Huntsville Unit

Texas: From America’s Busiest Death Chamber, a Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Karl Eugene Chamberlain went to his neighbor’s 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.

11 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 didn’t 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. 3 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 schone 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 3 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 cliches, 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 7 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.” “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. “It’s 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 2 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 warden’s 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 2 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 didn’t 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?”

Freddie Webb said 1 word – “Peace” – but James Lee Beathard, who murdered his accomplice’s 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.”

(source: New York Times)

Ex-Texas Warden Reflects After 140 Executions-Charles Thomas O’Reilly

June 27, 2013  AP

Charles Thomas O’Reilly supported capital punishment when he oversaw his first Texas execution. And he still supported it after his 100th.

In six years as warden of the Huntsville Unit, the prison that houses Texas’ death chamber, O’Reilly supervised about 140 executions — more than any other warden in state history.

Now retired, he reflected on his career this week as the nation’s busiest death penalty state as the state executed its 500th inmate since resuming capital punishment in 1982.

The 62-year-old said he has no regrets about a process he considered to be a relatively unemotional and small part of his job.

If you do 140 of them and then decide you can’t do them, then I think you’ve pushed it a little too far,” O’Reilly said during an interview with The Associated Press in Forney, about 175 miles away from Huntsville. “If you can’t do it, you should have made that decision after one, or maybe two.”

O’Reilly, who retired in 2010, recalled meeting condemned inmates when they arrived at Huntsville the afternoon of their executions.

“I’ll tell him that we’re going to treat him with as much dignity as he’ll allow us to,” O’Reilly said. Then at 6 p.m., he would return to the inmate’s holding cell and say two words: “It’s time.”

Texas 500th Execution Warden.JPEG

A five-man team walked each inmate to the death chamber and tied the prisoner to a gurney. Other staff members ran IV lines for the execution drugs.

Before the lethal injection began, O’Reilly would ask the inmate for any last words. He liked to give each inmate about three minutes, though he rarely cut anyone off.

Once the inmate’s final statement was complete, O’Reilly used a hand-held clicker to signal to the drug room that it was time to start. Minutes later, he would signal to a doctor to check the inmate’s pulse and declare him dead.

Relatives of the condemned inmates and victims typically watched through a window.

“There’s not a lot said,” O’Reilly said. “Everybody knows their job, knows how to do it, when to do it.”

He does not remember the name of the first inmate executed during his tenure, but a few names stand out. They include Frances Newton, the only woman executed on his watch. Condemned to death for killing her husband and two children, she was executed in 2005, becoming just the third woman put to death since Texas resumed capital punishment.

O’Reilly said he was more concerned with making sure executions were done professionally. He recalls the professionalism of the prison chaplain and the staff he hand-picked to assist with executions.

Speaking in a low Texas drawl, O’Reilly’s voice hardens when asked about his personal views on the death penalty. He said it’s the appropriate way to deal with society’s worst criminals, such as someone who rapes and kills a 7-year-old girl.

“As far as I’m concerned, that person probably got a just punishment for the crime that he committed,” O’Reilly said. “Like me or anybody else, we all have to take responsibility for our own actions. Our actions are our choice. The consequences for those actions are not our choice.”

Although the fight over the death penalty is often heated, O’Reilly said the process of an execution is quiet and simple.

“It doesn’t take long. There’s not a lot said,” O’Reilly said. “All you’re going to do there is watch a guy go to sleep.”

Kimberly McCarthy put to death in 500th Texas execution since 1982

june 26,2013

Last Statement:

I just wanted to say thanks to all who have supported me over the years: Reverend Campbell, for my spiritual guidance; Aaron, the father of Darrian, my son; and Maurie, my attorney. Thank you everybody. This is not a loss, this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love ya’ll. Thank you, Chaplain.

She was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m. CDT, 20 minutes after Texas prison officials began administering a single lethal dose of pentobarbital.

Original post 2:43 p.m.:

HUNTSVILLE – Kimberly McCarthy has arrived at the Texas prison nicknamed “the Walls Unit” where she is expected to be executed tonight for the 1997 murder of Dorothy Booth in Lancaster.

