The cruellest of punishments

Ann Ingram is readying her son for the electric chair.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Over the last two days I have eaten a pizza, half a muffin and a bag of peanuts. When your son is about to be electrocuted, you lose your appetite," says Ann Ingram. Over the next two days, she will take advantage of extended visiting rights on Death Row in the prison at Jackson, Georgia, to say goodbye to Nick, sentenced to death 12 years ago for the shooting in Cobb County, Georgia, of JC Sawyer. Today she will sit by his side from 9am to 3pm. Tomorrow she will be with him from 9am to 4pm. Then as children leave school, parents start to prepare evening meals and workers look at their watches to leave work, Ann Ingram will watch her son be led away to be prepared for his death. At 7pm as people tune in on radio and television to participate in the gore, the switch that operates the electric chair will be flicked. Minutes later her son will be dead.

Since her son was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder, she has turned from an ordinary housewife into a tireless campaigner to get his death sentence overturned. In the last few weeks her schedule of appointments - with TV and radio journalists, lawyers, politicians and ambassadors - has been unrelenting. On Monday she was at the British Embassy in Washington, making a last-ditch attempt to get John Major to intervene to save her son. The Prime Minister refused.

Her relationship with Nick has been far from settled, despite the close bond between them now. Nick is the second eldest son of Ann's marriage to Johnny Lee Ingram, an American maintenance man for the RAF in Cambridgeshire. Ann was a local girl from Cambridge. The couple was happy initially. Nick was born in 1963. They moved to the US in 1964 to live in Johnny Lee's home state of Georgia. They had four sons and a daughter.

But in 1974 the marriage turned sour and Ann left Johnny Lee to return to Britain to look after her ailing mother. She left the children in Georgia with their father. Soon after her return to the UK, she met another man, divorced Johnny Lee and married her new lover.

The separation had a profound effect upon her relationship with Nick. They hardly had any contact for about nine years.

``Yes, of course I feel guilty about leaving him as a child and going back to Britain, but I did it for the children's own good, you know. I left the four of them with my husband, Johnny Lee, because I would have had to get two jobs to look after them after Johnny and I had divorced. No mother wants to leave her children, you know what I mean. It was hard for Nick. I'm not defending him, but it was hard on him when we split up."

"Normal" is the word she uses to describe Nick as a child. Normal with a normal life. She makes him sound terribly boring. Not like someone who would grow up to murder. ``The only thing Nick ever had wrong with him in his life was a lazy eye,'' she says.

Yet their relationship was far from normal: she missed almost a decade of her son's youth. She has no answers to the questions about Nick between his 10th and his 19th birthday. Between 1974 and 1983 she had little contact with her son. Ann was living in rural Cambridgeshire with the man she had married when she returned to the UK. The rural calm was shattered one winter morning.

``But on 20 November 1983, a policeman knocked on my door in Cambridgeshire. He said my son Nicholas Lee had been arrested like, on very grave charges, and would I come down to the station to take a call from his lawyer? The next day I was on the plane. I was at Nicky's trial. None of us dreamt he'd get death. I looked at the jurors. Two of them broke down completely. I was devastated. He's my son, you know, my son, and I love him with every ounce of my being."

It goes quiet at the end of the phone line. Then I hear her clear her throat very hard several times. ``This isn't the first time I've thought they were about to put Nicky in the chair. It's happened twice before - in 1987 and 1989. Last time we got a stay of execution 11 hours before they were due to wire him up." She pauses. ``When we go to see him now we're allowed to hug and kiss him and talk to him as much as we want. He's very affectionate and kind. He had a friend there once, in prison, you know. A friend called Tom, but Tom was, you know, um, electrocuted a couple of years back and it hit Nicky very hard. He's very good there on Death Row, my Nicky. He's not allowed out much to exercise, but he's talented. He crochets and he draws. And he tells me he keeps his cell so tidy. He's very intelligent. He does lots of reading and he's learnt to appreciate little things, you know, things that you and me take for granted, like stopping to smell a rose.''

But are there any roses on Death Row? I ask her.

