"The Witness"
August 26, 2014 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Michelle Lyons has witnessed 278 executions in Texas, first in her role as a reporter, and then as part of her job in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Texas Monthly has a long, fascinating profile.
posted by Charity Garfein (24 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
And if the stats hold, one in every twenty of those was the murder of an innocent citizen.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:46 PM on August 26, 2014 [11 favorites]


I couldn't make it past the first few pages - how she made it ten years in the job I'll never know.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:11 PM on August 26, 2014


I would've bought that guy catfish, too, and then felt awkward standing next to his victim's mother.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:41 PM on August 26, 2014


This is one of those articles that leaves me with emotions that I can't quite parse. I just don't know how I feel about any of the people in the article.
posted by 26.2 at 6:14 PM on August 26, 2014


I've seen two, maybe three people die in front of me. I can't imagine seeing 278. I'll bet she feels fucking conflicted. If I witnessed that many executions and didn't feel conflicted, I'd fear for my humanity.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:19 PM on August 26, 2014


Welp, that's a shitty job!
posted by oceanjesse at 7:01 PM on August 26, 2014


Metafilter: vasectomy reversals and personal injury lawyers and Chick-fil-A.
posted by 4ster at 7:31 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, a very interesting article.
posted by 4ster at 7:32 PM on August 26, 2014


One of the really valuable things about this article is not that it speaks of how conflicted this is, but the undercurrent of regret that fuels the conflict.
The story about Napoleon Beazley will stay with me.
posted by msamye at 7:42 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


napoleon beazley shot a 63 y.o. man to death in the victim's garage, in order to steal his car. he also fired at the wife, who survived by playing dead as her dying husband's blood pooled around her. maybe if he had known that their son was a pro-death penalty federal appellate judge, he would have gone to a video game arcade instead? if he had been spared execution, who else would he have gone on to kill? do you think we missed out on a cure for cancer or the next great american novel on account of this execution? yeah, that case stayed with me too.
posted by bruce at 9:33 PM on August 26, 2014


The chill I feel reading this is no different than the chill I felt reading about James Foley's beheading. Civilized people don't do this.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:34 PM on August 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


Napoleon Beazley was 17. We accept that 17 year olds are, by legal definition, not mature enough to have adult responsibilities. I'm not arguing that he was guiltless or that he shouldn't have been put in prison, but it makes no sense for us to say that 17 year olds are adults exclusively when its time to punish them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:53 PM on August 26, 2014 [13 favorites]


It's not a job I could ever consider doing, that she stomached it for as long as she did is incredible. She was dealt a crappy deal after all those years of service. If be conflicted too and I'd have bought the catfish.
posted by arcticseal at 10:02 PM on August 26, 2014


“One of the hardest things for me to see was how often the victim’s family was let down by the experience, by how quick and easy it was,” Michelle said. “They didn’t walk away feeling like they had in any way been made whole.”
Just finished the rest of the article. So, it doesn't deter. It doesn't save money. It doesn't even satisfy the bloodlust of the victim's family. Why exactly do we continue to do this? Is it because there are rednecks at home who hear 30 seconds of a Headline News report about a horrible crime and decide "fuck 'em, let 'me fry" about a faceless criminal they have the smallest amount of information about and continue to vote for the candidate who promises to hang 'em high? That's the only thing I can figure. It's an "easy" solution for people who aren't affected by and know nothing of the details of capitol crime. I am no bleeding heart, and I certainly believe that different people have different inherent value to society and couldn't give a shit about the suffering of self absorbed criminals who will never rehabilitate but even given all that, capital punishment is a practice that makes no fucking sense.

God bless the reporters who cover executions dispassionately. This is being done in all of our names, paid for entirely with our money. We have not only the right, but the obligation to witness these executions.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:47 PM on August 26, 2014 [12 favorites]


Native Texan here.. it makes no sense to me either, Oddly enough I think our only hope is the infusion of the Hispanic demographic shifting northward and across district lines. Since the vast majority of people of my race (both affluent and rural) seem to be in some kind of lockstep agreement about voting straight-ticket Republican and and tacitly preserving the "good old boy system" along with 19th century justice, I think this is the only hope of moving into the 21st century in this state. The Rick Perry government and the eye-for-an-eye justice system are an embarrassment.
posted by crapmatic at 2:25 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


do you think we missed out on a cure for cancer or the next great american novel on account of this execution?

No. But luckily I think human life has inherent value, rather than being a resource which should be discarded if it can't be exploited.
posted by Ned G at 2:27 AM on August 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


...maybe if he had known that their son was a pro-death penalty federal appellate judge..

Paradoxically, that almost saved him.

The Supreme court appeal ended in a tie and it would definitely have not been a tie if the three judges who had known the victim's son personally had not recused themselves - these being the most conservative pro death penalty judges of course.
posted by vacapinta at 3:34 AM on August 27, 2014


if he had been spared execution, who else would he have gone on to kill? do you think we missed out on a cure for cancer or the next great american novel on account of this execution? yeah, that case stayed with me too.

Also, bruce, did you read the article? The woman who witnessed 278 executions and seven members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles disagree with you about this case.