Dorothy Booth

McCarthy will be the 500th person executed in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated.

McCarthy’s trip to the death chamber is being treated no differently by the prison system than the one before it or the one that will come next. But McCarthy’s execution is gaining more outside attention because of the milestone.

“We are treating this execution as we do all the others,” said John Hurt, director of public information for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “We realize that there will probably be more interest from the public than usual, but we expect the McCarthy execution to proceed in the same manner as any other.”

McCarthy can meet with her spiritual adviser and attorney before the execution, which is scheduled for around 6 p.m. No appeals are pending, so the execution by lethal injection is expected to take place, barring unforeseen circumstances.She will also speak to the warden about what will happen to her body and who is witnessing the execution. She can make telephone calls to say goodbye.

Kimberly McCarthy is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for the murder of her neighbor, Dorothy Booth. If the execution is carried out, she will be the 500th person executed in Texas since they death penalty was reinstated.

She has been given a new white prison uniform and can eat the same meal offered to all other inmates: pepper steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, mixed veggies and white cake with chocolate icing.

“And she will walk unrestrained into the execution chamber,” said Jason Clark, a public information officer with the prison system.

Her execution is expected to be witnessed by the family, of Booth, a retired college professor.

Texas has carried out nearly 40 percent of the more than 1,300 executions in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. The state’s standing stems from its size as the nation’s second-most populous state as well as its tradition of tough justice for killers.

Texas town where detention and death is a way of life

Texas town where detention and death is a way of life

With 7 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 7 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 2 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 1st burials in the 19th century. Many graves are anonymous, while some are identified only by their prisoner number.

Others carry a single 1-word epitaph: “Executed.”

(source: Global Post)


Death Row Inmates Writing On Death Row

“THIS PLACE [Death Row] will teach you how critical it is to have hope in your life when all is lost. If you have hope, if you have hope for a better tomorrow, for better things to come, then, when there is nothing else to live for, you have that. But, here’s the thing about long suffering: it is our most persuasive teacher.The lessons we learn while suffering we never forget.”
– Charles Flores. Mr. Flores is currently incarcerated on Texas death row.

“YOU CAN TAKE AWAY our names and replace them with numbers, cage and store us in conditions not even fit for your family dog, and exterminate us at your whim, but we are still human beings, capable of everything from love and beauty to violence and hate.”
– Thomas B. Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker is currently incarcerated on Texas death row (#999522).

“I HAVE ALWAYS HEARD that places such as this [death row] breed insanity, I never truly believed this before. I always though that one could hold insanity at bay by force of will alone. Then when one is in the position of coming within days of execution you realize that insanity creeps into you without you ever realizing it. How can I look into my mirror without seeing the insane person staring back at me? I had spoken to others that have stood here and lived past it, they told me that this would change a man. I always thought that I would remain constant whether they executed me or not. I have changed this point of view as I have now stood here and I have stared into the abyss, and I can honestly now say unequivocally that something has looked back from those dark depths. If I walk away from this date I am forever changed.”
– Kevin Varga. Kevin Varga was executed by the state of Texas on May 12, 2010. He kept a diary, “Death Row Journal”, during the last 80 days before his execution.

” I THINK THAT AS the day draws closer I will find myself thinking darker and darker thoughts. I want to wake each day with the news that I have been granted a stay, and each day that I do not is just another disappointment to my mental well-being. The only thing that one in my position looks for is those simple words, “You have been granted a stay of execution.” Without them I am just a corpse that hasn’t the sense to lie down and pull the soil over its head.”
– Kevin Varga. Kevin Varga was executed by the state of Texas on May 12, 2010. He kept a diary, “Death Row Journal”, during the last 80 days before his execution.

“I HAVE BEEN THINKING back on these past 14-years and I am trying to remember how many men have been executed, but it’s been so many that I have lost count. I know, at least, 250 men, some who were my friends, or most who I had met over the years. It was a sombre experience to be speaking to these men, knowing that in only a few days, sometimes the next day, they would be dead. Some accepted it, some didn’t. One man, whose image stays in my mind, I will never forget. As they were taking him out of our wing to be executed, he stopped at my cell to tell me “good-bye”. It was his eyes, his eyes were wide open with fear. I felt his fear (if that is possible to explain) it was so overwhelming. That, took place in 1997, and more than 5-years later, I still see his eyes.”
– John Alba. John Alba was executed by the state of Texas on May 25, 2010.

