The Execution of my Friend

The Execution of my Friend
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by
Erika Trueman
Ignacio Ortiz – executed on October 27th, 1999. An estimated 100 innocent people have been put to death in Texas in recent years/
Do not be fooled into believing that lethal injection is humane. It is nothing of the sort. Today is Wednesday, 10 November 1999. As I write this I look at the clock. It is 2.04 pm, and I think back to the exact time 2 weeks ago when I sat in the waiting room of Arizona State Prison, and thought of my friend who had just 56 minutes left to live. For 8 years we had been penfriends and during that time we have laughed together, cried together, shared thoughts, views, memories, dreams of the future, and generally did what friends do – we talked and we listened to each other. 2 weeks ago at this time I sat with his mother, who was desperately trying to do anything but think of her son being prepared to be killed. I learned a few words of Spanish that afternoon of her…
In May this year Ignacio Ortiz’ death sentence was reaffirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court subsequently denied to look at his case again.
For 20 years and 10 months Ignacio and his various attorneys have tried to get his sentence overturned, and now it looked as though their patience had run out. Arizona was determined to execute 10 prisoners this year, saying that more prisoners are coming onto death row than are executed.
It is time to do something about it to redress the balance! I phoned the attorney in May and asked him what hope there was, his answer was short: None. But as he had protested the resentencing and the Supreme Court was now on Summer vacation, Ignacio would have at least until September before a warrant would be signed. 4 months of waiting to come, 12 weeks of respite, hope and fear and hope again, recurring in nightmares and tears. We both acknowledged the reality of what might happen, yet neither of us talked much about it in letters. Ignacio’s letters were still full of hope and I had not the heart to repeat what his attorney had told me. As it got to August the need to delay the inevitable became more urgent. I was going to get married on 9 September, and it was a date my fiance and I had planned for some years now as it was my 50th birthday also. Ignacio looked forward to the date almost as much as I did.
The wedding day came and went and still there was no news of the Supreme Court. I checked the internet every day, looked at the web page of Arizona Department of Corrections, checked my e-mail, no news. Ivor and I decided not to go on honeymoon so that we can be home to check on a daily basis for news. I did not want to be away when Ignacio’s warrant was signed.
We went on day trips instead. Just two days after our honeymoon ended, came the news: The Supreme Court have returned the protest of his attorney without comment and an execution date for 27 October was set. I read the words, but it didn’t seem to register. If you live with the possibility or even certainty of an event for long it is easy to just accept it when it happens. I something think the waiting was even harder than the knowledge of the warrant being finally signed. As I read it I felt numb at first, aware of the pain Ignacio might be going through now, followed by an outcry of ‘Why’, and the inner silence that follows the empty feeling of inevitability. To kill is wrong.
Period. To kill to show that killing is wrong, however, makes no logical sense. It is nothing but society’s attempt to ignore their failings in helping those who commit crimes. I read the warrant and immediately phoned the Arizona Department of Correction. After being put through several departments spoke with a female officer in the visitation centre. ‘Can I visit my friend before the execution?’ and she said, ‘Yes’. But this time Ignacio had to apply for a special permit visit, I could not arrange it from here. If he applied for this special visit my visit with him would be guaranteed. I was relieved. I remember the days I visited him in 1993; I remember the soft voice, the tranquillity and serenity that seemed to surround him. He had found his faith on death row and it gave him strength to cope with his life. More so, it lifted him out from his surroundings and gave him a freedom he did not have even outside prison. He had read the Bible, and put his trust in every word, never questioning, never moving away from this trust and his belief. Others can question why a loving God allows people to suffer and children to die of hunger and preventable disease, others can ask why.
‘If He has the power, why does He not prevent the cruelty, the hunger, the dying children and the innocence lost to the brutality of life?’ Ignacio never questioned this, for him the answers were simple.
‘God’s Will be done’. I cannot share that faith. I question ‘Why’ too often. I booked my flight and decided to allow 2 weeks for my letter to reach Ignacio with my flight dates and for him to arrange the visit. It was 5 October, and I would fly out on 20 October, just one week before the execution; and I would stay for 8 days, and fly home the day after everything was over, one way or another. I wrote my letter to him, e-mailed his attorney to confirm my arrival date, and I planned, feared, and hoped against all hope.
