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Last Words from Death Row

Clarkston Legal July 8, 2013

This post is straight from Texas, our most prolific death penalty state. Texas has executed over 800 death row inmates since the SCOTUS ruled in 1976 that the death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment after all.

A typical death house drill includes the condemned selecting and consuming one last meal and, just prior to execution, is provided an opportunity to make a statement. In Texas, these statements have been posted to this Texas Department of Corrections link, along with a brief summary of the inmate’s capital conviction.

Fascinating stuff, to be sure. Some of the most hardened inmates decline comment. Others make one last assertion of innocence. Invocations of Allah and Jesus abound; saying goodbye to family and loved ones, promising to wait for them on the other side; exhortations to the system that crushed them and to the brothers they left behind on the row

Charles Thomas O’Reilly, the recently retired warden of the Huntsville Unit, the prison that houses the death house, presided over 140 executions; the most in Texas history.

The death penalty is and has always been a divisive issue in America. 32 states have death penalty sentencing statutes to the 18 that have banned such punishment, including, most recently, New York, and New Jersey in 2007, and Illinois in 2009.

In the 1972 case of Furman v Georgia, the SCOTUS suspended capital punishment on the basis of the 8th Amendment bar against cruel and unusual punishment. Then four years later, SCOTUS reinstated capital punishment for murder convictions, provided a trial was bifurcated into two segments: a guilt phase, and a punishment phase where the trier of fact gives separate and specific consideration to the punishment and the convicted defendant has the opportunity to present evidence on mitigation.

Last week, Kimberly McCarthy was executed in Texas. She was the 500th person in Texas to be executed since it resumed executions in 1982, and the 13th woman to be executed in the United States since the 1976 resumption of the death penalty.

Back in 1998, Karla Faye Tucker was another infamous female death row inmate. She was the subject of the book Crossed Over.

Truly, do not mess with Texas. Texans are willing to walk the fine line between the fair and the harsh.