“I DON’T REMEMBER much of the first afternoon after my arrival at the Polunsky Unit [Texas Death Row]. There were strip searches, questions, more questions. The long walk down the central hallway which divides the six pods housing nearly 400 condemned men. The long slow walk through c-pod, all eyes on the new guy. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe lots of bars, and big burly tattoo-covered forearms connected to scarred, meaty palms. Shanks, cigarettes, etc. What I found was silence. Silence, broken at last by the sound of my door to 12CC-42 slowly sliding shut behind me. I had been hearing metal doors slam shut behind me for over 18 months in the county jail, but this door sounded different, almost silky-smooth. I had never been able to escape the thought that the echos of those doors had become an allegory for my life. My cell door, though, that noise resonated deeper within me. If a person could still hear the sound of their own coffin being closed over them, that’s what it would sound like. I remember clearly standing at the door, taking in for the first time my new 6 by 10 foot home, the cage that would become my retirement home where I would spend my golden years, to continue the metaphor.

I am twenty-seven years old.

I remember hesitating to take a step into my cell, as if moving inside would be acknowledging the horrible truth, and therefore somehow make it all real. The haze that had been hovering inside my head since before the trial was omnipresent. The headaches, oh the headaches, they felt like some massive screws at the center of the world were constantly grinding down, twisting, twisting, twisting down into the bedrock. I finally moved to my bed, and sat down. Four steps, I remember thinking. It took four steps. I felt myself go flat, that’s the only way I can describe it. To my shame, I let myself fall into that place I hate more than any other – that deep, safe place, where I am untouchable. My constant and only friend since my youth, my constant enemy that strips me down to nothing and leaves me there. You probably know the place; we all have one.”
– Thomas B. Whitaker, Texas Death Row inmate. Thomas Whitaker’s journal, “Minutes Before Six” can be read here.

“I ALLOWED MYSELF TO BE fingerprinted and then I was placed in the death watch cell. After I gained my composure I surveyed the room. It was one of the most intensely cold and numb places I had ever seen. It was a narrow room with about 4 other cells.

I was in the very first – just a few steps away from the death chamber. In front of my cell was a long table with drink containers and several Bibles. Straight up – it was like a funeral home. I couldn’t help but to again look towards the death chamber. It was a big steel door with a square window at the top. It was a one way mirror, so one could not see in. I just stared at it. I couldn’t help but to think about my good friend John Amador that was just executed hours before. I felt his presence with me. I thought of his last words which were so profound. I was in the Texas catacomb.”
– Kenneth Foster Jr., after his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole in August 2007.

“THEN MY THOUGHTS are broken when the warden comes into the death house [Huntsville Unit, Texas] to tell me what will be taking place when the time comes. He points to a door I can see from my cell and tells me behind that door is the execution chamber. When the time comes they will come and get me. If I can’t walk, they will carry me, but either way I’m going. He tells me the chaplain will be here soon.

The chaplain comes and tells me, while I’m on the gurney he will be there holding my ankle to offer comfort.

As these people talk to me, I know they’re people, but at the same time I think of them as something else or, in a bad way. As these thoughts just seem to hang there and it seems to be getting dark but it’s the middle of the day and there’s lights everywhere. Then I see the door that the ambulance will back up to, to pick up my body and that’s when it strikes me all over again, “this is it”. There’s no way to describe the pressure I feel as I pray they’ll hurry up and get it over with.

Every time the walkie-talkie bursts to life, a door slams, the phone rings, I nearly jump out of my skin. This is almost constant for six (6) hours. The chaplain tells me that if I hear rustling and movement in the back, he says It’s just the execution team getting ready and for me not to be “alarmed”, (they’re just coming to kill you. Don’t be “alarmed”! H.W.S.). They kept me “alarmed” for those long hours of torture.