Then I realised that I had not mentioned to Ignacio in my letter that I have not yet changed my passport to my new married name – he must not ask for the visit permit for Erika Trueman, but under my old name, Erika Reinhold. I hastily wrote more letters, e-mailed his attorney and just hoped that the message got through. I feared to stand in front of the gates and not being permitted entry because the names did not coincide. A week before my flight I finally received an e-mail from Ignacio’s attorney in which he told me that I would not be allowed to visit Ignacio as the dates I had booked the flight for were too close to the execution. After checking with the prison this was confirmed.
I spend the next few days on the telephone, speaking (or trying to) for hours with various officials in Arizona. But the decision was final. I was not going to see my friend, though two days before my flight was due I was told that Ignacio had requested me to witness his execution. So I flew out. I travelled overnight to Gatwick airport for my flight at noon the following day. It took me a total of 32 hours to get to Phoenix. I arrived exhausted, hot and anxious.
Reverend Rye and his wife Gloria, friends of Ignacio, picked me up from the airport. We went to their house where they gave me two letters of Ignacio addressed to me, in which he said, that the managed to arrange a visit the following morning. All my tiredness flew away, and I was exited and relieved. But then I thought of the prison rules: no visitors during the 2 weeks before execution date, except the immediate family, attorney and spiritual advisor. Well, I knew that his attorney had not planned to see him for the last 3 weeks of his life, he had only his mother to visit him and so people were not exactly queuing up to visit. Maybe the warden took this into account and showed some humanity? To be sure, I asked the Reverend to phone the prison. The officer I spoke with didn’t know about the visit, but he said he would check it out and phone back. We sat and waited, hoped for good news and talked quietly about the man we knew and valued and who was now sitting in the death watch cell, without his personal possessions and with nothing but writing paper and pen. I have known Ignacio for 8 years, the Reverend for 5. Whatever he may or may not have done prior to being convicted (and he has maintained his innocence throughout his 21 years on death row), the man I got to know was no danger to anyone. Finally the officer phoned back. No visit allowed. The Reverend kindly provided me with a bed for the night, but I could not sleep. I felt such disappointment that our visit was denied, and thought of how much greater Ignacio must feel this disappointment. Is it not enough to kill him, do they have to deny him even such a small comfort as to say good-bye to a friend? The enormity of the death penalty with all its inhumane implications haunted me that night. Stripped from all rights of personhood, he was treated as nothing more than a ‘object’ of their whims. They expect him to be grateful for anything they would allow him, and silently accept anything they don’t. If he cries out, ‘This is wrong’, they punish him by taking away more of his ‘privileges’ to show that they are in control and that he is nothing, he is no longer a human, and has no right to see himself as such, he is not allowed to be anything but a ‘object-soul’ in the shell of a man. The next morning the Reverend helped me to find a hotel in Phoenix. Maybe I could have stayed with them, but I was allergic to their cats and had become quite ill overnight with asthma. The hotel was far more than I could afford but it was still the cheapest we found. I settled and wrote to Ignacio. The following day I received my ‘invitation’ (as the prison called it) to witness Ignacio’s death. I had given the Reverend’s address as my contact address as I didn’t know where I would stay when I left England. As I read the invitation I noticed a few do’s and don’t’s. One of them was that ‘Contact with family members of the condemned is not permitted on prison property’… Ignacio has an 80 year old mother and she would be the only member of his family to be there. I felt outraged at the insensitivity of it. Sure, I understand the reason behind the fact that the witnesses are not permitted to bring weapons to the prison, I can even try to understand why witnesses may not wear blue jeans or orange clothing, but why none of his own witnesses and friends was allowed to speak to his mother or to comfort her as she watched her son being killed, I will never understand. I received another letter in Phoenix from him, and he indicated that I might get a visit on the morning of the execution. Ignacio wanted me and the Reverend, who was also going to be a witness, to be at the prison for 7.30 am. He said, if we go to the prison chaplain, he will then call the office, someone in there would ask Ignacio if we wanted to see us and he would then say, ‘Yes’. We would be driven to his cell and could say good-bye. The Reverend and I were outside the prison gates at 6.30 am. I didn’t mind waiting. The execution was scheduled for 3.00 pm and I just wanted to be there, I had no peace in the hotel and had not slept for two nights. How can I sleep if I look at the clock and think of Ignacio, having just 27 hours left to live, then 26, 25, 20. The time raced with a slowness and speed, that horrified me. I watched the seconds move, and every second took an eternity, yet the hours flew by, indicating an and that I so wanted to escape. With every moment I thought of what might be his ‘last’. His last evening meal, his last shower, his last breakfast, his last shave, his last … what? What was he doing at this moment? How I wished I could help him cope with facing his death at the hands of those who have known him, known him change and find a purpose in life, and still failed to see his humanity. I needed to be close to the prison, not scooped up in some hotel, with an irrational fear that the car would break down on the journey to the little town of Florence, or that the clocks would be slow or that I might oversleep, or any of the other fears that haunt us when we blur the line between reality and illusion. I wanted to say good-bye and I also thought of Ignacio’s mother who was going to be at the prison for her last visit. I had tried to call her and see her, but did not manage to get hold of her. I did not know what support, if any, she had. Besides, Arizona does not have contact visits, not even his mother would be allowed to give him a final hug. How would she cope? And how would Ignacio cope? For nearly 21 years he had not felt a loving touch, nothing but hands that hurt and hate. I felt the pain of condemnation and I felt something of the incredible loneliness and wrongness Ignacio felt. How much pain can a man endure and how much strength does it take not to break? We arrived at the prison and spoke to a prison officer. It was now 6.45 am.
