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June 30, 2013

After 500 executions, reviewing some last words of the condemned in Texas

EXECUTE-1-articleLargeToday's New York Times includes this interesting discussion of the interesting last words of the Texas murderers just prior to their execution by the state. The article is headlined "From America’s Busiest Death Chamber, a Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies," and here are excerpts (with links):

The state with the busiest death chamber in America publishes the final statements of the inmates it has executed on a prison agency Web site, a kind of public catalog of the rantings, apologies, prayers, claims of innocence and confessions of hundreds of men and women in the minutes before their deaths.

Charles Nealy asked to be buried not to the left of his father but to the right of his mother.  Domingo Cantu Jr., who dragged a 94-year-old widow across the top of a chain-link fence, sexually assaulted her and then killed her, told his wife that he loved her and would be waiting for her on the other side.

The condemned praised Allah and Jesus and Sant Ajaib Singh Ji, a Sikh master.  Three cheered for their favorite sports teams, including Jesse Hernandez, whose execution last year made headlines after he shouted, “Go Cowboys!” They spoke in English, Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Gaelic, German (“Meine schöne prinzessin,” said Mr. Cantu, German for “my beautiful princess”).  They quoted the Koran and the Bible, but also Todd Beamer’s phrase aboard United Airlines Flight 93.

“Sir, in honor of a true American hero, ‘Let’s roll,’” said David Ray Harris, who was dishonorably discharged from the Army and was executed in 2004 for killing a man who tried to stop him from kidnapping the man’s girlfriend.

The execution on Wednesday of Kimberly McCarthy — a 52-year-old woman convicted of robbing, beating and fatally stabbing a retired psychology professor near Dallas — was the 500th in Texas since December 1982, when the state resumed capital punishment after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.  In those 30 years, Texas has executed more people than Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia combined.

The state’s execution record has often been criticized as a dehumanizing pursuit of eye-for-an-eye justice.  But three decades of last statements by inmates reveal a glimmer of the humanity behind those anonymous numbers, as the indifferent bureaucracy of state-sanctioned death pauses for one sad, intimate and often angry moment.

“I hope that one day we can look back on the evil that we’re doing right now like the witches we burned at the stake,” said Thomas A. Barefoot, who was convicted of murdering a police officer and was executed on Oct. 30, 1984.

Among the death-penalty states, Texas and California are the only ones that make the last words of offenders available on their Web sites.  But only Texas has compiled and listed each statement in what amounts to an online archive.  The collection of 500 statements, which includes inmates’ verbal as well as written remarks, has been the subject of analysis, criticism and debate by lawyers, criminal justice researchers and activists who oppose the death penalty.

It has spawned at least one blog, Lost Words in the Chamber, which has regularly posted the last statements since 2011. Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said there were three million page views of inmates’ final words last year.  “It’s kind of mesmerizing to read through these,” said Robert Perkinson, the author of “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire” and a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Most people about to be executed haven’t had a lot of success in school or life. They’re not always so skilled at articulating themselves. There are plenty of clichés, sometimes peculiar ones, like the Cowboys reference. But I think many of these individuals are also striving to say something poignant, worthy of the existential occasion.”

June 30, 2013 at 10:32 AM | Permalink


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Texas needs 1000 executions a year, to kill all the violent criminals, before they kill us. Most of these should be at the scene by the police or by the public. Once a violent criminal, the public should be immunized from any wrongful death claims by the lawyer internal traitor.

Why does the lawyer internal traitor betray our country to protect vicious predators? They generate government make work jobs. Victims generate nothing and may rot.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 30, 2013 10:50:47 AM

Supremacy - why anyone gives you the time of day I can't imagine.

Posted by: peter | Jul 1, 2013 9:29:57 AM

//"But I think many of these individuals are also striving to say something poignant, worthy of the existential occasion." \\

The slayers are worthy of unadulterated contempt.

WILLINGHAM: (2004) {murdered three daughters}
“I love you Gabby. I hope you rot in hell, bitch; I hope you fucking rot in hell, bitch. You bitch; I hope you fucking rot, cunt.
That is it.”

JACKSON: (2007) {murdered estranged wife and two stepdaughters}
“Warden, murder me!”

CHAMBERLAIN: (2008){raped and murdered neighbour}
""Smiling broadly as he looked at [the victim's] relatives watching him through a window, he told them he loved them . .
“We are here to honor the life of Felecia Prechtl, a woman I didn't even know, and to celebrate my death.”"

COBB: (2013) {abducted, raped, & murdered woman from convenience store}
“Life is death, death is life. Life is too short. I hope anyone that has negative energy towards me will resolve that ..
Thank you (XXX---expletive) warden!”

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 1, 2013 10:53:52 AM

Executions have traditionally been the occasion for a lot of theater, including carefully structured ceremonies where the last words of the accused (often as a chance for them to state repentance as a lesson to others, pamphlets of the statements often best sellers) are carefully noted. This was hinted at, e.g., in the execution scene in "True Grit."

Posted by: Joe | Jul 1, 2013 11:55:39 AM

Thinking of writing a book about this.

Posted by: Lois Winsen | Jul 1, 2013 4:33:49 PM

Peter: We have a most active death penalty practice in our country. It is the extra-judicial killing of 17,000 murder victims. That figure is suppressed by the trauma care advances learned in war. It could easily be twice that number, without these advances.

I support the judicial death penalty of 10,000 violent and white collar criminals. By your forbearance, and inability to utter the V word, you support the extra-judicial execution of 17,000 murder victims. 7000 are black, where there should be 2000 black murder victims. So you have to check your racist gut as well.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 2, 2013 2:17:59 AM

Supremacy - I have no problem is uttering the V word as you put it. Unfortunately your blinkered restrictive appreciation of the victims, that result not only directly but also as collateral damage to the death penalty process is what worries me, among other things of course. You state " We have a most active death penalty practice in our country." Actually that is no longer true. You are as aware as the rest of us that it is active only in a small minority of states and in an even smaller number of counties within those states. It is a dying process, a blighted and inappropriate process, and will, sooner than you seem to realize, be history. Until then, men and women suffer needlessly the continuing terribly flawed processes and states of incarceration that if they had been exposed from behind closed doors a la Solzhenitsyn, would have outraged still more those who now prefer to close their eyes and cover their ears to the truth. I could and do say the same for LWOP.

Posted by: peter | Jul 2, 2013 12:59:30 PM

Peter, the active death penalty practice is not among the few states. Even the Texas practice is sclerotic and ineffective as too rare, too late, too random, too expensive, too slow, too too. I am referring to the 17,000 murders that take place on our streets and in our homes, by butchery, strangulations, shooting, stabbings. Most murderers are drunk. Most murder victims are drunk. The number of executions is moral as long as it stays under 17,000.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 2, 2013 6:18:54 PM

don't be too hard on TEXAS for being # 1 in executions...you must remember that TEXAS has 254 counties with an elected chief prosecutor along with their appointed assistants in each county... over 1000 prosecutors ...each trying to please the voters and gain recognition so they may move up the political ladder...so be it ... i support capital punishment...however...where there is the smallest doubt of guilt and a verdict of guilt is imminent... life imprisonment should be imposed... an 82 yr tax paying reg. voter...

Posted by: john l mccowen | Aug 17, 2013 8:06:06 AM

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