I talk to the chaplain some while pacing the cell. I’m thinking I’m going to have a heart attack before they get me onto that horizontal cross with needles in my arms instead of nails. I’ve been broke out in a cold sweat for 2 hours. Can’t think. Just pace, pace, pace. Back and forth, back and forth. 3 ½ steps [The full length of the holding cell]. I can’t remember the subjects or details of anything the chaplain said, just a bunch of words.

I eat some of my last meal but I can’t taste a thing. I just look down and see that some of it is gone.

Six o’clock comes. Nothing. Pace, pace, pace those 3 ½ steps. Seven o’clock. 8 o’clock. Same thing. My mouth is so dry no amount of water can wet it. I know they’re going to open that door any minute and confront me with that gurney and those needles. This is it. This is it. Every time I blink the sweat out of my eye I see it open, I think, that door.”
– Billy Frank “Sonny” Vickers. Billy survived an execution date on December 9, 2003. He waited until midnight (time when the death warrant expires) in a death watch cell next to the execution chamber at the Walls Unit in Huntsville. Billy Vickers wanted to share his experience with as many as possible. Billy and Hank Skinner were in cells next to each other and Billy no longer had the strength to write. He asked Hank to transcribe their conversations about the last weeks of his life, between two execution dates. Billy was executed on January 28th, 2004. The full text of Billy Vickers’ narration, “Three and A Half Steps”, can be read on Hank Skinner’s blog here (Death Row News).

“WHEN I GOT TO the Walls unit everything changed. They were exceedingly humane to me and I was grateful for that. I had issues with Chaplain Hart but we talked about it and settled it amicably. I’m not convinced that my concern about their practices weren’t valid but the solution he offered suited me fine and otherwise he was a very helpful and calming presence there in the domaine de la mort (domain of death).

They’d told me I could get in my last meal only what they had on hand in the kitchen (…) Chaplain Hart told me prisoners prepare the last meals. I asked him to be sure and tell them how much I truly appreciated that food. I ate as much of it as I could and if I had gotten another hour or two, I’d ate it all. I was hoping the Supreme Court wouldn’t rule until about 8:30pm-9:00pm. Then either way, I’d a really been fat and full. That was the best spread I’ve seen since I went on bench warrant in 2005. Even at that, what I ate in 2005 came out of a restaurant on the way to Amarillo and this last meal was all homemade. It was the best food I’ve had in 13+ years, hands down. My eternal thanks to the convicts who cooked it. (…) ’m told that most guys who go over there can’t eat their last meal. Too nervous. I was calm as a cucumber. I truly felt like I had God’s hand on my shoulder. I can’t say why but I also had the idea that there were thousands of prayers being said for me, all over the world. Like I said, I had God’s hand on my shoulder and all the love and support in the world to back me up, so I was ok. I think some of the guys who’ve died over there all alone and it makes me want to cry. There is definitely a spiritual pall, an ethereal darkness over that place. I can “see” shades and remnants. I brought their psychic spoor back here with me. For the past 3 days I’ve slept a lot and dreamed of many who died there; all of whom I knew and whom I called an associate or friend.”
– Henry “Hank” Skinner. Mr. Skinner’s execution has been halted by the US Supreme Court minutes before he was to be put to death by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas. Mr. Skinner is currently expecting a court decision on whether he is entitled to have DNA testing performed on evidence used at his trial. Mr. Skinner has always maintained his innocence. Visit his website for more information on his case.

“IT’S STRANGE when they near your cell. You lose all your strength and you are like this. You lose all your strength as if a rope is dragging it out of you. Then the footsteps stop in front of another solitary confinement cell and when you hear the sound of the key turning you feel relieved.”
– Sakae Menda, who spent 34 years on Japan’s death row before he was found innocent and exonerated.

“FROM THE MOMENT you are in that cell, when they tell you you’re going to be electrocuted, you contemplate it all the time. It never leaves your mind, and they never let it leave your mind.”
– Jay C. Smith, who received 3 death sentences for a triple murder he did not commit, acquitted after spending 6 years on Pennsylvania’s death row.

