Michael D. Clagett saw the prison guards approaching his cell. It was time.
one guard unlocked the cell door, two other guards secured him in handcuffs and leg shackles. Clagett exchanged a few words with them as they started walking in silence toward the room of the corrections center where his execution would take place.
For Clagett, the brief walk down the cold, sterile hallways of the Greensville Correction Center seemed to take forever. It was not because he dreaded what awaited him. On the contrary. Clagett welcomed his execution. He was offered two options for his execution; lethal injection or the electric chair. He chose the electric chair. He thought it was ironic. He felt he deserved to die; yet, around 20 people had gathered outside the prison to hold a candlelight vigil. The gathering was organized by Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. They sang songs and read passages from the Bible.
The 39-year-old Clagett would be the second inmate executed by electric chair since the state of Virginia passed a law offering inmates a choice. He had been on death row for six years and was serving five death sentences; one for each person he had killed on June 30, 1994. His trial ended with the jury convicting him of four counts of capital murder in the commission of a robbery, along with one count of multiple homicide murder.
As the guards led him into the room where his execution would take place, he saw a small group of people seated in the viewing room. They would witness his execution. The group included his wife, and the families of some of the victims. Some were seated while others stood. Two of those standing were his mother and his wife Karen; who he had married while on death row. Both were in tears. Though he fully accepted his fate, he would die with unanswered questions; why did he do it? Why did he allow his girlfriend, Denise, talk him into killing those people?
Denise Holsinger separated from her husband, Randell Holsinger, in 1993 and met Clagett soon afterward. Clagett was everything her husband was not. While her husband was a first class petty officer in the Navy, Clagett was chronically unemployed, had a history of committing domestic violence, and long history of drinking and using drugs. She had her own demons and engaged in drinking and drug use. She had three children, whom she left with her husband as she did not feel she could deal with the responsibility. She just wanted out, and Clagett appealed to her because of his wild streak. She’d grown tired of being the proper Navy wife. Clagett’s irresponsible manner provided freedom to express her discontent with life.
Holsinger met Clagett at her place of work, the Witchduck Inn. Located on Pembroke Boulevard, in Virginia Beach, Witchduck Inn is a tavern and restaurant, and Clagett was a regular there. Clagett frequented the tavern so often that he considered the bar owner, Lam Van Son, a friend. Son had fled his native South Vietnam during the communist takeover. He had fought with U.S. soldiers, as he was part of South Vietnam’s Special Forces unit. When South Vietnam fell to the communist in 1975, Son was placed in a re-education camp. Son escaped the camp and traveled to Thailand by boat before coming to America. He had settled in Lynchburg, where he married Lanna Le Son in 1988.
Holsinger rented a small apartment, and Clagett moved in with her. He spent most of the time laying around the house getting stoned. Holsinger would join him when she arrived home from work. While Clagett did not contribute to the household, Holsinger allowed it. It put her in a position where she felt she held power in the relationship and that power came without resistance. In her marriage, she felt she had to play the role of the dutiful wife; it was different with Clagett. In their relationship, she was the one with the job and the money, and she was the one who offered him female attention.
It was in June of 1994 the demons within Holsinger and Clagett collided, to create an explosion of violence that sent the community into shock. Holsinger had been pocketing money from her job at the Witchduck Inn. She had been doing it for months; to help support the drug habit that had begun to consume both her and Clagett. Unfortunately for Holsinger, her stealing caught up with her. Her boss, Lam Van Son caught on to what she was doing and fired her on June 28th. Holsinger was livid when Son told her that he was letting her go. Instead of being grateful that Son was not going to report her crime to the police, Holsinger cursed him and blamed him for being paranoid about the whole thing. She insisted she was innocent.
Holsinger arrived back homework to find Clagett in the living room inhaling from a bong. He also had a bottle of whiskey. Holsinger grabbed the bong from him and took a few puffs before drinking from the whiskey bottle. She had told Clagett about being fired, as she felt the drugs and alcohol taking effect. Clagett reached over to comfort her, but she pushed him away. She was determined, she was going to make Son pay.
Clagett got up from the couch and took her in his arms, telling her it would be all right; somehow they would make it. Clagett’s attempts to console her were not working; he could see that she remained upset. He thought he know what would help. He ran his drunk, stoned hands all over her before pulling her into the bedroom. They had wild and intense sex; the kind that he knew would get her to release the pressure she kept inside.
The next morning, the two of them lay in bed when Holsinger divulged her plan. She wanted Clagett with her when she robbed the Witchduck. She stroked his chest, and told him how after they got the money they could get away and find a new place to live. She had ideas of going to Mexico or Canada. Clagett seemed hesitant in agreeing to her plan. The worst offense he was ever jailed for was committing domestic violence against his last two wives. Because of the brutality of his crimes, he had been jailed for several years. Still, he wanted to please Holsinger. She convinced him by comparing them to Bonnie and Clyde. They would be free, and famous. He wanted Holsinger’s approval. It led him to agreeing. In his mind, Clagett had nothing to lose and everything to gain. For the next two days, the couple would binge on drugs and alcohol.
