The last testimony: The final words of Texas death row prisoners

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In the state of Texas, condemned prisoners can deliver a final statement. Clare Dwyer Hogg reads between the lines

Since 1982, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has executed 475 death-row prisoners by lethal injection.

Before they died, each prisoner had the chance to eat a final meal of their choosing (a right which last month was deemed not inalienable, and removed), and to speak their last words in the form of a recorded statement. A final testimony may be a tradition inherited from Britain, but freedom of speech is a concept as hardwired into the American constitution as the right to bear arms. Approximately seven minutes after delivering their statement, the speaker is dead, so these words are their arsenal: a last opportunity for the convict to give the world their view on the crime, often horrific, and usually committed many years before.

Most of the statements, says Robert K Elder, author of Last Words of the Executed, conform in some way with the 'five stages of grief' theory: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And whether there is remorse for the victims or not, there will be grief for the actions that have brought them to their own point of death. "I would like to tell my Uncle Kyle that I am sorry," the 29-year-old convict Carlton Turner said in 2008. "I have been sorry for the last 10 years for what I did. I wish you could accept my apology... I know you can't give your forgiveness..."

Few statements are long, but all are glimpses of much bigger stories. Some are apologies, flat acknowledgements of actions regretted, deeds unchangeable, the powerlessness to gather back a darkness unleashed. Many show a fractured character: a murderer, yet a caring husband; a killer, but a father who loves his children. "I wish I could... change it, but I know I can't," John Alba says in May 2010. He had murdered his wife nine years before, shooting her repeatedly with a pistol. He thanks his children for their support, praises them for turning into good adults, sends his grandchildren a kiss from their "Papa".

And, of course, many find faith on death row. This new belief is often spoken of, too, as fervent as a childlike prayer for sleep at bedtime, as the clock ticks towards the end of life in this realm.

Name: Steven Woods

Executed: 13 September 2011

Age at the time of offence: 21

Age when executed: 31

Offence: Woods and a co-defendant killed a 21-year-old white male and a 19-year-old white female victim with shots to the head and by cutting their throats.

"You're not about to witness an execution, you are about to witness a murder. I am strapped down for something Marcus Rhodes did. I never killed anybody, ever. I love you, Mom. I love you, Tali. This is wrong. This whole thing is wrong. I can't believe you are going to let Marcus Rhodes walk around free. Justice has let me down. Somebody completely screwed this up. I love you too, Mom. Well Warden, if you are going to murder someone, go ahead and do it. Pull the trigger. It's coming. I can feel it coming. Goodbye."

Name: Humberto Leal Jr

Executed: 7 July 2011

Age when executed: 38

Age at the time of offence: 21

Offence: Rape and murder of a 16-year-old

"I am sorry for everything that I have done. I've hurt a lot of people... Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I know He has forgiven me, I have accepted His forgiveness. I have accepted everything. Let this be final and be done. I take the full blame for this. I am sorry and forgive me. I am truly sorry. I ask for forgiveness. Life goes on and it surely does. I am sorry for the victim's family for what I had did. May they forgive me. I don't know if you believe me, life goes on... Life goes on, it surely does. I ask for forgiveness. I am truly sorry. That is all. Let's get this show on the road. One more thing, Viva Mexico, Viva Mexico."

Name: Michael Perry

Executed: 1 July 2010

Age at the time of offence: 19

Age when executed: 28

Offence: Perry and a co-defendant fatally shot a 50-year-old white female, a 17-year-old white male and and 18-year-old white male.

"... I want to start off by saying to everyone know that's involved in this atrocity that they are all forgiven by me. Mom, I love you... (crying) I am ready to go Warden. Coming home dad, coming home dad."

Name: Cary D Kerr

Executed: 3 May 2011

Age at the time of offence: 36

Age when executed: 46

Offence: Kerr sexually assaulted a 34-year-old white female, strangled her, then pushed her out of a moving vehicle, resulting in her death.

"... Tell my sister Tracey, I love you. Nicole, thank you and I love you. Wanda and all of my friends, I love you and thank you for your support. To the State of Texas, I am an innocent man. Never trust a court-appointed attorney. I am ready Warden. Thank you, Brad, I'm sorry. Check that DNA, check Scott. Here we go. Lord Jesus, Jesus."

Name: Karla Faye Tucker

Executed: 3 February 1998

Age at the time of offence: 23

Age when executed: 38

Offence: with an accomplice, slayed two people with a pickaxe. The bodies of both victims had more than 20 puncture or stab wounds

"Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you – the Thornton family and Jerry Dean's family that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this. Baby, I love you. Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you."