He took our details, but told me that I was not allowed to take my bag inside. Fine, it did not matter to me.
I took out my passport, the letter of invitation, a handkerchief and my inhaler. I didn’t need anything else. We entered the prison and were taken to the office of the prison chaplain. It was still locked, he had not yet arrived. We were taken somewhere else to wait. I watched some inmates clean the yard. They watched us while continuing with their work. Certainly they would not be death row prisoners, but I wondered what they thought of capital punishment.
Did they have the same feeling that it is wrong? Maybe they just felt relief that they were not on death row. Did they even care? Finally, we were taken back to the prison chaplain’s office. He was in, eating his breakfast.
We introduced ourselves and mentioned Ignacio’s assurance that we can visit, if he, the prison chaplain arranges it with the death watch office. His reaction was dismissive, it had nothing whatsoever to do with him. ‘Why are you coming to me?’ We were at the wrong place, and we would not get a visit. I appealed to his humanity for help (was he not after all a man of the God who compassionately loves all his children?) and told him that I had been promised a visit by this very prison. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘that has nothing to do with me’. The telephone rang and for the next 10 minutes or so he spoke to someone who enquired about the body of the deceased… We did not hear the questions, but we heard the answers of the chaplain. ‘There will be a post-mortem… just a routine thing… no, it takes about 30 days before his personal belongings are released… yeah, she can pick it up or we can send it out… about $30… I heard she wanted cremation… or if she wants she can sort out something else, but that’s really up to her… no, we wouldn’t pay for that… he can always be buried here, if she can’t afford it…’ The conversation went on and on. The Reverend and I looked at each other, we didn’t speak but our thoughts must have been the same. They are talking of Ignacio, as if he is already dead. And it wasn’t just the words I heard, I also heard the tone in his voice, it was very cold, very impassive and very hard. He, the man of God, did not care. He simply did not care. When he had finished the conversation I asked him to take us to the warden, I wanted to have a word with him personally, ask him, beg him, to allow us to say good-bye.
The chaplain took us to the main building, probably glad to get rid of us. He took us to a waiting area and told us to wait. We sat and waited, quietly talking of the telephone conversation we had listened to and in the silences of our conversation thought of our friend and what he might feel now.
We waited for over an hour, it was nearly 9 o’clock when a female officer asked us who we were and why we sat there. We told him that the prison chaplain had gone to get the warden and asked us to wait. Taking our letters of invitation and checking our identifications she left us, and returned some minutes later. ‘The warden will see you shortly’, she said and left. The warden did come a few minutes later but his face was cold and his eyes hard. ‘You can’t visit’.
I explained that I had been promised a visit, but he was not to be moved.
‘You have been given the wrong information, and I will not make an exception’. He told us to go away and come back later. Then he left us, empty and disappointed. I had asked for just 10 minutes to say good-bye, yet even that was more than he was willing to give. We left the prison and drove around for an hour to look at the scenery.
Anything to pass the time. Our thoughts were not at the beauty of the desert, but at the inevitability of time passing.
Could we stop time, or should we even wish to? Is not any time that is prolonged before the execution time that is spend in fear and horror? We got back to the prison at 10.30 am, the Reverend wanted to wait in the car, I persuaded him to go into the prison grounds. Surely we can sit somewhere… I am glad that we went in. We were checked and taken to the waiting room for witnesses. I was afraid that we sat in the same room as the official witnesses and even family members of the victim, but we were kept separate and for that I was grateful. The room we entered had a large table in the middle, with a dozen or so chairs around it. Some people were already present and we were introduced. I shook hands but didn’t hear or understand the words said. I felt totally empty inside. There were two other witnesses of Ignacio, both reverends and penfriends. I know that he corresponded with many people, and many of them were what he called his ‘Christian brethren’. A female guard in uniform checked for contraband and/or weapons with a metal detector before we sat down. Two other guards in civilian clothes sat at the table, with quick eyes that did not miss a thing, silently watching us. One of them had a list of names, and ticked off that we had arrived.
