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From America’s Busiest Death Chamber, a Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies


The following is from the June 29, 2013, edition of The New York Times. Rick Halperin, director of SMU's Embrey Human Rights Program, provided expertise for this story.

July 2, 2013


HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — Karl Eugene Chamberlain went to his neighbor’s apartment that night in Dallas under the pretense of borrowing sugar. He returned later, forced her into a bedroom, bound her hands and feet, raped her and then used a rifle to shoot and kill her. His victim, Felecia Prechtl, 29, was a single mother with a 5-year-old son.

Eleven years after he was convicted of capital murder, Mr. Chamberlain, 37, was strapped to a gurney in Texas’ execution chamber at the Walls Unit prison here and was asked by a warden if he had any last words. “Thank you for being here today to honor Felecia Prechtl, whom I didn’t even know,” he told her son, parents and brother on June 11, 2008. “I am so terribly sorry. I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am.”

His words did not die with him. Texas wrote them down, kept them and posted them on the Internet.

The state with the busiest death chamber in America publishes the final statements of the inmates it has executed on a prison agency Web site, a kind of public catalog of the rantings, apologies, prayers, claims of innocence and confessions of hundreds of men and women in the minutes before their deaths. . .

The condemned praised Allah and Jesus and Sant Ajaib Singh Ji, a Sikh master. Three cheered for their favorite sports teams, including Jesse Hernandez, whose execution last year made headlines after he shouted, “Go Cowboys!” They spoke in English, Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Gaelic, German (“Meine schöne prinzessin,” said Mr. Cantu, German for “my beautiful princess”). They quoted the Koran and the Bible, but also Todd Beamer’s phrase aboard United Airlines Flight 93. . .

“The death penalty is a process, not an act, and posting the final words of a condemned person after a process which has usually lasted a decade or more is simply a disservice,” said Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “How is one to assess the phrase of ‘Go Cowboys!’ from a man on a gurney?”

Read the full story.

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