“SOME CAN’T STAND being in the tank where deathwatch is kept. You see your friends and everyone march to their deaths from there. That’s your and my ‘REALITY.” Three months is not enough time for a person to really set his life and prepare his loved ones to say goodbye. If you care you have to be strong and endure and learn to live with this reality on your shoulders and all that bravado talk of going out fighting is another joke. I’ve seen all sorts of men march or be carried; hard solid men as well don’t waste your time in such fantasies. You’re different? Maybe you wont understand while you face death through anger. I’m not a saint nor weak, a real man is telling you this. Why? Cause there is people that will be affected by everything that happens to you and as long as those people are in your life you will at the end remain as a human and not an animal with no emotions. When a person really doesn’t give a damn fuck its very rare and that person becomes numb/hollowed inside, no joy, no tears, nothing. When you reach this level you can then say you don’t give a damn. If you get visits or mail it completely wont matter. So if you stand at the door or yearn for a date that someone has told you they’ll visit you. You do give a damn.”
– Miguel “Paisa” Paredes, Texas Death Row inmate #999400.

“OUR SITUATION here on Death Row is a cruel dilemma indeed. We don’t want to die, but at the same time, we don’t want to continue having to live like this for the rest of our lives neither. The thought of giving up has frequented my life on several occasions. It is a natural tendency in an abnormal environment. Every element of our circumstances are bent towards breaking us. The concrete, the steel, the bland colors of our surroundings, the bitterness that accumulates amongst the men living with you, the sensory deprivation (ie: no touching or being able to just talk with someone when you want or need to), the lack of spiritual guidance, etc. The psychological blueprint of this place is meant to drive one insane, or to the point of wanting to die. That is all they want from you: insanity and then death.”
– Randolph “Amun” Greer, Texas Death Row inmate #999042.

“I MISS THE STARS. You know, I haven’t seen the stars in years and years and years. I miss the rain. I miss food. I miss all these things. But what it comes down to the most — and this is the thing that will scar me the most and that I’ll carry with me as a scar the longest — the thing I miss the most is being treated like a human being.”
– Damien Echols was exonerated and released from Arkansas’ death row after spending nearly two decades behind bars.

“THE TRUE REALITY of life on death row is that every day is a life of fear, regret and humiliation. As a death row prisoner, my every day is consumed with the stress of waiting to die. Every moment is a countdown awaiting a court decision. I’m on edge every time my name is called for a legal visit. I’m afraid of receiving that letter stating that another round of my appeals has been denied, bringing me closer to that final moment. This is no life of leisure.

I am a man who is not trusted. Not believed. I am always a suspect. When an infraction is committed, I have no presumption of innocence. I’ve lost friends and associates in society who now view me disgracefully as a convicted murderer unworthy to live. I’m housed in a special management unit solely for the condemned.

I don’t enjoy the privileges that most general population prisoners are allowed. While most are allowed contact visits, all of my visits are behind glass with absolutely no contact. While other prisoners are allowed frequent telephone privileges, I am permitted one 10-minute phone call a year to my relatives. There are no rehabilitative programs to occupy my time like other prisoners are allowed. No AA, educational classes, no jobs.

Instead, I live in a cell the size of a bathroom. My window provides a view only of the prison. I am allowed no more than two cubic feet of personal property, and my every day is spent literally waiting to die.

Since I have been here, I have witnessed many men escorted to the death chamber over the years never to return. Mr. Hembree has no idea what it’s like to witness this walk of no return, and the hushed terror stamped into the eyes of every face that sees it.

This is no life of luxury, and I am no gentleman of leisure. I live every day with the fear of standing before my God and accounting for my deeds. My days and nights are filled with regret. Regret for the hurt I have caused and the lives I have ruined, including my own.

Any comforts that I have been afforded, whether it’s the privilege of being allowed to watch television or being protected from the elements of the cold or heat, are mercies that I am grateful for. Not something that I am audacious enough to say I deserve, but a mercy waiting for someone to die.”
– Michael J. Braxton, Raleigh, North Carolina. Michael Jerome Braxton, 39, was sentenced to death for the 1996 killing of another inmate at the Caledonia Correctional Center in Halifax. At the time of the killing, Braxton was already serving a life sentence for the killing of another person in a 1994 robbery in Wake County.

