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Texas Capital Punishment History
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Thread: Texas Capital Punishment History

  1. #1
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010

    Texas Capital Punishment History

    Texas Execution Procedures and History


    Where death row inmates are held:

    Male inmates under the death sentence are housed at the Ellis Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division, which is located 16 miles northeast of Huntsville, Texas. Female death row inmates are housed at the Mountain View Unit located in Gatesville, Texas.


    Inmates at the Ellis/Mountain View Unites may have family member(s) and friend(s) on a list of approved visitors.

    The inmate may have the following visitors at the Huntsville Unit: Inmates at the Huntsville Unit may have visits from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice chaplain(s), institutional division chaplain(s), minister(s), attorney(s). All visits must be approved by the Huntsville Unit warden. With the exception of the chaplain's visits, all visits will be terminated by 12:30 p.m. on the day of the execution.

    Transportation An inmate scheduled for execution shall be transported from the Ellis/Mountain View Unit to the Huntsville Unit prior to the scheduled execution. Transportation arrangements shall be known only to the unit wardens involved, and no public announcement to either the exact time, method, or route of transfer shall be made. The director's office and the public information office will be notified immediately after the inmate arrives at the Huntsville Unit. During transportation and after arrival at the Huntsville Unit, the inmate shall be constantly observed and supervised by security personnel.

    Final meal

    The final meal will be served at approximately 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Prior to 6 p.m., the inmate may shower and dress in clean clothes. The Huntsville Unit warden's office will serve as the communications command post and only operations personnel will be allowed entry to this area. All other individuals, including witnesses to the execution, will assemble at approximately 5:55 p.m. in the lounge adjacent to the visiting room. All necessary arrangements to carry out the execution shall be completed at the predetermined time. Shortly after 6 p.m., the door will be unlocked, and the inmate will be removed from the holding cell. The inmate will be taken from the cell area into the execution chamber and secured to a gurney. A medically trained individual (not to be identified) shall insert an intravenous catheter into the condemned person's arms and cause a saline solution to flow. At a predetermined time, the witnesses shall be escorted to the execution chamber.

    Witnesses to the execution shall include:

    The media: One Texas bureau representative designated by the Associated Press, one Texas Bureau representative designated by the United Press International, one representative for the Huntsville Item, and one representative each from established separate rosters of print and broadcast media will be admitted to the execution chamber as witnesses, provided those designated agree to meet with all media representatives present, immediately after the execution. No recording devices, either audio or video, shall be permitted in the unit or in the execution chamber. Reporters from community where crime was committed have first choice to witness execution.

    Witnesses requested by the condemned: Policy allows for up to 5 pre-approved witnesses requested by the condemned.

    Victims' witnesses: Policy allows for up to 5 immediate family members or close friends of the victim to attend. The execution Once the witnesses are in place, the warden shall allow the condemned person to make a last statement. Upon completion of the statement, if any, the warden shall signal for the execution to proceed. At this time, the designee(s) of the director shall induce by syringe, substance and/or substances necessary to cause death. This individual(s) shall be visually separated from the execution chamber by a wall and locked door, and shall also not be identified.

    Lethal injection saline solution consists:

    Sodium Thiopental (lethal dose) Pancuronium Bromide (muscle relaxant) Potassium Chloride (stops the heart beat) After the inmate is pronounced dead, the body shall be immediately removed from the execution chamber, taken to an awaiting vehicle and delivered to a local funeral home for burial by the family or state. The inmate may request that his body be donated to the state anatomical board for medical research purposes. Arrangements for the body is to be concluded prior to the execution.

    The Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division, in accordance with Article 43.23, shall return the death warrant and certificate with a statement of any such act and his proceedings endorsed thereon, together with a statement showing what disposition was made of the body of the convict, to the clerk of the court in which the sentence was passed.


    Average time on death row: 8 years and 10 months. Average age of executed inmates: 37. Cost per day per inmate: $59.98.


    Death row was located in the East Building of the Huntsville Unit from 1928 until 1952. From 1952 until 1965, death row and the electric chair were located in a special building by the East Wall of the Huntsville Unit. The men on death row were moved from the Huntsville Unit to Ellis in 1965. There, they are housed in both single (5 feet by 9 feet) or double cells. Death row inmates receive a regular diet, have access to television, magazines, books and legal materials. The same mail rules apply to them as to the general population. Inmates on death row do not have regular TDCJ-ID numbers, but have special death row numbers.