Ignacio’s mother was not there, neither was his attorney who had told me that he planned to come on the day of the execution. At the side of the room was a table with sandwiches that would feed 30 peopole, and coffee. More than 100 chocolate biscuits were on the table in front of us and I thought that the food provided would easily feed many more people than were present here and none of us was hungry. Absentmindedly I wondered whether the guards and officers, the secretaries and other prison staff would look forward to executions, so they could eat all the left over food that was provided for the witnesses. Eating was not on our minds. Ignacio’s other witnesses were all Christian ministers that he had befriended over the years.
As born again Christians their views were very different from mine. I heard someone say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter what happens today… We will see him again in Heaven’. And I thought, ‘Yes, it does matter. They are murdering him.’ Anger replaced my fear and my thoughts became four letter words. I did not join in their conversation for fear of saying what I really thought. Ignacio had believed me to be a Christian too. At the beginning of our friendship I told him that I did not believe in God, but how important it became to him that I do, became clear when during my visit to him 5 years earlier, he had requested two Bibles, one for him and one for me. Half of our visiting time was spent reading the Bible together. He asked me to read a passage and then told me the meaning. He was so eager to teach me and felt so much joy when he thought that I had found Christ, that I did not have the heart to tell him otherwise. I hoped that Ignacio was at peace, but I had no way to find out. The feelings of emptiness had left me and all I felt was anger. Anger at the system that takes a man and decides he does not deserve to live, and anger at our failings to see that he is human, just like us. Even dogs get treated better. If a dog is mistreated by his owner, abused, beaten and starved of love and affection, he bites. But people are forgiving, they think him innocent and blame his keeper.
They take him in and help him, heal his mental wounds, they care for him and embrace him.
If a man is treated like this as a child, and ‘bites’ he is condemned to death. But what are we, society, but the keepers of the innocence of our children?
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I began to feel very, very angry.
About half an hour after we got into the waiting room Ignacio’s mother returned from her last visit to see her son. I had not seen her before, but when the door opened and an old woman stood there, looked at me and opened her arms, and said, ‘Erika’, I decided to ignore point 2 of the invitation of what I was and was not allowed to do, and stood up to embrace her. If any guard had stopped me then I would have answered with words that would have made others blush. But nobody interfered. Isabel (Ignacio’s mother) and I sat together and the waiting was the hardest thing of all. The three ministers talked about their faith and about their belief of the everlasting afterlife Ignacio was going to have, something I just could not share.
Isabel and I sat together and talked of Ignacio, of the son she loved and of the friend I loved. Shortly afterwards Ignacio’s spiritual advisor, a minister also called Ignacio, arrived. He was a most incredible man with a mohican hair style and a sense of humour, even on a day like this, that did not offend, but eased the situation. He also recognised me as Ignacio had shown my photo and shown my letters. Knowing his needs, I had chosen religious cards and words that talked of hope and trust in the Lord’s will. I am not religious but it caused me no sleepless nights to comfort in words I did not believe myself. The minister told me of Ignacio’s last visit with his mother. They spoke to each other through a glass window, but in the room where Isabel sat the guards had the radio turned on and being hard of hearing, Ignacio had to shout for his mother to understand him. He was very upset about this and at first refused to shout, it was only when the minister told him that this is the only way for his mother to understand, that he felt able to do so. I remember Ignacio from our visit 5 years ago and he was a soft-spoken man. How hard it must have been for him to see his mother under such circumstances! And what a small act of compassion it would have been for the guards to turn off the radio. But compassion does not rate very highly on death row. Ignacio, the spiritual advisor of my friend, told me that my friend Ignacio was very upset at not seeing me. And so we both used his minister as a messenger to relay last words to each other. He left to see my friend again. The time of waiting was hard and it were the longest hours of my life.
There was a clock on the wall and I kept looking at it, yet the minutes seemed to go so slow that what seemed like an hour only moved the hands of the clock a few minutes further to the inevitable. Ignacio’s christian friends were still taking of their faith, the guards silently watched us, only Isabel and I were sitting close together. I felt like being stranded on an island, with no boat to leave. The others had their purpose, their belief or their conviction that what was going to happen was right, yet Ignacio’s mother and I had nothing like this. Could we swim or would we drown? All we had was the knowledge that the man we cared for was going to be killed.