MAY 22, 2013 – I have 21 days left to live. The fickleness, the arbitrariness, the fleeting nature of life itself is on display daily throughout our world but as good an example as any occurred here on Monday morning when, as I was being dressed out here on Q-Wing for a visit, a sudden radio call brought the wing officers rushing upstairs where they found a prisoner (non-death row) hanging in his cell. After 20+ years in prison this guy (Earl) had finally given in to the utter hopelessness that can seize the heart and spirit of any man mired forever in an American maximum security prison. The irony wasn’t lost on me that while 3 of us on death watch are fighting to live, this poor soul, living just 10 feet above us, stripped of all hope, had voluntarily surrendered his life rather than continue his dismal existence. When nothing but a lifetime of suffering lays ahead – with no hope, no promise, no opportunity to change your fate – the idea of utter annihilation can come to look appealing in contrast. When everything has been taken from you, the one thing you have left, that nobody can take away, is the decision to live or die. In that context choosing death can look like freedom…

Today my neighbor, Elmer, went on Phase II of death watch, which begins 7 days prior to execution. They remove all your property from your cell while an officer sits in front of your cell 24/7 recording everything you do. Staff also performs a “dry run” or “mock execution”, basically duplicating the procedures that will occur 7 days later. This is when you know you’re making the final turn off the back stretch, you know your death is imminent, easily within reach, you can count it by hours instead of by days. Right now I’m on deck; when Elmer goes I’ll be up to bat (that’s enough sports metaphors for now)…
– William van Poyck, Death Row Diary. William Van Poyck was executed by the state fo Florida on June 12, 2013. Van Poyck’s case garnered international attention because he published three books and maintained a blog while on death row. He regularly wrote to his sister about his life in prison, and in recent years she published his letters to a blog called Death Row Diary. In these letters, Poyck wrote about everything from the novels and history books he was reading and shows he had watched on PBS to the state of the world and his own philosophy of life–punctuated by news of the deaths of those around him, from illness, suicide, and execution.

TEXAS – CLEVE FOSTER – Execution scheduled september 25, 2012 EXECUTED 6.43 p.m.

Cleve Foster, one of the more controversial death row inmates,  is currently up for execution on September 25 in Texas. I say controversial because there are plenty of people who believe Foster is innocent of the crime he’s on death row for.

Foster even has his own website Cleve Foster – Innocent on TX Death Row.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death for the February 13, 2002 abduction, rape,  and murder of 28-year-old Nyanuer “Mary” Pal in Tarrant County, Texas. His partner in crime was Sheldon Ward, who was also sentenced to death. He’s since died of a brain tumor, so one less monster to worry about. One of the main reasons, besides the presence of Foster’s semen in Pal, is that there is substantial proof that these two men committed a similar crime in December 2001 against Rachel Urnosky. The gun used in that murder was also used in Pal’s murder. Both men were convicted of Urnosky’s murder, but never tried. The jurors in Foster’s trial never got to hear about Rachel Urnosky. What are the odds that this man is innocent when he’s linked to TWO similar crimes? Will he receive a fourth stay of execution?

Update septembre 24, 2012

What Cleve Foster remembers most about his recent brushes with death is the steel door, the last one condemned Texas inmates typically walk through before their execution.

‘You can’t take your eyes off that door,’ he says.

But twice over the past year and a half, Foster has come within moments of being escorted through the door, only to be told the U.S. Supreme Court had halted his scheduled punishment.

On Tuesday, Foster, 48, is scheduled for yet another trip to the death house for participating in the abduction and murder of a 30-year-old Sudanese woman, Nyaneur Pal, a decade ago near Fort Worth.

It takes just under an hour to drive west from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit, where the state’s male death-row inmates are housed, to the Huntsville Unit, where condemned Texas prisoners have been put to death for nearly a century. The last 485 have been by lethal injection; the first 361, from 1924 through 1964, from the electric chair.