    Execution history

    Hanging was means of execution between 1819 and 1923. Prior to 1923, Texas counties were responsible for their own executions, thereafter all executions were ordered to be carried out by the state in Huntsville. Electrocutions were means of execution beginning February 1924. When capital punishment was declared "cruel and unusual punishment" by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29, 1972, there were 45 men on death row in Texas and 7 in county jails with a death sentence. All of the sentences were commuted to life sentences by the governor of Texas, and death row was cleared by March 1973.

    In 1973, revision to the Texas Penal Code again began assessing the death penalty and allowed for executions to resume effective Jan. 1, 1974. Under the new statute, the first man was placed on Death Row Feb. 15, 1974, John Devries, No. 507, white, born Nov. 19, 1920. Devries was convicted of murder with malice while committing burglary in Jefferson County. Devries committed suicide July 1, 1974 by hanging himself with bed sheets.

    On Aug. 29, 1977 Texas adopted the new method of execution from the electric chair to lethal injection.

    Dec. 7, 1982, Texas became the first state to use the method of lethal injection, executing Charlie Brooks of Tarrant county for kidnap/murder of a Fort Worth auto mechanic.

    The first woman executed by lethal injection was Karla Faye Tucker -- She was executed on Feb. 3, 1998. She was convicted of capital murder in the June 1983 pick-ax slayings of 27-year old Jerry Lynn Dean and his companion, Deborah Thomton, in Houston.

    Electric chair history facts:

    There were no woman executed by electrocution. Texas authorized use of the electric chair in 1923. The electric chair, which was used in Texas from 1924 through 1977, was the original chair built from oak in 1923-24. The electric chair, "Old Sparky," was located behind the chapel in the Huntsville Unit, now housed at the Prison Museum. The electric chair was first used on Feb. 9, 1924, executing five men on that date in the following order: Charles Reynolds, Black, Red River County, murder.

    * Ewell Morris, Black, Liberty County, murder.
    * George Washington, Black, Newton County, murder.
    * Mack Matthew, Black, Tyler County, murder.
    * Melvin Johnson, Black, Liberty County, murder.

    Between February 1924, and July 1964, a total of 506 men and women were placed on death row in Texas; of those, 361 men died in the electric chair. Of the 361, 229 were black, 108 white, 23 Mexican American. Texas executed its last inmate by electrocution on July 30, 1964: Joseph Johnson from Harris County for murder


  2. #2
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    Nueces County Sheriff Mike Wright rarely carried or used a weapon

    Michael Bennett Wright, a cousin of Texas Ranger Will Wright, raised livestock at Banquete before he was elected sheriff of Nueces County in 1901. One of his first cases was the murder of Eunice Hatch, who lived on a farm just west of Corpus Christi.

    She was found in her home on April 21, 1902, her head split open with an ax, her baby left crying in a crib nearby. Suspicion focused on Andres Olivares, a hired hand on the nearby McCampbell place. He had been a guest in the house, but Eunice told her husband Jim Hatch not to bring him back because she didn't like the way he looked at her.

    Wright found splatters of blood on Olivares' clothes and his shoes matched prints at the murder scene. Although Olivares pleaded guilty at the arraignment, the judge ordered a not-guilty plea be entered. The trial lasted one morning. The jury deliberated that afternoon, finding him guilty and assessing the death penalty. The judge ordered Olivares to be hanged on June 3, 1902.

    The day of the hanging, Olivares spent the morning with Father Claude Jaillet. Olivares was taken to a scaffold platform. He yelled "Adios amigos!" seconds before Sheriff Wright sprang the trap. The newspaper commended the sheriff, writing, "Everything was in perfect readiness and the program was carried out to perfection, like clockwork."

    Two years later, the sheriff was the hangman again when Apolinario Hernandez, who killed his wife, was hanged two days before Christmas 1904. When the black cap was placed on Hernandez and the noose adjusted around his neck, the doomed man confessed to killing his wife and said to pardon him if he had offended anyone. Mike Wright was the last sheriff of Nueces County to serve as executioner.

    As sheriff, Mike Wright arrested a murder suspect 27 years after the crime was committed. The case involved a fatal shootout at a Ranger camp at Banquete. Josh Peters, son of a nearby rancher, rode up to the camp and asked the Rangers who tied a tin can to his horse's tail. It was a prank. Peters' gelding was grazing peacefully when a Ranger, George Talley, took a tomato can with gravel in it and tied it to the colt's tail. It spooked the horse and he just about ran himself to death.

