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.”
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
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.
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
Death Row Inmates Writing On Death Row
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.’