The Witchduck Assault
On June 30th, 31-year-old Karen Rounds arrived for her shift at the Witchduck Inn. She had been hired by Son to replace Holsinger as their new waitress. A Pennsylvania native, Rounds moved to Virginia Beach with her husband, Kevin Rounds. Rounds had been a nurse but looking for a career change. She had worked as a nurse at a state prison while her husband was in the Navy. When they moved to Virginia Beach, she got a job working at the Maryview Medical Center; a clinic located in Churchland. She quit her job to go back to school to study computers.
Her new job at the Witchduck Inn would provide her with some spending money while attending classes. Both Karen and her husband knew Clagett as they often saw him when they went to Witchduck. Karen found Clagett to be creepy, but her husband had reassured her that he would not harm anyone.
When she entered the Witchduck Inn, she was greeted by Abdelaziz Gren, one of the regulars. Gren was born in Morocco and came to the United States so he could live the American Dream; which included owning his own business and having his own home and car. He had learned English and attended college while living in Morocco so that he would be prepared when he arrived in the ‘promised land.’ He spoke fluent Arabic, English, and French. Upon arriving in America, Gren attended Old Dominion University, while working in his family’s restaurant.
Everyone who knew him spoke of his big heart and how he would help anybody in need. During Thanksgiving, Gren had been taking a walk along the Lynnhaven River, where he came across a fisherman. The fisherman was taking fish below the size limit. Gren brought this to the attention of the man, who replied that he depended on his catch to feed his family. Gren went to a local grocery store and bought food for the man and his family. He once told his sister that his altruism came from his gratitude for all the opportunities he had received since coming to this country. Gren frequently gave Clagett money so he could buy food, and would occasionally treat him to drinks at the Witchduck.
Rounds entered the kitchen where she saw Son talking to Wendel Parrish. Parrish was the tavern’s cook and handyman. He was born in Prince George, Virginia and later moved to Hampton Roads. He attended Bayside High School, where he graduated in 1981. The thirty-two-year-old Parrish would often treat Clagett to meals at the tavern.
Rounds was busy that day as the Witchduck attracted a larger crowd than normal as Son had the World Cup on the tavern’s big screen television. Later that night, the crowd emptied into the streets. There were only a few patrons left; one of which was Gren. Rounds walked through the rear exit of the tavern and into the humid night air to take a break. What she did not realize was that it would be the last work break she would ever take.
When Rounds finished her break, she stepped back inside and returned to the kitchen. She saw Son and Parrish working. Right off the kitchen was a small room where Son’s five-year-old son, Joshua, was sleeping. Son frequently brought Joshua to work as his wife worked. She went back to the dining area to check on her customers, when she spotted Clagett and Holsinger. Holsinger was playing pool while Clagett was at a nearby table. Though Holsinger had been fired from the tavern, she showed up to play pool and drink.
Seeing Holsinger and Clagett made her uncomfortable. She’d had a bad feeling about Clagett; she did not trust him. Now that Holsinger had been fired, she did not trust her, either. Rounds saw Holsinger as being defiant and a bit of a rebel. Though she was not aware Holsinger had stolen money from the tavern, she frequently saw Holsinger drinking on the job. Rounds felt uncomfortable seeing them.
Little did Rounds know, she was minutes away from Virginia Beach’s first quadruple murder.
As per Holsinger’s plan, Clagett carefully monitored the activity in the small tavern as Holsinger played pool. She would also look up from her pool game to scope out the tavern to determine the best time for them to make their move. Holsinger looked at Clagett, waiting for him to make eye contact with her; it did not take long. Their mutual eye contact was the signal for them to make their move. The audience for the World Cup had left as did most of the regulars. The remaining people in the tavern were Son, Parrish, Rounds, and Gren.
Gren was sitting at his barstool. As there were no more orders being taken for the kitchen, Parrish was socializing with Gren, sitting on the barstool next to him. Son was in the kitchen while Rounds was cleaning off tables. Holsinger gave Clagett a nod and then rushed to the counter, jumping over it. She went straight to the cash register as Clagett pulled out a .357 Magnum revolver and joined her behind the counter. He ordered everyone in the restaurant to gather in the kitchen and get on the floor.