    Peters said, "Who tied that can to my colt's tail? I'll whip the sorry bastard who did it." Talley said, "I done it." Both men pulled guns. Talley shot Peters in the temple; he was dead before he hit the ground. Talley was indicted on a charge of murder and put in jail by Sheriff Thomas Beynon. After he was released on bond, Talley left Texas, working on ranches in New Mexico and Arizona.

    In 1905, Talley returned to the area. After he had been tipped off, Sheriff Wright approached Talley in the street. Talley said his name was Smith. Wright had him lift his pants leg, which showed an identifiable scar. A trial in Corpus Christi ended with a mistrial. In the second trial, a jury found Talley not guilty.

    Mike Wright was a curious sheriff, almost a pacifist. He rarely carried a gun. A rancher shot and killed a man in the Ben Grande Saloon. Riding away, he yelled: "Tell Mike I'll kill anybody who comes after me." Sheriff Wright rode out to the ranch. The rancher met him with a rifle. "I'll kill you before I let you take me in." Wright told him, "You see, I came, but I'm not wearing a gun." After a little talk, the rancher put down his rifle and rode back with the sheriff.

    Wright served as sheriff until 1916. On June 6, 1917, he was riding his prized horse "Garza" when he slumped over, dead in the saddle. The obituary noted that Wright pulled a gun only twice in his 15-year career as sheriff. "In all truth," said the obituary, "he was a man unafraid yet withal considerate of the rights of others."

    Frank Gravis Robinson was the second sheriff of Nueces County who got his start as a ranch foreman. Robinson was a foreman on the Driscoll Ranch before he was elected sheriff in 1914. Thomas Beynon, elected in 1874, also had been a foreman and trail boss for King Ranch. Robinson's tenure as sheriff ended with his shooting to death of reputed Ku Klux Klan leader Fred Roberts. On Oct. 14, 1922, Roberts was shot to death by Sheriff Robinson and a deputy.

    On Oct. 14, 1922, Sheriff Robinson and Deputy Joe Acebo entered a grocery store in Corpus Christi, on Railroad Avenue, owned by G.E. Warren. The sheriff hassled Warren, accusing him of being in the Klan. "You are a Ku Kluxer, aren't you, Warren? By God, you know you are." The sheriff slapped Warren, then the sheriff and deputy left and crossed the street.

    Warren called Fred Roberts, who came to the store, talked to the Warrens, then went to his car. Sheriff Robinson walked over and fired three shots at Roberts, killing him. Acebo fired one. Robinson and Acebo and two others were indicted on a charge of murder. The sheriff resigned. In the trial, moved to Laredo, the former sheriff said he shot Roberts because he thought he was going for a gun. The jury found all four not guilty. After the trial, Robinson moved to Mexico where he lived for a decade. His daughter was the longtime county clerk, Marion Uehlinger. Robinson died in Laredo, at age 67, on Jan. 22, 1941.

    After Robinson resigned, W.G. Cody was appointed and served about a month, then George Peters was elected sheriff of Nueces County, the first Republican elected to the office since John McClane. Peters' opponent, W.F. "Wildfire" Johnston, was considered the Ku Klux Klan candidate. The election was close, with Peters winning by 60 votes. Johnston challenged the vote count; a recount showed Peters winning by only 40 votes. When Johnston died three years later, a contingent of white-robed Klansmen attended his funeral at Rose Hill Cemetery.


  3. #3
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Texas Prison Museum eye-opening for former inmates

    Deep in thought, the two men stared hard into the glass-fronted cabinet at the Texas Prison Museum. There, under harsh fluorescent glow, lay Texas' implements of execution: three oversized syringes and an IV bag. A noose, a grim state-sanctioned death-dealer of yore, hung nearby.

    The graying pair, one rail-thin, the other shorter and spreading at the middle turned to leave - and, surprised, came face to face with "Ol' Sparky," the state's long-retired oak-framed electric chair.

    "It's like turning to look at a car wreck - or a two-headed calf," said Jon Matthews, the shorter man, visibly shaken. His companion, David Babb, found it unspeakably somber. "It's almost like stepping into Arlington National Cemetery," he mused.

    Babb and Matthews are former inmates-turned criminal justice activists, and their remarks came as no surprise to museum director Jim Willett, who oversaw 89 executions while warden at Huntsville's Walls Unit. In a museum crammed with sobering mementoes of prison life, the death penalty exhibit invariably stops visitors in their tracks.

