To forgive, divine

The room where the man was to be killed was painted a sedate light blue. That cool, relaxing robin’s-egg blue meant to calm people—just before they watched a horrific act performed by the state of Texas.

I was a media witness to a lethal-injection execution in Huntsville, Texas, because the state where I was working wanted to adopt the very techniques that Texas was using to quickly and cleanly execute convicted murderers. Protests against the death penalty had dwindled in the late 1980s, and states were jumping on the lethal-execution bandwagon.

I signed up for a witness lottery and drew a 19-year-old man from the Houston area who’d shot a jewelry-store owner during a robbery. I believe his last name was Williams.

He was shaking noticeably when he spoke his last words, a halfhearted apology to those he hurt. Then someone hit a button, the poison flowed, and it was over. It was like a state-sponsored death factory, leaving only the question of whether it was retribution or a deterrent to further murder. The Texas attorney general admitted to me that night that it hadn’t proved to be a deterrent.

So, I looked to the daughter of the murder victim who was waiting outside. Retribution? She said it was simply justice and that she had no feelings left for the murderer.

But apparently, other family members of victims around the country feel differently, and forgiveness of murderers can happen under these painful circumstances (see “Befriending killers”). Some say murderers can be forgiven because they often come from troubled homes with dysfunctional parents.

Indeed, the executed man’s final phone call had been to his mother, and it wasn’t long-distance. She was held in the women’s maximum-security prison just down the road.