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Texas: Gov. Abbott should grant death row inmate Rodney Reed a reprieve, before it’s too late

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Convicted murderer Rodney Reed is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 20, but Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to stop it.
As it stands, there’s no indication that Abbott will. He has only stopped one execution since becoming governor 5 years ago.
Reed was sentenced to death in 1998, after being convicted of the brutal 1996 rape and killing of a 19-year-old woman from central Texas, Stacey Stites. And though the governor has yet to weigh in on this specific case, he supports capital punishment, as do most voters in the state. According to a June 2018 poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, fully three-fourths of Texans strongly or somewhat support the death penalty.
But the question at hand has nothing to do with the death penalty, per se. Granting a reprieve would simply be the right thing to do — and a necessary precaution against the doubts that would linger, if Reed is executed as scheduled.
Reed has consistently maintained his innocence, and legitimate questions …

Florida executes William Van Poyck

William Van Poyck
STARKE, Fla. — A man who orchestrated a prison van ambush in 1987 in an attempt to free a prisoner was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday night at the Florida State Prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court, through Justice Thomas, denied a last-ditch stay request.

William Van Poyck, 58, was executed at 7:24 p.m. for the murder of prison guard Fred Griffis. "Set me free," were his final words.

Van Poyck's execution was originally scheduled at 6:00 p.m. It was delayed untill 7:00 p.m. to allow Florida Governor Scott to return to the capital following a funeral in Illinois.

"He's finally free from those prison walls," Lisa Van Poyck, the inmate's sister, said as she stood among the protesters standing across the street from the building where her brother was executed.

Van Poyck's case garnered international attention because he published three books and maintained a blog while on death row.

Van Poyck and Frank Valdes ambushed a prison van outside a West Palm Beach doctor's office in a failed attempt to free James O'Brien. Griffis was fatally shot after he threw the van's keys into the bushes to foil the escape. Van Poyck and Valdes were captured following a car chase.

In his appeals, Van Poyck argued Valdes fired the fatal shots and if the jury had known that, he wouldn't have been sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court last week rejected Van Poyck's latest appeal involving Valdes' widow, who says her husband told her he was the shooter.

The justices noted Van Poyck planned the escape attempt and he and Valdes carried loaded weapons. Courts have rejected similar arguments in the past, including one from a former inmate who also said Valdes confessed to killing Griffis.

Van Poyck, Valdes and James O'Brien had served time together at various Florida state prisons for violent crimes.

In 1999, Valdes was stomped to death in prison. Seven guards were charged with his death, but none were convicted.

Following Valdes' death, Van Poyck was moved to Sussex State Prison in Virginia for his safety. That's where he wrote a 324-page autobiography, "A Checkered Past: A Memoir," saying his purpose was not to elicit sympathy but "to put a human face on me and convicts in general."

Van Poyck went on to write two novels. He won awards for his writing and had been keeping a blog since 2005 - he wrote letters to his sister Lisa Van Poyck and she posted them online.

"He is deeply remorseful for the ending of Fred Griffis' life," Lisa Van Poyck told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "He is guilty of a crime of trying to break somebody out of a prison transport van - he had no intention of hurting anyone."

Florida's death chamber
"He's not the man that he was when this crime was committed," she said.

In his blog, Van Poyck wrote in recent entries that he has received dozens of letters a day regarding his pending execution.

"I am not unusual in wanting to believe, at the end of my line, that my life counted for something good, that I had some positive influence on someone, that my life made a difference, that I was able to at least partially atone for the many mistakes I made earlier in life," he wrote.

During interviews, the Griffis family said they were frustrated news stories constantly focused on Van Poyck, the crime and his writings and not their relative. They said  they didn't plan to attend the execution and would instead gather somewhere for quiet reflection about Fred Griffis' life.

"When he was murdered, it basically ripped a hole in the family's heart that's never really healed," said brother Ronald Griffis.

Van Poyck declined to eat a final meal. In addition to meeting with his sister and friends, he spent the day with his spiritual adviser, a Baptist minister.

Van Poyck becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Florida and the 77th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1979. Only Texas (499), Virginia (110), and Oklahoma (103) have executed more inmates since the US Supreme Court re-legalized the death penalty in America on July 2, 1976.

Van Poyck becomes the 14th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1334th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. 

Death Row Diary


William Van Poyck spent nearly 26 years on death row in solitary confinement. He wrote to his sister about his life in prison, and in recent years she published his letters to a blog called Death Row Diary.
In these letters, Poyck wrote about everything from the novels and history books he was reading and shows he watched on PBS to the state of the world and his own philosophy of life–punctuated by news of the deaths of those around him, from illness, suicide, and execution. He also commented on the bill recently passed by the Florida legislature that will accelerate the schedule of executions in Florida.

The excerpts selected here focus on the inhumane treatment he and other individuals on death row endure as they move ever closer to their own finalities. His last entry was written on May 28, when he had “15 days left to live.”

➤ Click here to read the full article and further excerpts from Van Poyck's diary.

February 25, 2012
Robert Waterhouse was scheduled for execution at 6:00pm this evening. In accordance with the established execution protocol he was strapped to the gurney and the needles were inserted into each arm about 45 minutes prior to his appointed time. Just before 6:00, however, he received a 45-minute stay which morphed into an almost 3-hour endurance test as he remained on the gurney as the seconds, minutes and then hours slid by at an excruciatingly slow pace, waiting for someone to tell him if hope was at hand, if he would live or die. Just before 9:00 he received his answer, the plungers were depressed, the syringes emptied and he was summarily killed. Here on the row we can discern the approximate time of death when we see the old white Cadillac hearse trundle in through the back sally port gate to pick up the body, the same familiar 1960′s era hearse I’ve watched for almost 40 years, coming in to retrieve the bodies of murdered prisoners, which used to happen on a regular basis back when I was in open population.  I’ve seen a lot of guys, both friends and foes, carted off in that old hearse. Anyway, pause for a moment to imagine being on that gurney for over three hours, the needles in your arms.  You’ve already come to terms with your imminent death, you are reconciled with the reality that this is it, this is how you will die, that there will be no reprieve.  Then, at the last moment, a cruel trick, you’re given that slim hope, which you instinctively grasp.  Some court, somewhere, has given you a temporary stay.  You stare at the ceiling while the clock on the wall ticks away.  You are totally alone, not a friendly soul in sight, surrounded by grim-faced men who are determined to kill you.  Your heart pounds, your body feels electrified and every second seems like an eternity as a Kaleidoscope of wild thoughts crash around frantically in your compressed mind. After 3 hours you are drained, exhausted, terrorized, and then the phone on the wall rings and you’re told it’s time to die…

May 22, 2013
I have 21 days left to live. The fickleness, the arbitrariness, the fleeting nature of life itself is on display daily throughout our world but as good an example as any occurred here on Monday morning when, as I was being dressed out here on Q-Wing for a visit, a sudden radio call brought the wing officers rushing upstairs where they found a prisoner (non-death row) hanging in his cell. After 20+ years in prison this guy (Earl) had finally given in to the utter hopelessness that can seize the heart and spirit of any man mired forever in an American maximum security prison. The irony wasn’t lost on me that while 3 of us on death watch are fighting to live, this poor soul, living just 10 feet above us, stripped of all hope, had voluntarily surrendered his life rather than continue his dismal existence. When nothing but a lifetime of suffering lays ahead – with no hope, no promise, no opportunity to change your fate – the idea of utter annihilation can come to look appealing in contrast. When everything has been taken from you, the one thing you have left, that nobody can take away, is the decision to live or die. In that context choosing death can look like freedom…
Today my neighbor, Elmer, went on Phase II of death watch, which begins 7 days prior to execution. They remove all your property from your cell while an officer sits in front of your cell 24/7 recording everything you do. Staff also performs a “dry run” or “mock execution”, basically duplicating the procedures that will occur 7 days later. This is when you know you’re making the final turn off the back stretch, you know your death is imminent, easily within reach, you can count it by hours instead of by days. Right now I’m on deck; when Elmer goes I’ll be up to bat (that’s enough sports metaphors for now)…

May 28, 2013
Tomorrow Elmer will be executed and I’ll be next up to bat, with 15 days to live. A situation like this tends to make you reflect on the elusive nature of time itself, which some folks – physicists and metaphysicists alike – claim is an illusion anyway. Real or not it sure seems to be going someplace quickly!…
This may be my last letter to reach you before you begin your journey down south to be by my side for my final days. These many visits I’ve recently received from those who love me have been a blessing for me. I’m acutely aware that some guys on death watch have absolutely nobody to help them bear their burden during their last days and hours on earth, not a soul willing to share some love. It’s a terrible thing to die all alone…
I read in a recent newspaper article that the brother and sister of Fred Griffis, the victim in my case, are angry that I’m still alive and eager for my execution. These are understandable human feelings. I have a brother and sister myself and I cannot honestly say how I would deal with it if something happened to you or Jeff at the hands of another. I have thought of Fred many times over the years and grieved over his senseless death. I feel bad for Fred’s siblings though if seeing another human being die will truly give them pleasure. I suspect when I’m gone, if they search their hearts, they will grasp the emptiness of the closure promised by the revenge of capital punishment. There’s a lot of wisdom in the old saying “An eye for an eye soon makes the whole world blind.”…
Sources: The Associated Press, CounterPunch, Rick Halperin, June 12, 2013

Related content:

Jun 12, 2013
In what is expected to be his last chance to avoid death by lethal injection, condemned prison guard killer William Van Poyck on Monday turned to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes it will stay his execution scheduled for 6 p.m. ...
Jun 09, 2013
Since his conviction, Van Poyck, with a reform school education, has authored three books, one of which won first-place honors in the memoir category in Writer's Digest 2004 Self-Published Book Awards. Locked up with what ...
May 19, 2013
Scott recently signed three death warrants in succession, for condemned murderers Elmer Leon Carroll, William Van Poyck and Marshall Lee Gore. All three have been on Death Row for longer than 20 years. Their executions ...

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