    "Concerning 'Ol' Sparky,'" Willett said, "not everyone comments. Of those who do, some say they can't imagine that thing in operation. The other side says we ought to crank it up."

    Texas last used the electric chair in 1964. Since 1982, the state has used lethal injection to execute prisoners.

    Almost 30,000 people visited the museum last year, many of them Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees or former inmates, Willett said. On their recent tour, Babb and Matthews, until last week co-hosts of Houston radio station KPFT-FM's (90.1) weekly "Prison Show," were struck by the exhibits' haunting evocation of prison life.

    "This is kind of like a hall of fame," said Matthews, making his first visit. "It's interesting to look back at how barbaric the system was and how long it's still taking to bring it into the 21st century."

    Expansion planned

    The museum - established as an independent, nonprofit in 1989 - offers an array of artifacts and history. On display are a model of a prison cell, tools used by inmates on prison farms, prisoner-made artwork, furniture and weapons, balls and chains and firearms used by prison staff and convicts.

    One exhibit honors prison employees killed while on duty. Others, focused on criminal "celebrities," display a pistol found in the bullet-ridden death car of robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow and the massive steel helmet used by drug lord Fred Gomez Carrasco in his failed 1974 escape attempt from The Walls.

    On view, too, are a cardboard and paper pistol constructed by a prisoner for use in an escape try and a segment of cell door fashioned of cardboard and toilet paper that was used to conceal a section of sawed-out bars.

    The museum's 6,000-square-foot exhibition hall, opened in 2002 just north of town, increasingly has become crowded, Willett said, and a 4,000-square-foot addition is planned.

    "I hope that anyone who comes here gets a better understanding of the prison system and I would hope that everybody who leaves here recognizes prison is a place they don't want to be," Willett said.

    Following the yellow stripes painted on the museum's concrete floor - the same kind used to manage movement of inmates in prisons - Matthews and Babb found their tour a mildly disturbing homecoming.

    "The one thing the museum can't convey," Babb said, "is the noise level in prison. I don't think working in an industrial setting can equal that noise."

    "Or the heat," Matthews added. "It's 10 degrees warmer than outside and that's on the first level. At the Coffield Unit it got to 132 degrees."

    A display of inmate toiletries led Babb to describe a blue plastic prison-issued razor as "the cruelest device on the planet."

    Pair out of work

    A display of a foil food pouch spurred Matthews into reverie on peanut butter in jars. "We'd clean them out and cook our noodles in them," he said. Access to jars was discontinued because of their potential use as weapons.

    Overall, the exhibits, Babb opined, "reflect a monster that was created to incarcerate 155,000 offenders."

    "They may have made a mistake. They may have done things harmful to others," he said of prisoners. "But when you look at that number and the overall damage to society, there should be more emphasis on rehabilitation, restoring these individuals to society and allowing society to benefit from the talents they can bring to it."

    Babb served three years for a 2000 conviction related to a sexual encounter with a teenage boy; Matthews was sentenced to three years in prison in 2007 for violating probation following his conviction on an indecent exposure charge.

    Until Thursday, the pair hosted the local Pacifica station's prison call-in program.

    On the air, the two differed sharply regarding the death penalty. Matthews is an equivocal supporter; Babb a staunch opponent. However, as they viewed the starkly lit electric chair, they appeared to be of one mind:

    "It defies words," Babb sighed.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  4. #4
    Senior Member CnCP Legend JimKay's Avatar
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    Jun 2013

    Ex-Texas Warden Interview

    Next week, Texas is scheduled to execute its 500th prisoner since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

    Barring stays or reprieves, the 500th execution is due to occur Wednesday and the inmate is a woman.

    Kimberly McCarthy, 52, a former occupational therapist, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 in connection with the beating and stabbing death of her 71-year-old neighbor during a robbery. She was originally scheduled to be put to death Jan. 29, but received a stay until April, and then saw her execution postponed again. Her attorneys recently appealed again to halt the execution, but there has been no decision yet.

    McCarthy would be the 13th woman executed in the U.S. and the fourth in Texas since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. During that time, more than 1,300 men have been executed nationwide.

    Texas has enforced the death penalty more regularly than any other state, executing more people than the next six states combined (Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Alabama and Georgia).

    But that wasnt always the case. Texas executed fewer than 10 people a year until 1992, when executions spiked under then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat. The current governor, Republican Rick Perry, has presided over more than 200 executions, more than any other governor in modern history.

    To learn more about the history of executions in Texas, which are carried out at the Walls Unit at Huntsville Prison, about 70 miles north of Houston, we talked to the director at the local Texas Prison Museum, Jim Willett, a former warden.

