance to make a recorded statement.
About six hours later, a deep-yellow door opened and half a dozen corrections officers escorted him backward into the cream-colored, 15-foot-wide death chamber. Outside, amid the drone of nearby Interstate 75, a pair of shotgun-toting guards stood sentry.
Cook, his eyes glassy, was led to a gurney, seated and methodically strapped down. First his left ankle, then his right. A seat belt was cinched around his knees. He looked scared, gaunt. His arms were spread and bound to slats poking out the sides of the gurney. Officers later taped his fingers and palms to the slats.
Eyes open and expressionless, Cook gazed at the ceiling where four microphones were embedded in the acoustic tile.
There were socks on his feet, no shoes. He wore a white prison suit with blue stripes down the sides. A harness over his shoulders locked down his torso.
Before long, two women dressed like nurses rolled in a cart. They taped two wires to his chest. The wires ran to a heart monitor behind a curtain. The women each stuck an IV in his arms.
Guards tilted the gurney maybe 20 degrees. Cook could then see through a four-pane window where, on the other side, three dozen people -- mostly men, most of them dressed in suits -- would soon watch him die.
In case anyone got sick, there were medium-size brown paper bags on the viewing pews.
A pair of guards stood over Cook and, with robotic, military precision, unfolded a sheet. They used it to cover all but his arms and head.
A little after 11 p.m., after Hendricksons mother, Mary, sat down in the front row of the witness room, Cook offered his apology.
He said he didnt expect to be forgiven, adding, I know I couldnt do it myself.
Warden Carl Humphrey asked Cook if he wanted a final prayer.
Cook said no.
Nearly two decades ago, though, there had been prayer -- a prayer Cook would never hear.
It was spoken before Thanksgiving 1996 in the Milstead Church of Christ in Conyers. Randy Upton, a former GBI agent who was instrumental in catching Cook, worshiped there.
Upton had just been assigned to investigate the Lake Juliette double murder, which had gone unsolved for 22 months. Upton became so obsessed with cracking the case that his wife referred to it as his other woman.
One Sunday, Upton carried the bulk of the case file to church. When the service ended, after most everyone was gone, he placed the file on the altar.
I wanted to ask for divine intervention, Upton recalled, for God to point me in the right direction.
Within a couple of weeks, Cook was behind bars.
Recently, Upton said, I just wonder whats gonna pass through his mind as hes lying there on the gurney. Im hoping hell say, Im sorry for what I did.
Upton was in the witness room Thursday night. He sat in the second of three rows of wooden pews, and he was listening.
He was glad to hear Cooks apology, but said later that as Cook lay dying, all I could think about was Grant and Micheles faces.
If you travel northwesterly in a straight line from the Monroe County lakeside where Cartagena and Hendrickson were shot dead, it is 22 miles to the prison where Cooks life ended.
I believe that on Jan. 3, 1995, the death angel passed over Lake Juliette, Upton said the other day. It was obvious that his intent was to claim three lives that night. He used Andy to help him claim two innocent lives. ... (Now) the death angel will pass over the area to claim the third one he left behind. ... I pray that God has mercy on his soul.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.