Name: Reginald Blanton

Executed: 27 October 2009

Age at the time of offence: 18

Age when executed: 28

Offence: Blanton and one co-defendant shot and killed a 20-year-old Hispanic male in his apartment. Blanton took jewellery from the victim which was later pawned for $79.

"I know ya'lls pain, believe me I shed plenty of tears behind Carlos. Carlos was my friend. I didn't murder him... what is happening right now is an injustice. This doesn't solve anything. This will not bring back Carlos. Ya'll fought real hard here to prove my innocence. This is only the beginning. I love each and everyone dearly... They are fixing to pump my veins with a lethal drug the American Veterinary Association won't even allow to be used on dogs. I say I am worse off than a dog. They want to kill me for this; I am not the man that did this. Fight on. I will see ya'll again..."

Name: Terry Lee Hankins

Executed: 2 June 2009

Age at the time of offence: 26

Age when executed: 34

Offence: Hankins shot his 34-year-old wife in the head while she was sleeping, resulting in her death. The next day, Hankins shot and killed his 10- and 12-year-old stepchildren in the same manner. After his arrest, Hankins told authorities where to find the bodies of his 55-year-old father and his 20-year-old sister, whom he murdered in 2000.

"Yes, I am sorry for what I've done and for all of the pain and suffering that my actions have caused. Jesus is Lord. All glory to God."

Name: Dale Devon Scheanette

Executed: 10 February 2009

Age at the time of offence: 23

Age when executed: 35

Offence: Scheanette sexually assaulted and strangled a 22-year-old black female.

"Is the mic on? My only statement is that no cases ever tried have been error free. Those are my words. No cases are error free. You may proceed Warden."

Name: David Martinez

Executed: 4 February 2009

Age at the time of offence: 22

Age when executed: 36

Offence: killed girlfriend and her 14-year-old son with a baseball bat, let her 10-year-old daughter run away. No motive offered.

"... Nothing I can say can change the past. I am asking for forgiveness. Saying sorry is not going to change anything. I hope one day you can find peace. I am sorry for all of the pain that I have caused you for all those years... I can't change the past. I hope you find peace and know that I love you. I am sorry. I am sorry and I can't change it."

Name: Virgil Euristi Martinez

Executed: 28 January 2009

Age when executed: 41

Age at the time of offence: 28

Offence: Martinez fatally shot a 27-year-old Hispanic female, her two young children, and an 18-year-old Hispanic male.

"... First, Veronica's sister. I know what you've been told and that's all a lie. John Gomez killed your kids and sister. I know ya'll love John Gomez but he was a violent man. I wish I would have shot him in the leg, then he would be here. Those investigators were just trying to convict somebody."

Name: Gregory Wright

Executed: 30 October 2008

Age at the time of offence: 31

Age when executed: 42

Offence: Wright broke into the home of a white female and stabbed her with a knife, causing her death. Wright took many items from the home and left the scene in the victim's vehicle.

"... John Adams lied...He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison... John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street... Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there were anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adam. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal... I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the TV was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that's what killed her. I told John Adams, 'Turn yourself in or hit the high road'. I owed him a favour because he pulled someone off my back... Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my family. I'll be waiting on ya'll..."

Name: Michael Rodriguez

Executed: 14 August 2008

Age at the time of offence: 40

Age when executed: 40

Offence: While on escape from TDCJ [prison], Rodriguez and six co-defendants robbed a sporting-goods store at gunpoint; a police officer was murdered as the co-defendants left the scene.

"... I know this no way makes up for all the pain and suffering I gave you. I am so so sorry. My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and sorrow I have caused... I am not strong enough to ask for forgiveness... I realise what I've done to you and the pain I've given. Please Lord forgive me. I have done some horrible things. I ask the Lord to please forgive me. I have gained nothing, but just brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people. I am sorry. So so sorry... Father God I ask you too for forgiveness. I ask you for forgiveness Lord. I am ready to go Lord..."

Name: Carlton Akee Turner

Executed: 10 July 2008

Age at the time of offence: 19

Age when executed: 29

Offence: Turner fatally shot his adoptive parents whose bodies were discovered in their garage.

"First of all I would like to tell my Uncle Kyle that I am sorry. I have been sorry for the last 10 years for what I did. I wish you could accept my apology. I know you can't accept my apology, I know you can't give your forgiveness; it's OK and I understand... I have done what I could to heal the rest of the family... I know I was wrong; I accept responsibility as a man. I take this penalty as a man. This doesn't solve anything, 'cause it hurts others that love me. I am sorry. I love you Kjersti. I love you too Roland. I love you too Uncle Kyle; I am still your nephew, no matter what you believe."