    Did you know Huntsville is expected to have its 500th execution later this month? Is the museum doing anything related to that?

    No, I didnt know when it was. And I dont want to seem like were celebrating.

    What can you tell us about the history of executions in Huntsville?

    Most people dont know a lot about the executions. Weve got a fairly good set-up here at the museum about the executions and the fact that prior to 1924, before they came to Huntsville, there were hangings in counties across the state. And there is, of course, the electric chair here 361 men died in the chair. And we have a panel that explains the current way of doing executions: lethal injection.

    When did you work at the prison? Was that an interesting time to be there?

    I worked there for 30 years starting in 1971, retiring in 2001. When I got there, the inmates were still segregated in where they lived and the dining room and I got to see that change. And the prison system was still using the building tender system before it was done away with by the courts.

    What was that?

    It was a system where you had some inmates who were over other inmates. They had authority over the other inmates. They stopped that around '82. When I went to work there, an inmate could only have visits from five people and they couldnt write but to those people. Their mail was very limited. There were about 15 units [prisons] when I went to work there now theres over a hundred scattered all over the state. They had that tender system because they didnt have that many employees. Theres over 30,000 employees there now.

    Were you involved with executions? If so, how?

    I was warden three years. We just so happened to have the three busiest years for the execution chamber the state has ever had. The one that sticks out the most in my mind as far as attracting protesters and media was Gary Graham. He was a fellow out of Houston, just an awful character who had done a bunch of crimes. He had walked up to a man in a grocery store parking lot and shot him dead. Some of the more well-known people got behind him and even showed up as witnesses at his execution Jesse Jackson was there and Bianca Jagger and Al Sharpton.

    Can you remember any women who were executed, for instance, Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman Texas executed after the death penalty was reinstated?

    Betty Beats I was the warden then and oversaw her execution. And another lady after her. Neither of those ladies got the exposure Karla Faye Tucker got. It had to do with a couple things Karla Faye Tucker was a born-again Christian and she was a very likable person.

    I noted a trivia item posted on the museums Facebook page and wondered about the answer: Which warden from the Huntsville Unit resigned after saying, "A man can't be a warden and a killer"?

    The warden that was at the prison at the time the state decided to change over and take over the executions, I believe his name was R. F. Coleman. He resigned in 1924 before the executions started in February.

    What do you think of what he said?

    I dont agree with him. Im not a proponent of executions and Im not against them. I dont really care. Personally, Im a Christian and I think that goes right along with being a Christian. But, you know, theres really no reason to keep doing them in the prison system the counties could do it on their own.

    Why did you go to work at the prison museum?

    Id been retired a few months and the prison museum was located in a building on the downtown square and it wasnt doing much business and I got a call seeing if I wanted to come work there. I kind of needed that to be around people. Then we moved out to the interstate and I started working full time.

    How many museum employees used to work at the prison? How many years of prison experience do you have total?

    We figured it up one time we had probably 100 years or more.

    Whats one of the oddest facts you know about Texas prison history?

    There was a warden here in 1913, his name was R.M. Warden so he was Warden Warden. He left saying that the prison system was too corrupt for him.

    What are the most interesting items at the museum?

    We have three pistols here in a display on escape attempts. These three pistols, most of the public comes through and pays no attention to them. To me theyre the most interesting thing we have here because theyre made out of wood. Theyre fake. When I tell people that, they take a second look because they look so real. Its a two-fold thing: How do you get so good you can make them look real and how do you do it when you dont have the real thing to look at?

    Did the inmates who made them escape?

    No, the fake pistols were found before they got a chance to use them. But theyre painted and they look like real guns you can even see the bullets in the chamber. I guarantee if I pull one on you, youll put your hands up.

    What can people learn from the history of Huntsville, known as Prison City?

    They can see how the prison system has evolved over the years and made progress I hope its progress. The general public, most people dont know what its like inside the prison walls. Here they can get a glimpse we even have a replica cell they can go in.

    How many visitors do you see?

    Last year we had 30,400 people. And were running ahead of that a little bit this year. Most of our visitors come from out of Huntsville and you would be surprised how many come from out of state and out of the United States. We get a lot of foreign visitors. I was out front today and saw a couple from England.

    Do you see many locals?

    If we didnt have the prison system here, you might not even have a red light in this town. Theres a great number of people here -- either they work for the prison system, their family or friends do.