It was only 11 o’clock, a full four hours before the execution took place, but what does one talk about in those hours? Isabel was desperate to talk, but she did not seem to understand me well. She is Mexican and started to teach me Spanish. Anything to do to pass the time. She must have felt it much stronger than I. At some point we found ourselves in a different room for the briefing. I cannot remember now how we got there or when we were told to go there, but after getting into the waiting room and going to the witness room we were taken to another room, where we stood for a couple of minutes or so before a guard entered, read out a brief statement of what was going to happen and left again. My thoughts were whirling around and I felt disembodied throughout the morning of waiting and as I try to recollect details now, some of my memory has gaps. Back in the waiting room with the untouched buffet the time went slowly, I kept looking at the clock and thought of what Ignacio must be doing and thinking now. Would he now have his last meal? Were they already taking him, strapping him onto the gurney? What did he think? Was he at peace? Minister Ignacio came back and told me that Ignacio knew I was there.
‘How is he?’, ‘He is excited as if he is going on a trip, thinking of whether he has done everything, has he forgotten something’, he replied. ‘He is ok, he is at peace. He will be united with our Lord soon, he knows that’. Minister Ignacio stayed with Isabel and me and the three talked quietly, my eyes straying towards the clock on the wall, it’s hands moving ever so slowly. It was now 2.50 pm, just 10 minutes before the execution. I looked at the clock and hope rose in me that maybe he got a stay after all. Rationally, I knew it could not be so, as his legal team had no further appeals going, and his attorney was now sitting with us, talking to the three ministers. But it was time to go, would they forget us? I watched the female guard. She had only briefly spoken when spoken to, otherwise she sat in total silence, just like the other two civilian officials, watching every move, listening to every word. I noticed that she also looked at her watch. I looked at her, trying to catch her eyes with my silent question, ‘What is happening now?’ Before she looked at me the door opened and we were told it was time to go. As we left the cool building the desert heat hit me. The call it ‘the valley of the sun’ and it was 95 degrees. I looked up and saw the blue sky, the blazing sun and as I watched a bird flying above me, the scene seemed surreal. There was life all around me, yet I was to watch a man being killed. How can life and death be so close? In a few minutes the sun would still shine, the bird would still fly, yet the man now lying on the gurney would no longer breathe, his body slowly decomposing, he would continue to live only in our memories, traces fading over time. I do not know how far we walked. Reverend Rye later talked of a quarter of a mile to walk and felt outraged that the other witnesses were driven to the witness room, whereas we had to walk. I did not notice. The only thing I was aware of was the life-giving heat of the sun, the bird flying above, Isabel’s hand in mine, occasionally squeezng it and me putting one foot in front of the other. I took one step at a time, not knowing, nor caring where we walked. Fear rose in me and replaced the anger. It gnawed at my stomach, burned into my soul like acid.
This could not be real, this was not happening. Yet every step took me closer. Panic welled in me and the feeling I had earlier of being stranded on an island with no boat to leave increased. Yet now I was not only stranded, the water was lapping at my feet, rising and rising ever more. I needed to run away and escape. Panic overwhelmed me that I would drown. And yet my feet moved slowly forward, one step at a time. I was holding Isabel’s hand, Minister Ignacio holding her other hand. Ignacio’s spiritual advisor prayed quietly, speaking words of comfort to Isabel, I heard myself saying things like, ‘It will be over soon, his suffering will be over. He will not hurt anymore’, fully aware that the platitudes I spoke to Isabel were wholly inadequate. Yet I had nothing else to offer her. I walked on automatic pilot, spoke words that seemed empty and without meaning while my soul was drowning in a sea of fear, wondering what is reality, what is illusion. There were to be 42 witnesses (29 had arrived), most of them official, but also two children of the victim. The witness room was separated in steps so that those in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th rows stood higher than others and could see equally well. We were the first to arrive and stood in the front row. Ignacio’s attorney who had arrived shortly before decided to stay as witness too. As we walked towards the open door Minister Ignacio whispered to us, ‘Don’t go in first, his head is near the door’. I nodded and held Isabel back. She didn’t understand and wanted to go in. I repeated the words, ‘His head is near the door’. I don’t know whether she understood, but she slowed and let Reverend Rye and the other ministers go in first, we followed. I was determined to hold on to Isabel, and equally determined to allow her to be as close to her son as she could. The room was only dimly lit. There was a large dark blue curtain in front of us, which covered the whole wall. I had both my arms around Isabel and minister Ignacio had his arm around the both of us, quietly speaking to Isabel, praying with urgency in his voice. Slowly the other witnesses arrived. There was total silence. Nobody spoke. We did not look round to see who was behind us, we heard footsteps, but they did not exist for us. All that existed in our thoughts was the dark blue curtain and the man who was behind it. Once everybody was inside, a guard who stood by the door locked it and spoke something into the phone he held.
