The Execution

Most news media accounts of executions follow certain conventions: details about the crime, information about any last minute efforts at a stay of execution, a description of the execution chamber and the drugs taking effect, a quote from the victim’s family members, and the last statement by the condemned. The impression we are left with is that we have heard from everyone and that the story is over.

We invite you to watch segments of videos by some TAVP narrators who have witnessed Texas executions. Tina Duroy, the sister of James Blake Colburn, and Lee Greenwood, the mother of Joseph Nichols, each describe an experience that lies at the limits of everyday language: the scheduled death of their loved one. Jim Willett, former warden of the Walls Unit, where Texas executions have occurred for nearly a century, describes the strangeness of state homicide.

In the audio podcast below, Dennis Longmire, professor at Sam Houston State University (where the Walls Unit is located), Burnett Clay, Helen Phillips, Joanna Vaughn, Jamaal Beazley, Tina Duroy, and Warden Willett all relate more experiences of the execution process. The podcast was produced by former TAVP staff member Maurice Chammah.

Tina Duroy

“I lost my family, not just my brother…It destroyed my whole family.”

Lee Greenwood

“He did not want anyone to witness, but I maintained that it was he and I in the delivery room, it was going to be he and I at the end.”

Jim Willet

“Having somebody who is quite as healthy as you are strapped down to that gurney and the thought hits me that, you know, in a few minutes you’re going to give a signal to an executioner who is going to end this guy’s life. I was going to do that. And the guy was perfectly healthy.”

Witnessing an Execution

“The chaplain . . . was holding what looked like a Bible in his left hand and his right hand was on Eric’s leg. . . . The warden watched the chaplain. The chaplain watched the warden. And at one time, I saw the chaplain’s finger start to tap the Bible. And I watched the warden watch his finger. I then watched and about eight, maybe ten, seconds later, the chaplain’s fingers started tapping the Bible again — very, very aggressively.” (Dennis Longmire)