    Huntsville people will come visit us when they have company, but theyre around it all the time. And a lot of people in Huntsville try to keep this out of their lives. A lot of them dont know when the executions are.


  5. #5
    Senior Member CnCP Legend JimKay's Avatar
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    Jun 2013

    Notable executions in Texas

    Texas leads the nations 33 death penalty states in executions, killing more than the next five most active states combined. Look back at recent executions and notorious cases from the Houston area.

    Slideshow: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-te...exas-64619.php

  6. #6
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Texas town where detention and death is a way of life

    With seven prisons, a cemetery for dead inmates and its infamous execution chamber, the business of detention and death is a way of life in the Texas town of Huntsville.

    In this neat and tidy city north of Houston, prisoners recognizable by their white uniforms, maintain public green spaces under a blazing sun and the gaze of a guard, sitting on the edge of a car.

    "These are trustees," says the corrections officer. The inmates in question are low-level criminals convicted of crimes such as car theft or burglary.

    Out of Huntsville's population of 38,000 people, 14,000 are prisoners while a further 6,000 are guards or employees of the Texas Justice Department.

    Instead of tourist signs pointing out antique shops, the tomb of famous Texas Governor Sam Houston, or other places of interest, a visitor is guided to the various prisons: the Wynne Unit, the Byrne Unit, Hollyday Unit.

    "Prison, it's an industry here," says Kathreen Case, executive director of the Texas defender service. "It is their industry, it is amazing how many people can earn their lives out of it."

    Prisons generate 16.6 million dollars in wages per month, while nearly 200 educators from the Windham School District contribute another 740,000 dollars each month to the local economy, according to the local Chamber of Commerce.

    "It's a prison town, everybody knows somebody that works in the prison system," says Gloria Rubac, an activist who campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty in Texas. "It's a very prison-oriented town."

    Prisoners are put to work in a number of schemes, doing everything from manufacturing their own clothes or the uniforms of prison guards to feeding and raising chickens.

    "If we didn't have the prison system and if we didn't have the university, I don't know if you'd even have a traffic light in this town," said Jim Willett, former warden and commissioner at the Walls Unit, the oldest of seven prisons.

    An imposing building guarded by high red brick walls, the Walls Unit is set just a short distance from downtown Huntsville.

    In the northeast corner of the building, topped by a watchtower, is the execution chamber, reveals Willett, who gave the green light to 89 executions in his 30-year career.

    The clock on the facade of the building is the usual gathering point for anti-death penalty activists ahead of each execution.

    They will gather again here Wednesday for the 500th execution scheduled since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976.

    Previously, those sentenced to die were also imprisoned at the facility, but due to over-crowding amid soaring convictions, they were transferred to the Ellis Unit and later to the maximum security Polunsky Unit.

    A few hours before execution, the prisoner is taken from death row, a concrete fortress topped by razor wire where narrow slits are the only openings to the outside world, and transferred to the Huntsville execution chamber.

    The condemned prisoner's final journey is a scenic route along the shores of Lake Livingston, surrounded by cedar forests. The precise route of a prisoner's final journey is never revealed for security reasons.

    Since his retirement, Willett has taken over responsibility as curator for the Huntsville prison museum, one of the most popular stops on the tourist trail, where exhibits include the final words of those executed.

    Pride of place is given to "Old Sparky" the nickname for the electric chair, which was responsible for sending 361 prisoners to their deaths before its use was discontinued in 1965.

    Large syringes and straps on display reflect Texas's transition to the use of lethal injection as the preferred method of execution.

    A gift shop sells mugs and T-shirts with death row symbols as well as novelty items notable for their black humor, including "Solitary Confine-mints."

    A couple of blocks away is Hospitality House, a charitable organization run by two baptist pastors which aims to offer support to the families and loved ones of those who are condemned to death.

    "The families shouldn't be punished," says Debra McCammon, the executive director of Hospitality House, describing them as "the other victims of crime."

    It is also here that the prison chaplain prepares families in order to avoid "hysteria or panic" during executions.

    A guided tour of the city's jails ends with the cemetery of prisoners, situated on a green hill shaded by sycamore trees.

    Some 3,000 concrete crosses have been erected at the site since the first burials in the 19th century. Many graves are anonymous, while some are identified only by their prisoner number.

    Others carry a single one-word epitaph: "Executed."

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  7. #7
    Senior Member CnCP Legend JimKay's Avatar
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    Jun 2013
    From Americas Busiest Death Chamber, a Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies

    I am so terribly sorry. I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am.

