From America’s Busiest Death Chamber, a Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies

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Texas Department of Criminal Justice
The injection gurney, with an overhead microphone, in the execution chamber at the Walls Unit prison in Huntsville, Tex.

Not only are the executed noted down at the Walls Unit prison in Huntsville  Texas, but so are their last words. via The New York Times

HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — 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.

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

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

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

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

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  • echar

    I have mixed feelings about the death penalty.

    • Anarchy Pony

      Same. Although it’s primarily because I’d like to see oligarchs swinging from lamp posts.

    • Anarchy Pony

      Same. Although it’s primarily because I’d like to see oligarchs swinging from lamp posts.

    • Deteis

      It’s the last American industry.

      • Anarchy Pony

        They’ll figure out a way to outsource it somehow.

        • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

          i thought that’s what the military was

          • Anarchy Pony

            My mind went there, but I thought it was too obvious.

    • cakey pig

      I think it sucks. Two wrongs will never ever ever make a right. Also it has been amply demonstrated to have no deterrent effect whatsoever, and so does little except further brutalize society and its members.

      I always think of poor old Timothy Evans… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Evans

      • echar

        Indeed! Keeping the convicted killers alive is likely a worse punishment, yet a bigger financial drain on society. It costs to house them. It could be argued that some may be rehabilitated, I can’t say.

        Although, a scene from Dee Snider’s Strangeland comes to mind when locals decide to go vigilante. Turning the preadator and victim on it’s head in an odd reconciliation of opposites.

        This also brings to mind an article I read about rapists who were placed on house arrest. The ankle monitors used had a known flaw that allowed for them to be removed, giving them freedom to go about business as usual.

      • Lookinfor Buford

        “demonstrated to have no deterrent effect whatsoever”
        citation needed.

    • InfvoCuernos

      I’m with you there. Just the little tidbit of the crimes they give us here makes me glad those guys were put down, but the thought of trusting government to decide who should die is about the scariest thing I can think of. I have come to the conclusion that its better to ere on the side of caution and just imprison with no chance of parole, and that way at least the innocent can have a chance at exoneration( but you can still kill the guy that raped the 94 year old lady.).

      • echar

        Some people are just gone.

  • echar

    I have mixed feelings about the death penalty.

  • Juan

    The sytem is DEEPLY flawed for all kinds of reasons. ESPECIALLY in Texas. Innocent people get executed. That alone is reason enough to abolish it forever.

    • Deteis

      I recall reading about Gov. Perry bragging about how many people his state has executed.

    • echar

      That is an extremely great argument against. I think they have a faster process in Texas as well?

      • Juan

        I don’t have any insider knowledge about the prison industry in Texas. I just know that they are especially racist and execute more people than any another state. This includes the mentally handicapped.

        • Lookinfor Buford

          citation needed.