The following was broadcast on CW33 on Jan. 24, 2012. Rick Halperin, human rights professor, provided expertise for this story.
January 26, 2012
By Dawn Tongish
DALLAS, TX— With clear emotion in his voice, Chief Lowell Cannaday talked about why he feels a strong sense of duty to attend the executions of the men who murdered one of his officers.
"I was responsible for him. He was one of mine."
"Cannaday was the police chief in Irving when Officer Aubrey Hawkins was gunned down during a robbery at a sporting goods store. Hawkins was ambushed by a gang of fugitives, dubbed the Texas 7. Cannaday received the call that Hawkins had been killed on Christmas Eve in 2000.
"It was one of the darkest hours that I have had."
Cannaday, who is now police chief in Watauga says he will attend the executions of Donald Newbury and George Rivas, who were convicted of killing Hawkins. Both men are slated to be executed in February. He agrees with the punishment because both men confessed to the brutal murder.
"I think it is important that people understand that we don't take lightly the assault and murder of a police officer."
Newbury and Rivas are just two of seven inmates scheduled to die in the first three months of the year in the Texas death chamber. Last year there were only 13 executions for all of 2011. Some officials expect a much busier execution chamber, this year.
"I think what you are seeing now is the backlog of cases of men and woman who have been on death row for 10-15 years," SMU Human Rights activist, Rick Halperin, said.
Halperin says while it may be busy now there will likely be a decline in the execution numbers soon. He points out that fewer prosecutors are opting to try expensive death-qualified capital cases, instead opting to seek the sentence of life in prison.
"Last year in Texas, we only had 8 new death sentences, so clearly in the years to come the number of people to be executed will decline."
In light of dozens of exonerations, juries too may be reluctant to sentence someone to death, unless the evidence is overwhelming.
But, for Chief Cannaday, there are no doubts. He feels a sense of justice, not revenge as he readies to open a painful chapter again.
"I will be there for these executions and the remaining three."