Convicted Killer Executed

A Vietnam veteran who received a Purple Heart on death row was executed by injection early Tuesday for beating an elderly woman to death.

Manuel Babbitt died at 3:37 a.m. EDT, a day after his 50th birthday, after all his court appeals were denied.

Babbitt was sentenced to death for killing Leah Schendel in 1980. He was convicted of breaking into her apartment and hammering her with punches that broke her dentures and split the skin on her forehead to the bone. Her frail heart gave out under the attack.

Babbitt said he didn't remember what happened that night, or the following evening when he attacked another woman, breaking off when a friend rushed to her aid.

The former Marine was turned in to police by his brother, Bill, whose suspicions were aroused after he found items stolen in the Schendel slaying in Manuel Babbitt's belongings.

Bill Babbitt and other family members deplore what Babbitt did, but they don't believe he was in his right mind when he did it. They say he was flashing back to Vietnam.

Defenders said Babbitt, troubled by mental disease since his youth, cracked under the pressure of 77 days of shelling, misery and death in the siege of Khe Sanh.

Babbitt received a Purple Heart in prison for wounds suffered during that siege. The rare death row ceremony infuriated Mrs. Schendel's family, which demanded - and got - legislation banning another such presentation.

Babbitt was the seventh man executed since California resumed executions in 1992.