Name: Mark Stroman

Executed: 20 July 2011

Age at the time of offence: 31

Age when executed: 42

Offence: Stroman murdered a 49-year-old Middle Eastern male convenience store employee during an attempted robbery.

"Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace. May the Lord Jesus Christ be with me. I am at peace. Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain. Even though I lay here I am still at peace. I am still a proud American, Texas loud, Texas proud. God bless America, God bless everyone... it's been a great honour. I feel it; I am going to sleep now. Goodnight, 1, 2 there it goes."

Name: Milton Wuzael Mathis

Executed: 21 June 2011

Age at the time of offence: 19

Age when executed: 32

Offence: Mathis shot three victims in the head with a .45 caliber pistol at a known drug house in Fort Bend County, Texas. One of the victims, a 15-year-old Hispanic female, survived the shooting, paralysed from the chest down.

"...To all my supporters, family and friends; I love y'all and appreciate y'all. To the ones representing me today, thank you for everything. The system has failed me. This is a miscarriage of justice. There are people on death row that need help. I love my family. I love you too, Mom... I asked the Lord to have mercy on me and I hope He has mercy on these people carrying out this mass slaughter. They have no respect for humanity. To Melanie, I never meant to hurt you. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am not asking for your forgiveness... I hope you get better and for the doctors to continue to take care of you. Take care of my mother for me..."

Name: Lee Taylor

Executed: 16 June 2011

Age at the time of offence: 20

Age when executed: 32

Offence: in a prison dayroom, Taylor, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, fatally stabbed ablack male offender multiple times with an 8" home-made weapon.

"... Jennifer, I love you. Mom, I love you. Rick, take care of you. For all of you people, I defended myself when I killed your family member. Prison is a bad place. There was eight against me. I didn't set out to kill him. I am sorry that I killed him, but he would not have been in prison if he was a saint... I hope people understand the grave injustice by the state. There are 300 people on death row, and everyone is not a monster. Texas is carrying out a very inhumane injustice. It's not right to kill anybody just because I killed your people. Everyone changes, right? Life is about experience and people change... I hope you don't find satisfaction in this, watching a human being die."

Name: Michael Wayne Hall

Executed: 15 February 2011

Age at the time of offence: 18

Age when executed: 31

Offence: Hall and one co-defendant abducted a 19-year-old white female from a public street and drove her to a remote location where they shot her several times. They were caught at the border attempting to leave the state.

"First of all I would like to give my sincere apology to Amy's family. We caused a lot of heartache, grief, pain and suffering, and I am sorry. I know it won't bring her back. I would like to sing, I would like to sing for that person's dead... As for my family, I am sorry I let you down. I caused a lot of heartache, and I ask for your forgiveness. I am not crying for myself, I am crying for... those that don't know God and have never been set free. I've been locked up 13 years. I am not locked up inside... Here I am a big strong youngster, crying like a baby. I am man enough to show my emotions and I am sorry. I am sorry for everything. I wish I could take it back, but I can't."

Name: Larry Wooten

Executed: 21 October 2010

Age at the time of offence: 37

Age when executed: 51

Offence: Wooten murdered an 80-year-old black male and his 86-year-old wife. Wooten stabbed the victims and cut their throats. Wooten then robbed the couple of $500-600 in cash.

"No sir. Warden, Since I don't have nothing to say, you can go ahead and send me to my Heavenly Father."

Name: John Alba

Executed: 25 May 2010

Age at the time of offence: 36

Age when executed: 54

Offence: killed his wife, Wendy Alba, when she was aged 28

"... First I want to tell the victim's family, Wendy's family, I am sorry for taking something so precious to you and to my kids. I wish I could take it all back and change it, but I know I can't... Sabrina, you are a wonderful daughter, I am proud of you. Jr., John, you turned out to be a great young man. Hector, you too. Amy, thank you for always being there... To my family, I appreciate you always standing by me and everything ya'll have done. Tell, everyone I love them. I'll be OK. You will too. Remember what asked you. Give my love to the grandchildren. Tell Jake and Mia, Papa Alba loves them... OK Warden, let's do it, I love y'all. I can taste it already. I am starting to go."

Name: James Edward Martinez

Executed: 10 March 2009

Age at the time of offence: 26

Age when executed: 34

Offence: Martinez fired 20 shots into the victims' vehicle, resulting in the death of a 20-year-old white male and 29-year-old white female.

"Yes sir, I want to tell my Mom that I love her and thank her for everything that she has done for me. Tell my sister that I love her too thank her for everything that she has done for me. I hope you can move on after this. I'll be fine. I'll be OK. I love you too. I love you too. Take care OK. That's all I have to say Warden. Thank you sir."

All final statements taken from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, www.tdcj.state.tx.us

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