Everyone but Parrish complied. He refused to give into the threats and remained on his barstool. Holsinger tried to get Clagett to ‘do it!’ Clagett hesitated. Holsinger was insistent that he comply. She repeated her order. Clagett collected his nerves, placed the barrel of his gun inches away from Parrish’s face and pulled the trigger. The bullet passed through Parrish’s head as he slumped forward on the bar. Rounds screamed in terror as she lay on the floor. Son and Gren remained silent and did not move. Holsinger ordered Clagett to continue shooting the rest of them. One by one, Clagett shot each person on the floor execution-style; placing his gun to the back of their head and shooting. When he was done, the kitchen floor was covered in blood.
Holsinger grabbed $400 from the register. Four hundred dollars for their efforts. When they were about to take off, Holsinger noticed Son’s son, Joshua, sleeping in the other room. Holsinger ordered Clagett to shoot the child. Telling him they could not leave any witnesses. Clagett could not get himself to pull the trigger on the sleeping child. Fearful of waiting for a second longer, Holsinger fled without Clagett. She drove off in their car, leaving Clagett behind. Still strung out from the drugs and alcohol from the previous two days, Clagett felt a deep sense of fear as he stared at the bloody, dead bodies. Trembling, he screamed and ran out of the tavern into the dark, humid night.
At midnight, one of the regulars, Richard T. Reed, arrived at the Witchduck Inn for a drink. The Witchduck was open till 2:00 a.m.; however, Reed found the front door locked. He was able to hear music playing inside, so he decided to try the back entrance. To his surprise, the rear entrance was unlocked. Normally, the back door was kept locked. Upon entering the tavern, he was met with a very bloody scene. Parrish was slumped over on his barstool. His head was bloody, with a pool of blood collected on the countertop and the floor. Just beyond Parrish, he saw the four bodies lying on the bloodstained floor.
He called 911 and was soon joined by another regular, who was well-liked by Joshua. Joshua called the man “Uncle Richie.” Knowing Joshua frequently slept at the restaurant, he ran inside. With a singular focus, the man made his way pass the dead bodies, over the blood-covered floors, and reached the room. To his relief, Joshua was unharmed but terrified. The man comforted Joshua and carried him out of the restaurant, making sure to cover his eyes to spare him any more trauma. Minutes later, Joshua was sitting in the back seat of a squad car with “Uncle Richie,” who was comforting him. Both of them watched as bodies, covered by blankets, passed by them on gurneys as first responders loaded them into the back of the waiting ambulances. For Joshua, the normally calming voice of “Uncle Richie” brought little comfort.
On July 1, 1994, Virginia Beach Police Officer Donna Malcolm was on patrol when she received a call requesting an officer respond to a disturbance. When she arrived at the address, the resident told Malcolm that a man was sleeping in the bushes of her front yard. Malcolm arrested the man for public intoxication and brought him to police headquarters, where he was questioned by Detective Paul C. Yoakum. The man Yoakum was interviewing was Clagett.
What Clagett did not know was that police had arrested Holsinger earlier. She had been pulled over for reckless driving, when she had fled the crime scene. Because Holsinger provided a description of Clagett, Yoakum had a strong suspicion that the man he was talking to was the murderer; however, Clagett continued to deny any involvement with the Witchduck Inn killings.
Yoakum deceived Clagett, by telling him he had been caught by the tavern’s security cameras at the time of the murders. Hearing this, Clagett stopped denying his involvement and confessed to the killings. He declared, ‘you can fry me!’ The police detective told Clagett that it was exactly what they would be asking the court. He wanted to die. He did not want tax payers supporting him. His rant during confession, ‘fry me; I’m not gonna to live. I don’t want the taxpayers supporting me. I did it. Yeah, I did it. I did it all. All-by-my-fucking-self. Let that little cunt go free. I did it all. I did it all buddy. And the worst thing was Lam (Son) was my buddy!’
Later that same day, a reporter from WTKR Channel 3 news asked Clagett if he was guilty of the charges. Clagett replied to the reporter, ‘Yes. I shot every one of them.’
Clagett later reversed himself by claiming that his confessions of guilt were made while he was still under the influence of drugs. He was put on trial. The ten-day trial ended with the jury finding Clagett guilty of four counts of capital murder, one count of multiple homicide capital murder, robbery, and the use of a firearm.
On October 24, 1995, Clagett was placed on death row.
A year later, Clagett married his first cousin, Karen Elaine Sparks, in a jailhouse wedding ceremony.
On July 6, 2000, Clagett was strapped to the electric chair while some family members of the victims, Clagett’s mother, and his new wife, looked on in silence. Clagett was expressionless, at first, then broke down while he apologized to the victim’s families.
Once he was secured in the chair, the first of two electrical charges were discharged. The first charge was 1,825 volts and lasted 30 seconds, while the second charge was 240 volts for 60 seconds. He was pronounced dead after the second shock.
He would be the last person in the United States to be executed using the electric chair.
Holsinger is serving five life sentences plus twenty-three years in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
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