Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, has praised the project and called it, “A dangerous book…” This is a nonpolitical work, simply asking, “If these are the most reviled, outcast members of society—why does it remain a cultural value to record what they say?”
This is the history of capital punishment in America, told from the gallows, the chair, and the gurney.
Each day, we are posting excerpts from the book, plus outtakes, by date of execution. See below:
This Week in 2012
“I love my family. Potato, potato, potato.”
– Robert Charles Towery, convicted of murder, lethal injection, Arizona. Executed March 8, 2012.
Towery and Randy Barker robbed the home of Mark Jones, a philanthropist known for providing scholarships to University of Arizona students. Towery strangled Jones and fled with Barker in his car. According to his attorney, “potato” was a reference to the sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine and was meant as a message to his nephew, a motorcycle enthusiast. While on death row, Towry also exchanged letters with bestselling author Jodi Picoult.
This Week in 2009
“The Polunsky dungeon should be compared with the Death Row Community as existing not living. Why do I say this, the Death Row is full of isolated hearts and suppressed minds. We are filled with love looking for affection and a way to understand. I am a Death Row resident of the Polunsky dungeon. Why does my heart ache. We want pleasure love and satisfaction. It. The walls of darkness crushed in on me. Life without meaning is life without purpose. But the solace within the Polunsky dungeon, the unforgivesness within society, the church Pastors and Christians. It is terrifying. Does anyone care or who I am. Can you feel me people. The Polunsky dungeon is what I call the pit of hopelessness. The terrfying thing is the US is the only place, country that is the only civilized country that is free that says it will stop murder and enable justice. I ask each of you to lift up your voices to demand an end to the Death Penalty. If we live, we live to the Lord. If we die we die to the Lord. Christ rose again, in Jesus name. Bye Aunt Helen, Luise, Joanna and to all the rest of yall. You may proceed Warden.”
– Johnny Johnson, convicted of sexual assault and murder, convicted of murder, lethal injection, Texas. Executed February 12, 2009.
After smoking the crack cocaine Johnson offered her in exchange for sex, Leah Joette Smith refused to have intercourse. Johnson became angry, banging Smith’s head against a concrete curb, and raped her. He also stomped on her head several times before leaving the scene, returning once to retrieve his wallet. Smith died from injuries. Johnson also confessed to raping 13 other women in the Houston and Austin areas.
This Week in 2009
“Is the mic on? My only statement is that no cases have ever tried have been error free. Those are my words. No cases are error free. You may proceed Warden.”
– Dale Devon Scheanette, convicted of rape and murder, lethal injection, Texas. Executed February 10, 2009.
Scheanette sexually assaulted, strangled, and drowned Christine Vu in the September of 1996. Two months later, the body of Wendie Prescott, who lived in the same apartment complex as Vu, was also found in similar condition. The murders remained unsolved for nearly four years until fingerprints and DNA samples were resubmitted to the FBI, leading the authorities to Scheanette, who had been serving a 12-month sentence for “criminal mischief.” Dubbed the “Bathtub Killer,” Scheanette was later connected to the sexual assaults of four other women in the area. While not tried for Vu’s death, Scheanette was convicted of Prescott’s murder.