Last Statement at Execution: What you don’t know

Glenn Boyd was executed last Thursday at Holman Prison in Alabama where he had been on death row for nearly 24 years.  The newspaper article announcing the execution said,

As the execution began, Holman Correctional Facility Warden Tony Patterson came into the execution room and read the execution warrant from the Alabama Supreme Court.

After that, Patterson asked Boyd if he wanted to make a statement. Boyd weakly answered “no.”

I was there as Glenn’s “spiritual advisor” (pastor), with him the last 4 days of his life.  Why, if he had come to terms with his guilt and the pain and suffering his terrible actions caused to victims and family members, would he say nothing?  Would not a truly repentant, changed person ask for forgiveness and apologize?

The newspaper was correct that Glenn declined to comment.  But what the journalist could not have known, and what readers of the article do not know, is why he declined to comment.

For the four days leading up to the execution, Glenn agonized over what to say.  First, he was afraid that no matter what he had decided to say, he would not be able to because it would set off a torrent of emotion in him.  He also told me that he was concerned that if he started getting emotional, the execution squad officers might too, and that would make it more difficult for everyone.  This was not an absurd thought as it may seem on the surface.  Many of those officers had known Glenn for years and years.  Many and seen him go from a rough punk to a Christian adult man.  They saw the man he had become, and they had respect for him.  At the end, he took them into consideration.

So, first he thought he might write a statement for the prison chaplain to read.  He first wrote a one page statement, then it grew to four pages, then he realized that it could be no longer than one page.  He kept re-writing it, wanting to express remorse, apologize, even sympathize with the family of the victims for their pain.

He gave me a copy to look over for suggestions.  I told him it might be best to strike any references to his co-defendant, which he agreed to remove.  He had the chaplain look it over; he concurred with that suggestion.

But he was still afraid that he would not be able to get through it.

Glenn was as “at peace” with his impending execution as a person can be, I believe.  Nevertheless, the  tension gradually rises as the process approaches the end.  Two nights before the execution he says goodbye to the others on his hall on death row, decides who should receive his things – his radio, small things.  Then they move him to “the death cell” where he spends his last two nights.

The death cell is under 24 hour observation.  It is the last bed he will sleep in.  His first night there he had to contend with fire ants in the bedding.  By the next night they had sprayed against them.  But the point is that gradually the end is approaching, tension is rising, no one could go through that crescendo without increasing anxiety.

So, in the end, he felt unable to make a statement.  Instead, he asked someone to mail his final written apology to the family.

The prison chaplain told me that it’s common for prisoners to forgo that final statement, most often for the same reason.

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One thought on “Last Statement at Execution: What you don’t know

  1. Thank you for this blog entry. I am not sure I can express why I found it so moving, but I will try.

    My husband is one of five children, and their father was murdered in 1995. My sweet husband, Gus, was only one of two siblings that didn’t want the death penalty for the three men involved in killing his dad…they were all 17, stoned out of their minds, and in so much internal peril at the time. They ended up receiving life sentences.

    Gus advocated for no death penalty with his family – and he has a sibling that has not spoken to him in all the time that has passed. An eye for en eye, I suppose – yet it accomplishes nothing more than ending the lives of more people and bringing suffering to more families.

    As Christians, Gus and I both are firmly rooted in the idea that we must abide by the laws of our nation, but that taking the life of another does not necessarily fall in that category. We prefer to leave final, permanent judgment to our Father in Heaven… it’s a tad above our pay grade, as it were.

    Thank you for providing this perspective of the end of another man’s life. It is a blessing to know that Mr. Boyd found his faith and developed a relationship with our most Holy and amazing Father.

    We look forward to meeting both you and Gary when this life is past.

    Peace and grace to you, and thank you for what you do.

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