Death Row Briton talks of hopes as execution approaches

Tracy Housel has seen 24 of his friends walk out of their cells, never to return. If his clemency plea fails, he will be next
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The Independent US

A British citizen due to be executed in America tomorrow evening has denied he is "inherently evil" and described how he tried to control his violent rages with whisky, cocaine and LSD.

Speaking to The Independent days before his expected death, Tracy Housel revealed that he still hoped to live to see his grandson, and thanked Britain for its support. "I don't think that there is any way to prepare [for execution]," said Housel, who is due to be executed by lethal injection in the southern state of Georgia. "I mean, I've been here for almost 17 years. If my maths is correct, 24 people have been executed while I've been on Death Row. Think about that – 24 of your friends, most of whom you have known for more than a decade, are one day led out of the block and you know that they are not coming back."

Housel, one of four British citizens on Death Row in America, was convicted in 1986 of embarking on a terrifying two-week crime spree during which police say he launched a near-fatal knife assault on a man in Iowa, raped and killed a man in Texas, sexually assaulted a woman in New Jersey and finally beat and strangled to death Jeanne Drew in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He was convicted of the two murders.

At his trial, Housel – represented by an inexperienced lawyer handling his first death- penalty case – pleaded guilty to capital murder, even though the only possible punishment was death or life without parole. Appeal lawyers have since argued that the court was not told of Housel's medical condition, a rare form of hypoglycaemia that led to violent and psychotic mood swings.

Likewise the jury did not hear of Housel's abused childhood, or that his confession was obtained after police held him in solitary confinement and denied him showers and exercise for more than three months. On at least one occasion he was "punished" with an electric stun gun, while standing in water to increase the pain.

"I [later] learnt that I wasn't a freak of nature or some inherently evil creature, but that I was medically sick, and that hypoglycaemia was running my life, my moods, my thoughts," Housel explained. "And depression wasn't recognised back then as a 'disability', but now it is, and not only I but so many others understand what it can do to a person."

This morning, Housel's lawyers will appeal for clemency before the Georgia board of pardons and paroles, asking it to commute his sentence to life imprisonment. Beth Wells, one of the attorneys, said: "Tracy's original lawyer [Walt Britt] is going to explain to the board how he handled the case and pleaded him guilty rather than going for a medical defence. He will explain that he did not know about his medical condition. He was three years out of law school. He says that had he known, he would have pleaded differently."

The case is made more complicated by the fact that three of the five parole board members – including the chairman, Walter Ray – are themselves at the centre of allegations. Two are being investigated for alleged abuse of their position and one is facing an allegation of sexual harassment from a former secretary. All three have said they have done nothing wrong.

Housel claims British citizenship because he was born in Bermuda, a British dependent territory, where his parents were working. He spent the first three years of his life there before his parents moved to America.

Britain has asked for Housel's life to be spared. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has telephoned Ray Barnes, the Governor of Georgia, and asked that the case be commuted, only to be told that Mr Barnes did not have jurisdiction. Housel is due to become the first British subject to be executed in America since Nick Ingram was put to death by the electric chair, also in Georgia, for a murder committed during a robbery when he was 18.

Georgia adopted the use of lethal injection rather than the electric chair only last summer. Its staff's inexperience with the equipment led to one botched execution when Jose High, who was executed in November last year after 25 years on Death Row, spent one hour and seven minutes strapped to the gurney while medical staff struggled to open his veins in allow them to insert the tube carrying the mixture of lethal chemicals.