On execution day, the condemned inmate waits, usually for about four hours, in a tiny cell a few steps from the steel door to the death chamber.

Foster, a former Army recruiter known to his death row colleagues as ‘Sarge,’ denies his role in the murder. Prosecutors say DNA ties him to the killing and that he gave contradictory stories when questioned about Pal’s death.

‘I did not do it,’ he insisted recently from a tiny visiting cage outside death row.

Appeals again were pending in the courts, focusing on what his lawyers argued was poor legal help both at his 2004 trial in Fort Worth and by attorneys early in the appeals process. Similar appeals resulted in the three previous reprieves the courts subsequently have lifted, but his lawyers argue his case should get another look because the legal landscape has changed in death penalty cases.

‘I don’t want to sound vain, but I have confidence in my attorney and confidence in my God,’ he said. ‘I can win either way.’

Pal’s relatives haven’t spoken publicly about their experiences of going to the prison to watch Foster die, only to be told the punishment has been delayed. An uncle previously on the witness list didn’t return a phone call Friday from The Associated Press.

Foster, however, shared his thoughts of going through the mechanics of facing execution in Texas – and living to talk about it.

The process shifts into high gear at noon on the scheduled execution day when a four-hour-long visit with friends or relatives ends at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston.

‘That last visit, that’s the only thing that bothers me,’ he said. ‘The 12 o’clock-hour hits. A dozen or so guards come to escort you.’

By Foster’s count, it’s 111 steps to the prison gate and an area known as the box cage. That’s where he’s secured to a chair for electronic scrutiny to detect whether he has any metal objects hidden on his body.

It’s the legacy of inmate Ponchai Wilkerson. Wilkerson, asked by the warden if he had a final statement after he was strapped to the death chamber gurney for execution in 2000, defiantly spit out a handcuff key he’d concealed in his mouth.

You’re in handcuffs, you’re chained at the ankles, they give you cloth shoes and you have to shuffle to keep them on,’ he said.

As he waddles the 111 steps, he gets acknowledgement from fellow prisoners who tap on the glass of their cells.

At the prison gate, armed officers stand by as he’s put in a van and secured to a seat for the roughly 45-mile trip to Huntsville that he says feels like a ’90-mph drive.’ There are no side windows in the back of the van where Foster, accompanied by four officers, rides to the oldest prison in Texas. Only the back doors have windows.

‘It’s like stepping back in time, dungeons and dragons,’ he said of entering through two gates at the back of the Huntsville Unit, more commonly known as the Walls Unit because of its 20-foot-high red brick walls.

Prison officials then hustle him into the cell area adjacent to the death chamber.

‘Going inside, it’s a little spooky. You can tell it’s been there a while,’ he said. ‘Everything’s polished, but still it’s real old. You look down the row. History just screams at you.

‘It’s almost like `Hotel California,” he said, referring to the song by The Eagles. ‘You can check out anytime, but you can’t leave.’

Both times he’s been there, most recently last September, he’s been treated ‘like a human being,’ Foster said. Officers look at him but don’t smile, he said.

At one point, he saw someone walk by with a bulging envelope that he assumed contained the lethal injection drugs.

At 4 p.m., during his first trip to the death house in January 2011, he was served a final meal. He’d asked for several items, including chicken.

‘It tasted so good,’ he said. ‘It actually had seasoning on it.’

Two hours later, at the start of a six-hour window when his execution could be carried out, he received the Supreme Court reprieve.

Since then, inmates no longer get to make a final meal request. Procedures were changed after a state lawmaker complained that condemned inmates were taking advantage of the opportunity and that murder victims never get that chance.

Foster was looking forward to nachos and chicken, the same food served to other inmates the day last year that he made his second trip to the death house, but he never received it. Instead, his attorney tearfully brought him news of another Supreme Court reprieve just before dinner time.

He asked for a doggie bag but was refused. He was put back in the van and returned to death row.

‘I’ve already told the chaplain: Take the phone off the hook before 4 o’clock,’ he said, anticipating his next trip Tuesday. ‘I want to get that last meal.’