    Karl Eugene Chamberlain went to his neighbors apartment that night in Dallas under the pretense of borrowing sugar. He returned later, forced her into a bedroom, bound her hands and feet, raped her and then used a rifle to shoot and kill her. His victim, Felecia Prechtl, 29, was a single mother with a 5-year-old son.

    Eleven years after he was convicted of capital murder, Mr. Chamberlain, 37, was strapped to a gurney in Texas execution chamber at the Walls Unit prison here and was asked by a warden if he had any last words. Thank you for being here today to honor Felecia Prechtl, whom I didnt even know, he told her son, parents and brother on June 11, 2008. I am so terribly sorry. I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am.

    His words did not die with him. Texas wrote them down, kept them and posted them on the Internet.

    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 schne prinzessin, said Mr. Cantu, German for my beautiful princess). They quoted the Koran and the Bible, but also Todd Beamers phrase aboard United Airlines Flight 93.

    Sir, in honor of a true American hero, Lets 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 mans 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 XXXth 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 states 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 were 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.

    Its kind of mesmerizing to read through these, said Robert Perkinson, the author of Texas Tough: The Rise of Americas Prison Empire and a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Most people about to be executed havent had a lot of success in school or life. Theyre not always so skilled at articulating themselves. There are plenty of clichs, 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.

    The last statements are not uttered in a vacuum they are heard by lawyers, reporters and prison officials, as well as the inmates families and victims relatives. But the power of their words to change the system or even heal the hearts of those they have hurt is uncertain.

    Nearly seven years after he murdered a Houston city marshal who caught him with cash and loose change stuffed into his pockets from the bar he had just robbed, Charles William Bass refused his last meal and told the warden in 1986, I deserve this.

    David Baker did not attend the execution. Mr. Bakers father, Charles Henry Baker, was the marshal Mr. Bass killed. His fellow marshals called him Pop, because at age 51 he was a father figure to the younger officers. Told of Mr. Basss remarks, Mr. Baker paused.

    I think he was correct, said Mr. Baker, 63, a minister at the Church of Christ in Emory, Tex., who was 29 when his father was killed. Its called capital punishment for a reason.

    Strapped to a gurney in a spare brick room painted dark green, the inmates nowadays speak into a microphone attached to the ceiling, their arms stretched out and buckled into a T-shaped gurney so the drugs flow easily from the IVs into their veins. With the victims and the inmates witnesses in place in two separate rooms, the warden asks the inmate if there is a last statement. The last words are not recorded, but transcribed by hand by staff members listening inside the wardens office.

    Jim Willett, 63, a retired Walls Unit warden, said none of the 89 statements he heard from 1998 to 2001 changed his support for the death penalty.

    You can hear it in their voices sometimes and in their delivery that they are sincerely hurting for the pain that they put their own family through, said Mr. Willett, the director of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. I saw the strangest thing one night. You got this little wall here like this, separating those two witness rooms. One night I saw the daughter of the inmate and the daughter of the victim, and they were both leaning against that wall. They were that far apart and didnt even know it.

    Jason Clark, a spokesman for the prison agency, said the last statements were posted to respond to the demand for that information by the public and journalists. But opponents of the death penalty call it a perverse tradition.

    The death penalty is a process, not an act, and posting the final words of a condemned person after a process which has usually lasted a decade or more is simply a disservice, said Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. How is one to assess the phrase of Go Cowboys! from a man on a gurney? [Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar -- JimKay]

    Freddie Webb said one word Peace but James Lee Beathard, who murdered his accomplices father, stepmother and half-brother, said 684 of them in December 1999, in a rambling statement that mentioned the embargoes against Iran and Cuba. He viewed his final minutes the way others had as a fleeting moment on a stage, with a silent, watchful audience. Couple of matters that I want to talk about, he said, since this is one of the few times people will listen to what I have to say.


  8. #8
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Somewhat related

    Contempt hearing for Dallas DA canceled

    The Dallas County district attorney on Monday won an unexpected stay of an order holding him in contempt of court, after his attorneys highlighted problems with the order.

    Craig Watkins' attorneys headed off a potentially embarrassing hearing Monday about 30 minutes after it began. They argued that the judge who cited him for contempt for refusing to answer questions about why his office prosecuted an oil heir for mortgage fraud didn't list a punishment for him in the order, nor a way for him to avoid that punishment and erase the contempt.

    State District Judge Bob Brotherton agreed and ended the hearing. He said Judge Lena Levario could enter a new order. But Watkins' attorneys said after court that they believe Levario should not have a second chance.

