1,000 Ghosts: Voices from Death Row Still Echo

Early this morning North Carolina executed Kenneth Lee Boyd, making him the 1,000th person to die since capital punishment resumed in 1977 after a brief moratorium. In a couple weeks, California Death Row inmate Tookie Williams is slated to become number 1,001.

I wrote a book about the death penalty years ago, and while the topic once consumed me, I rarely give it a second thought anymore. But once in a while something happens, like the Boyd execution, which takes me back to those days and nights traveling the country interviewing Death Row inmates and listening to murder victims’ families, wardens, lawyers and others talk about capital punishment.

There’s nothing more I can to say about the issue. Instead, I thought I’d let some of the ghosts I once knew speak for themselves:

Richard Houston, Tennessee Death Row: “When they gave the death penalty to me, I didn’t know how to react. But because of ego, I told myself I wasn’t going to let my family see me cry. I was trying to put up a front and go out like a man.

“Every time you look around you know this is it, Death Row. You try not to focus on the bad, but I’ve been here a good while so I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny and all that kind of stuff. Death is a serious possibility.”

A.J. Bannister, Missouri Death Row: “I wrote a poem for a contest once. I thought about the things I’m missing: the sound of kids laughing, Thanksgiving dinners. I never paid attention to it before. I wish I could see more kids laughing, perhaps a paternal instinct not realized; the smell of a home-cooked meal; birds chirping – little things. Just listening to it, being able to appreciate it…realistically though, I’m never gonna get out of here.

“Most people here never thought about execution. We had spent years and years, killing time, fooling around down here, when in reality we were like lambs being led to slaughter.”

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