"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, January 22, 2016

Texas: New info cast light on execution of 17-year-old murderer Joseph John Cannon

Texas Death House, 'The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, TX
Texas Death House, 'The Walls' Unit. The holding cells, where the doomed
inmates spend their last hours, are on the left. The death chamber is
located at the far end of the corridor.  Huntsville Unit, Huntsville, TX.
New information in the case of Joseph John Cannon, being revealed for the 1st time today, casts a fresh look at the murder trial that reached the Supreme Court, prompted reaction from the Pope, and caused a nation to debate executing someone who committed at crime at age 17.

If Cannon was alive today, he would have turned 56 on January 13, 2016. But on April 22, 1998 the 38 year-old ate his last meal. Cannon ordered "fried chicken, barbecue ribs, baked potato, green salad with Italian dressing, chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream or both, a thick chocolate shake or malt and iced tea."

The meal was delivered in the afternoon, not long after he entered a holding room located about 30 feet from where he was set to die. While eating, little did Cannon know that 160 miles away, at the State Capitol, Texas Governor George W. Bush had received pleas from Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, and members from the Parliament in Italy, to stop the execution. 

About 3 p.m. Warden Jim Willett reviewed the file of Cannon, known as inmate 634. Willett said he prayed for Cannon and asked "God to make this a smooth and trouble-free day for him." By 4 p.m. Willett entered the holding cell to find that Cannon had completed his meal. He verified that Cannon would make a last statement as this would help the warden cue the execution's commencement. Chaplain Jim Brazel stayed with Cannon while Willett went back to the office.

Wayne Scott, the director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, along with a few regional and deputy directors waited with Willett until about 5:45 when they received a phone call from Gov. Bush's office confirming they could proceed. Shortly afterwards, the State's attorney general's office called to ratify the execution. Willett walked down to hall to the cell holding Cannon and the chaplain.

"Inmate Cannon," Willett announced, "it's time for you to go into the next room with me."

Joseph John Cannon
Joseph John Cannon
Cannon stood up and followed Willett without saying a word. When Cannon reached the doorway to the 9-by-12-foot death chamber, he paused. No one knows what was going through Cannon's mind at the moment, but what he saw was a tie down team of corrections officers waiting for him in the light green room with white floors and brown coving. He immediately walked to the gurney and laid down. The team began strapping Cannon in place with 5 yellowish-tan straps buckled across him. Looking up, he could see a 2-by-6 foot rectangle fixture crossing over him, casting light. As the straps began to tighten, he observed to the left of the light. Coming out of the ceiling, was a dark escutcheoned conduit bent to the right and downward so a microphone could record his last words.

Looking downward to his left, Cannon saw the executioner's room through a window. He closed his eyes and gazed to his right. There were 2 curtained windows, both with light green colored jail bars. Each window represented 2 separate rooms, 1 for his family, and 1 for the victim's family to watch him being executed.

Knowing Cannon was securely strapped, Warden Willett stood at the head of the inmate, while the chaplain stood at his feet. 2 members of the medical team entered the room, while the third member, the executioner, stayed in the room to Cannon's left. Typically, the medical team takes about 5 to 10 minutes to insert and secure 2 IVs into an inmate, with 1 serving as a backup. Willet and the chaplain could tell the medical techs were having difficulty as the female tech prodded and poked Cannon's arm.

Later, Willett would admit it was the longest IV preparation he'd ever witnessed. It took over 20 minutes before the technician peered up and asked, "Warden, I think we've got a good one in this arm. Can we go with just the 1?" Willett nodded affirmatively and the technician left the room. Cannon gazed at the IV in his arm and looked right to see people entering the 1st witness viewing room. Through the window, Cannon saw his mother. He looked at her with no expression. When someone nudged her she moved in closer to the plate glass window.

Cannon then looked over to the next window as members of his victim’s family entered their viewing room. It was the first time some of them had seen Joseph John Cannon since the day he brutally murdered their mother.

The five sons of Anne C. Walsh noticed the man strapped to the gurney appeared far different from the way he looked in 1977. After spending decades in prison, Cannon was now haggard and weighed far more than when he was 17, the age he decided to leave his home in Houston to hitchhike to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Source: The Examiner, Jack Dennis, January 20, 2016. Mr. Dennis was the private investigator in the first trial of Joseph John Cannon in 1980.

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