Arizona execution chamber
‘Everybody is inside’, I heard. It seemed a long time, but was probably only a minute or so when the curtain opened and we saw Ignacio already strapped onto the gurney, with a white sheet covering him up to his neck.
We could not see the straps, nor could we see the needles they had inserted ready for the poison to flow. I kept thinking ‘Do they really believe the image of someone covered as it he is going to sleep will fool us into believing that what happens here is not murder?’ Ignacio lay still, his eyes shut and head towards the ceiling. He was determined to die with as much dignity as he could and I believe if he had looked at us he may have fallen apart. He did not want that and so his eyes did not open. After a short while someone came in, stood by Ignacio’s feet and we heard the microphone being switched on. The man announced that there was no stay. The microphone was switched off. The man walked out again, without looking at the man about to die.
Then, after a short while, someone else came in to read the warrant, looking only at the witnesses. I noticed that Ignacio started to shake. His face was set, but his hands and particularly his feet were shaking violently. I knew then that all this talk about going to Heaven and having everlasting life and joy, did not stop his fear. It was wrong to kill him. I knew that and he knew that too. The man who read the warrant asked if Ignacio had any last words, without looking at him.
In a loud and clear voice he said, ‘Yes’. ‘Jesus Christ is the Lord’ (repeating the words in spanish), ‘Heavenly Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (and again repeating his words in spanish). As he was saying ‘into your hands’ his voice broke and he had difficulty in speaking the last words. He said, ‘Thank you’ and was silent after that.
His eyes shut, his face set. The loud speakers were switched off and I saw a tear run down the side of his face. At the wall behind him was an opening which had been covered with some curtain material.
There was movement of the curtain, as if there was a draft. I knew that the first injection took place. I watched Ignacio’s face. I so much wanted to instill some kind of comfort or friendship or love in him to ease these final moments. I had planned so many things that I hoped would help him, show him he was cared for. I had rehearsed this moment in hours of fear and anger and disbelief. I had wanted to reach out to him, smile, put all my expressions of friendship and love and respect for him into my face, anything at all that would make it just a little easier for him. But he did not open his eyes, he could not if he wanted to keep his composure. That had become the most important thing for him. To keep strong, to keep composed, not to give a spectacle for others to gloat over, to die in the knowledge that the Lord loves him and will welcome him. I watched for anything in his face to change, any reaction and saw his head and chest heave up once as if he was choking. He breathed twice more and then lay still, his eyes and mouth now slightly open. We stood and waited. I knew he was dead, but I expected him to turn around and look at me, I willed him to live, to get up and walk away. A man came in and announced ‘Death at 3.05 pm. Please take note. Death at 3.05 pm.
Please take note’, and he never looked at the man in whose death he had just taken part. It was as if for all those who spoke to the witnesses, this man on the gurney did not exist, as if he had already gone, left his humanity behind like an old coat that one can just take off or put on as one pleases. For them, he already ceased to exist. There was no need to look at him. He was not a person anymore, he did not need to be regarded anymore. He was a nothing. We were just five feet apart, joined in friendship, and yet separated for ever like a river without a bridge. Without understanding I watched my friend die. Without words I watched the last flicker of his life which had a special value for me which hatred can never perceive. As deaf and dumb and blind servants of ‘the people’ with eyes that should have seen his humanity, ears that should have heard his integrity and tongues that should have said, ‘stop, no more killing’ society killed a man that was my friend, was Isabel’s son and was no danger to society.