    Levario said immediately afterward that she was reviewing Brotherton's decision and hadn't decided what to do next.

    Watkins faces scrutiny over his office's prosecution of Al Hill III, a great-grandson of the oil titan H.L. Hunt, for mortgage fraud. Hill's attorneys accused Watkins of pushing the case forward as a favor to Lisa Blue, a prominent Dallas attorney and campaign donor.

    Watkins became Dallas County's district attorney in 2007 and has won national acclaim for his office's work in freeing the wrongfully convicted, including creating the first conviction integrity unit in Texas. More than 30 inmates wrongly convicted of murders, rapes and other serious crimes have been freed in the last decade, most during Watkins' tenure.

    But the contempt allegations have drawn negative publicity locally and left him facing possible jail time if convicted.

    The FBI has also asked for files to the case, according to an earlier order by Levario. That raises the possibility that Watkins is facing federal scrutiny. The FBI has declined to comment.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  9. #9
    Is there a special reason why Texas judges give more and more time between the day of setting the execution date an the execution itself?

  10. #10
    Moderator Mike's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    AP reporter who observed 400+ executions in Texas retires

    The Associated Press

    HOUSTON — Associated Press journalist Michael Graczyk, who witnessed and chronicled more than 400 executions as a criminal justice reporter in Texas, will retire Tuesday after nearly 46 years with the news service.

    Graczyk, 68, may have observed more executions than any other person in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Millions of readers in Texas and beyond relied on his coverage of capital punishment in America's most active death penalty state.

    He built a reputation for accuracy and fairness with death row inmates, their families, their victims' families and their lawyers, as well as prison officials and advocates on both sides of capital punishment. He made a point of visiting and photographing every condemned inmate willing to be interviewed and talking to relatives of their victims. Over time, he gained notoriety himself as an authority on the death penalty and a witness to history.

    Even after retiring, Graczyk will continue covering executions for the AP on a freelance basis, an arrangement he suggested.

    Long ago, Graczyk said, he stopped keeping count of how many executions he observed. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice's list of media witnesses includes his name 429 times, though that list is not exhaustive.

    "It has given me a greater appreciation for life," he said. "You get a real sense of life and how fast it can be taken."

    Noreen Gillespie, the AP's deputy managing editor for U.S. news, said the significance of Graczyk's work "can't be underestimated."

    "Mike's description of what happens in an execution is how the world and most of the country knows how that happens," she said.

    Graczyk joined the AP in 1972 in Detroit, shortly after graduating from Wayne State University. He moved to Houston in 1983 with his wife, Mary, and their two children.

    Executions became his beat by happenstance. In 1982, Texas executed its first inmate since the Supreme Court allowed states to resume capital punishment. When the state prepared to conduct its second execution in 1986, Graczyk, as the Houston bureau manager, took the assignment.

    Over time, he built a routine. He learned what to watch and listen for, and how to spot if something was wrong. In most cases, he said, observing an execution is "essentially watching someone go to sleep and they don't wake up."

    The beat could be macabre and occasionally absurd.

    In a 2013 piece to mark Texas' 500th execution since resuming capital punishment, Graczyk recounted how one inmate called his name and said hello when he walked into the chamber. Another inmate strapped to the gurney spit out a handcuff key. And a third, for his last words, sang the Christmas carol "Silent Night."

    "Christmas, for me, never has been the same," Graczyk wrote.

    Hundreds of media outlets counted on Graczyk to cover each execution without an agenda.

    "A lot of people do a lot of hard things in journalism, but what he's done, the commitment he's made to see those stories through, is amazing," said Debbie Hiott, editor of the Austin American-Statesman.

    "You never saw a slant one way or the other," said Jason Clark, chief of staff of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "People picked up on that."

    Graczyk has been asked many times whether he believes the death penalty should be legal. He said he's a practicing Catholic and respects the church's teachings against capital punishment, but that he has not made up his own mind.

    "I'm not dodging the question," he said. "I don't know."

    The job involved being more than an execution writer.

    He covered hurricanes, interviewed former President George H.W. Bush several times and had an eye for feature stories that explained Texas to the world. He also reported on the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas.

    In retirement, Graczyk said, he might write a book of fiction inspired by the characters he's met. And he will keep covering executions, in part to stay busy, but also because he still enjoys the work.

    "I found just the whole idea of covering these things to lend itself to really good stories, compelling stories," he said.


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