``No, I mean it was just an example, like. But you know he still wants to be alive. Even there.''

Ridiculous though it may sound, I detect a note of pride in Ann Ingram's voice when she talks about her son, despite his conviction for a horrific crime. The court found he had tied JC Sawyer and his wife to a tree, before shooting Mr Sawyer through the head and then attempting to shoot Mrs Sawyer. She survived to give evidence against Nick.

But Ann Ingram is his mother. She calls the killing "the accident". She is outspoken in his defence and convinced he is no murderer. She speaks him with warmth and fondness.

``It's hard to describe how he looks. Blonde, 5ft7. Nice looking. It's hard for a mother. There was those times since he has been in prison, you know, when like he didn't want to be that close to me. But I know now, it was to protect me. I never knew what to say in birthday cards and Christmas cards. But it's different now. We're so close. I think, since I've shown him how much I'm there for him, it's helped. The other day he looked at me and said, `Mother, if they execute me, don't ever say to yourself, why didn't I do this or that? I want you to carry on.'

"He doesn't ever, ever, ever complain. He worries about us. Me and the rest of the family. And his Granny. He's closest of his all to his Granny. He told her the other day, he'd seen the minister and he's been saved. He's given his life to the Lord. It's hard. I haven't slept much since they set Nick's date this time. I take sleeping tablets, but, well, they don't help much. I pace the floor most of the night."

Suddenly Ann Ingram is gone. David Marsh, a member of the British Bar Council, who called out Nick Ingram's lawyers to Georgia to review the case and assist in the appeal, comes on the phone. ``Sorry, she's had a long day. She got a little upset. It's outrageous this case. Far too rocky for a conviction, let alone the death sentence. Oh, hang on, Ann wants you back.''

She has composed herself.

``I'm not saying Nicky's as pure as the driven snow,'' she says, "but he's not guilty. He might not be innocent, like, but there's evidence. ... Mrs Sawyer said the killer had long hair and a hairy chest. Nicky doesn't. Keith Plumber, who dropped Nicky off at the scene, said he wasn't involved in the crime himself and he never saw Nicky after that. So how come Keith had blood stained flip-flops in his car? And during the trial I saw they gave Nicky drugs, so he couldn't speak proper. And when it happened, the accident, you know, Nicky kept on blacking out. He didn't know what was going on. I want you to put that in your story, so if he's saved, they'll set up an independent tribunal to look into his case."

Nick Ingram's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, and the British barrister David Marsh have both confirmed Ann Ingram's account of the trial and the evidence. But even assuming Nick Ingram is guilty of murder, his mother's agony as she prepares her son for his death and her family for their loss is as eloquent a testimony as any that capital punishment should be abolished.

Today Nick Ingram's lawyers will appeal to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a civil action, using the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution to claim that to electrocute Ingram is to carry out "cruel and unusual punishment".

Their claim that to inject 2,400 volts into Nick Ingram's veins and to heat his brain to 60C can be defined as cruelty is surely no exaggeration. If that fails, tomorrow they will make their plea for clemency. If this too is unsuccessful then the cruellest of punishments, the loss of a child, will be willingly inflicted on Ann Ingram.

``I'll see him a lot before he goes. The whole family will. We have private things to say to him, intimate things that I'd rather not discuss now. He's made out a schedule of who he wants to see for his last two days.

"I'll take dollars so I can buy him all his favourite sweets and snacks. And I might take my granddaughter. She's 12 and she loves her Uncle Nicky. I've explained to her he might be gone soon.

"I'll be with him till they take him, you know. I know what they're going to do to him. They'll shave his scalp and his arms and wrists and they'll stick tubes in him to see if he's a good conductor of electricity.''

Her voice breaks before I can find out if she knows about the leaflet they will hand her son before his electrocution. The leaflet will tell him that when he is strapped into the chair, his eyes will pop out, his ears will bleed and his tongue will swell until his body shudders one last time.

And his mother, waiting in a nearby room to have his death confirmed, will leave Death Row the mother of three children, instead of four.