The man I knew was deeply religious, and he was friendly, kind, caring and compassionate to others. He never had a bad word against anyone nor against the harsh treatment he received. The man lying there dead now had been the smile I always saw in letters as they were written, he was the friend who offered advise, and welcomed me into his life. He was the warm feeling of familiarity, of knowing I have been accepted with all my faults and shortcomings, and the knowledge that this friendship was mutual. He was the joy I know was there as my letters were received. Yet now everything was too late. It was too late for letters and too late for words. The doors opened and we (Ignacio’s witnesses) were taken out and taken immediately in a van to the car park. I felt numb and empty. Isabel was picked up by friends who had to leave immediately, his attorney left with a short good-bye, Minister Ignacio hastily wrote his address down for me and left to see some other prisoners, and only Reverend Rye and I stood at the empty car park. I saw nobody else. There was no media, no protestors, nobody but us. The road had been blocked off earlier, but still I thought someone must have been there. Did nobody knew what went on? Did nobody care? Was it real? And what happened to life now.
Would it go on as normal, TV news reporting traffic accidents and scandals, the citizens of Arizona reading about the execution with their morning coffee, grateful that they can now sleep safer as another ‘animal’ has been killed? Was society really safer now? I spent a sleepless night in the garden of Reverend Rye, not being able to go into the house because of his cats, yet not resting in the garden either. I left the following day. Like a double exposure on a film where we see two images, I see Ignacio lying on the gurney whatever I do now. Today is Wednesday, 10 November 1999. It is 2 weeks now since my friend was killed and his image is with me constantly. What I saw was murder, as cold and heartless as any the men on death row are believed to be capable of by society. The ritualised slaughter of a scapegoat for society’s failings to take into account that a person is more than the worst act they ever commit. He may have been a murderer, but he was also a son, a friend and a person who was valued and respected by whoever came in contact with him. A few days after the execution someone asked me ‘would you do it again?’ and I replied without hesitation, ‘Yes’. It was the last act of friendship I could do and traumatic as it was, I have no regrets of being there for him. I will never forget my experience, and I never should forget what I witnessed. It was the most brutal form of extermination I had seen. And yet bearing witness to it meant that it was not done without providing the reasons to ask ‘Why’.
Why can we not find a way to punish murderers that will build on reconciliation? Punish them, yes. Protect society, yes. But also understand, forgive and build, rather than destroy. And by witnessing Ignacio’s execution, I carry the question ‘Why’ to all those who will listen, until I get an answer or until society will look deep within these men to find the human inside him.

The Execution of my Friend
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byErika Trueman

Ignacio Ortiz – executed on October 27th, 1999. An estimated 100 innocent people have been put to death in Texas in recent years/

Do not be fooled into believing that lethal injection is humane. It is nothing of the sort. Today is Wednesday, 10 November 1999. As I write this I look at the clock. It is 2.04 pm, and I think back to the exact time 2 weeks ago when I sat in the waiting room of Arizona State Prison, and thought of my friend who had just 56 minutes left to live. For 8 years we had been penfriends and during that time we have laughed together, cried together, shared thoughts, views, memories, dreams of the future, and generally did what friends do – we talked and we listened to each other. 2 weeks ago at this time I sat with his mother, who was desperately trying to do anything but think of her son being prepared to be killed. I learned a few words of Spanish that afternoon of her…
In May this year Ignacio Ortiz’ death sentence was reaffirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court subsequently denied to look at his case again.
For 20 years and 10 months Ignacio and his various attorneys have tried to get his sentence overturned, and now it looked as though their patience had run out. Arizona was determined to execute 10 prisoners this year, saying that more prisoners are coming onto death row than are executed.
It is time to do something about it to redress the balance! I phoned the attorney in May and asked him what hope there was, his answer was short: None. But as he had protested the resentencing and the Supreme Court was now on Summer vacation, Ignacio would have at least until September before a warrant would be signed. 4 months of waiting to come, 12 weeks of respite, hope and fear and hope again, recurring in nightmares and tears. We both acknowledged the reality of what might happen, yet neither of us talked much about it in letters. Ignacio’s letters were still full of hope and I had not the heart to repeat what his attorney had told me. As it got to August the need to delay the inevitable became more urgent. I was going to get married on 9 September, and it was a date my fiance and I had planned for some years now as it was my 50th birthday also. Ignacio looked forward to the date almost as much as I did.
The wedding day came and went and still there was no news of the Supreme Court. I checked the internet every day, looked at the web page of Arizona Department of Corrections, checked my e-mail, no news. Ivor and I decided not to go on honeymoon so that we can be home to check on a daily basis for news. I did not want to be away when Ignacio’s warrant was signed.