Excerpt follows:

The son of Grapeland’s first black city councilman, Beazley was the president of his senior class and had no prior arrests. His death sentence was opposed by the Smith County judge who had presided over his trial, the district attorney in his native Houston County, and seven members of the notoriously unmerciful Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
...
By the time his own date came up, on May 28, 2002, Michelle had observed 69 executions with the same cool objectivity, but that day, she struggled not to lose hold of her emotions. “I felt very conflicted, because he was one of the few inmates who I think could have redeemed himself if he had been given the chance,” she told me.

posted by vacapinta at 4:08 AM on August 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've posted something similar here before, and I suppose I'll continue posting it in threads where this subject arises because it seems so clear and simple to me:

A belief that there can be acts for which the perpetrator deserves to die is not incompatible with the principle that a government shouldn't be in the business of killing its citizens for any reason.

Once the common arguments are exhausted -- and it is already conclusively demonstrated that the threat of execution doesn't have a deterrent effect, that execution is more expensive than life imprisonment and that the innocent or otherwise undeserving have been and continue to be executed -- it really just boils down to revenge: He did a bad thing and deserves to die for it. Well, okay, maybe he does. But that still doesn't make it okay for me to tie him down and slit his throat, because now what have I done and what does that make me? Am I now any better than he? What if his killing was in revenge of an act for which the victim deserved to die? Is my killing somehow morally superior to his because it was sanctioned by the state? I don't want my government to perform revenge killings on my brothers and sisters, because what does that make my government and, by extension, what does that make all of us?

I wonder what would happen with executions in this country if they could only be carried out by the aggrieved and in the form of, say, bludgeoning or close-range pistol shots. I'm sure there would be some who would be eager to line up and do it, but I bet that plenty more wouldn't be. More to the point, I wonder what society would think of those who had done it and, perhaps more importantly, what they would think of themselves. Because, really, isn't the executioner shunned, even though he is an agent of the state? Who wants to hang out with the guy whose job is to kill people? What must he be like? Moreover, what must a person be like who volunteers for the job?


Anywa, I thought the article was quite interesting, not least for the fact that her former supervisor seems to have turned firmly against the death penalty. It was also remarkable the extent to which both of them were able to psychologically insulate themselves against the reality of what they were participating until the sheer volume came to be too much. This was, of course, facilitated by the relatively depersonalized and "clean" aspects of execution by lethal injection. Somehow I bet it wouldn't have taken quite so long if they had been required to wear a poncho to each execution so their clothes wouldn't be ruined by the spray of blood, and their press conferences involved bringing in a head on a pike.
posted by slkinsey at 5:56 AM on August 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Honestly, the fact that she sat through 278 executions in two different jobs in two different fields makes me think she had to be into it. The "it's my job" argument has weight, but not if you change not only jobs but professions and yet still somehow end up doing the same thing.

The fact that she's still firmly in favor of the death penalty in general after this speaks volumes about her too.

Note that after so many executions, if she said, "Oh, it was nothing!" then she'd essentially be ostracized. She is basically forced to say that it was difficult or appear to be a psychopath.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:51 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


but not if you change not only jobs but professions and yet still somehow end up doing the same thing.

She was offered the second job because of the first. Nor were they unrelated professions; she started out as a reporter, covering prisons in general and executions in particular, and became a person who worked with reporters who covered prisons in general and executions in particular. They're both aspects of the same endeavor, really.
posted by Shmuel510 at 7:01 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of the hardest things for me to see was how often the victim’s family was let down by the experience, by how quick and easy it was,” Michelle said. “They didn’t walk away feeling like they had in any way been made whole.


A friend of mine, a former medical examiner and forensic pathologist, put it best when she said that death is not a punishment.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:35 AM on August 27, 2014


Death isn't a punishment. It's like the grand speech that bad guys give just before they pull the trigger and kill the victim: it is absolutely pointless. The person you've been talking to is dead, so the speech was wasted just like the person executed is dead and can't learn a lesson because they're dead. I suppose it could be said that they'll remember the lesson in the afterlife, but that is stupid as there's no proof of either an afterlife or that the little lesson/speech/whatever is carried with them.

Furthermore, like executing a torture victim, the incarceration before death is a pointless act for the person charged with the crime, and merely serves as a (seemingly pointless) warning to others and allows the person/society incarcerating the person to attempt to find justification in the act and/or to play out it's psychoses without serious judgement.
Holding the person in jail for a prolonged time before death on the hopes that the execution might be stayed is torture which I strongly doubt assists in the rehabilitation of the prisoner due to the psychological stress of imminent death and vilification by society, and again is probably an indicator of the mental state of the State/society.
posted by Zack_Replica at 10:37 AM on August 27, 2014


And if the stats hold, one in every twenty of those was the murder of an innocent citizen.

And that statistic goes much, much higher for innocent people who were murdered by a DIY executioner. When you allow corruption to flourish on the outside, don't be surprised that it spreads to our institutions...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:35 AM on August 29, 2014


« Older A new and terrifying state has been born.   |   The compelling history of vaccination Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments