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

Monday, June 29, 2015

A moment that changed me – seeing a man executed: Clive Stafford Smith

13 November, 1996. A Wednesday, not a Friday, but still not so lucky for Larry Lonchar. He was electrocuted just after midnight. I got to watch. The very next day they were going to kill Ellis Wayne Felker. We got his case stopped, but only for 24 hours. Then they killed him too. 

Meanwhile the Feds re-arrested Clarence Smith. I’d spent years getting him exonerated and off death row in Louisiana, but the federal government had the power to charge him with the same things all over again, acquittal notwithstanding. All in all, not a great three days.

Larry’s bipolar rollercoaster had taken in several crests and troughs. When he was depressed, he would periodically drop his appeals and ask to die. Each time the good state of Georgia would cut off his antidepressants, keen that he should follow through. We had come within 40 minutes of his execution four times – once within 58 seconds – before we got a stay. Each time he had been terrified, as the electric chair loomed closer.

This was the fifth time. In the last year, Larry had become a Christian.

We had come within 40 minutes of his execution four times – once within 58 seconds – before we got a stay

“What they say’s gotta be true,” he said. For once, Larry did not look at the ceiling; he looked me in the eye. “I know snitches. Twelve of them, the Apostles, and 11 got executed for him.” “Eleven?” I asked. “John,” Larry explained. “He died of old age. Eighty-something. All they had to do to save themselves was renounce him. Even if they believed, most people would’ve said that to save their lives. I know snitches. You’ve gotta believe it if 11 of them went down.”

I sat there, watching him as he repeated himself, and swallowed any response. I remembered how Leo Edwards had accepted several tablets of Valium before they gassed him in Mississippi, 10 years before. Maybe religion is the opiate of the masses, but if any of us was about to be tortured to death, we might all swallow the first pill on offer. “It’s got no fear for me now, Clive,” he said. “You think about dying on the cross. Days of suffering, dying from thirst. At least it’ll be over in a few minutes. I can deal with it.” I almost believed him.

Source: The Guardian, Clive Stafford Smith, June 25, 2015

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