We went on day trips instead. Just two days after our honeymoon ended, came the news: The Supreme Court have returned the protest of his attorney without comment and an execution date for 27 October was set. I read the words, but it didn’t seem to register. If you live with the possibility or even certainty of an event for long it is easy to just accept it when it happens. I something think the waiting was even harder than the knowledge of the warrant being finally signed. As I read it I felt numb at first, aware of the pain Ignacio might be going through now, followed by an outcry of ‘Why’, and the inner silence that follows the empty feeling of inevitability. To kill is wrong.
Period. To kill to show that killing is wrong, however, makes no logical sense. It is nothing but society’s attempt to ignore their failings in helping those who commit crimes. I read the warrant and immediately phoned the Arizona Department of Correction. After being put through several departments spoke with a female officer in the visitation centre. ‘Can I visit my friend before the execution?’ and she said, ‘Yes’. But this time Ignacio had to apply for a special permit visit, I could not arrange it from here. If he applied for this special visit my visit with him would be guaranteed. I was relieved. I remember the days I visited him in 1993; I remember the soft voice, the tranquillity and serenity that seemed to surround him. He had found his faith on death row and it gave him strength to cope with his life. More so, it lifted him out from his surroundings and gave him a freedom he did not have even outside prison. He had read the Bible, and put his trust in every word, never questioning, never moving away from this trust and his belief. Others can question why a loving God allows people to suffer and children to die of hunger and preventable disease, others can ask why.
‘If He has the power, why does He not prevent the cruelty, the hunger, the dying children and the innocence lost to the brutality of life?’ Ignacio never questioned this, for him the answers were simple.
‘God’s Will be done’. I cannot share that faith. I question ‘Why’ too often. I booked my flight and decided to allow 2 weeks for my letter to reach Ignacio with my flight dates and for him to arrange the visit. It was 5 October, and I would fly out on 20 October, just one week before the execution; and I would stay for 8 days, and fly home the day after everything was over, one way or another. I wrote my letter to him, e-mailed his attorney to confirm my arrival date, and I planned, feared, and hoped against all hope.
Then I realised that I had not mentioned to Ignacio in my letter that I have not yet changed my passport to my new married name – he must not ask for the visit permit for Erika Trueman, but under my old name, Erika Reinhold. I hastily wrote more letters, e-mailed his attorney and just hoped that the message got through. I feared to stand in front of the gates and not being permitted entry because the names did not coincide. A week before my flight I finally received an e-mail from Ignacio’s attorney in which he told me that I would not be allowed to visit Ignacio as the dates I had booked the flight for were too close to the execution. After checking with the prison this was confirmed.
I spend the next few days on the telephone, speaking (or trying to) for hours with various officials in Arizona. But the decision was final. I was not going to see my friend, though two days before my flight was due I was told that Ignacio had requested me to witness his execution. So I flew out. I travelled overnight to Gatwick airport for my flight at noon the following day. It took me a total of 32 hours to get to Phoenix. I arrived exhausted, hot and anxious.
Reverend Rye and his wife Gloria, friends of Ignacio, picked me up from the airport. We went to their house where they gave me two letters of Ignacio addressed to me, in which he said, that the managed to arrange a visit the following morning. All my tiredness flew away, and I was exited and relieved. But then I thought of the prison rules: no visitors during the 2 weeks before execution date, except the immediate family, attorney and spiritual advisor. Well, I knew that his attorney had not planned to see him for the last 3 weeks of his life, he had only his mother to visit him and so people were not exactly queuing up to visit. Maybe the warden took this into account and showed some humanity? To be sure, I asked the Reverend to phone the prison. The officer I spoke with didn’t know about the visit, but he said he would check it out and phone back. We sat and waited, hoped for good news and talked quietly about the man we knew and valued and who was now sitting in the death watch cell, without his personal possessions and with nothing but writing paper and pen. I have known Ignacio for 8 years, the Reverend for 5. Whatever he may or may not have done prior to being convicted (and he has maintained his innocence throughout his 21 years on death row), the man I got to know was no danger to anyone. Finally the officer phoned back. No visit allowed. The Reverend kindly provided me with a bed for the night, but I could not sleep. I felt such disappointment that our visit was denied, and thought of how much greater Ignacio must feel this disappointment. Is it not enough to kill him, do they have to deny him even such a small comfort as to say good-bye to a friend? The enormity of the death penalty with all its inhumane implications haunted me that night. Stripped from all rights of personhood, he was treated as nothing more than a ‘object’ of their whims. They expect him to be grateful for anything they would allow him, and silently accept anything they don’t. If he cries out, ‘This is wrong’, they punish him by taking away more of his ‘privileges’ to show that they are in control and that he is nothing, he is no longer a human, and has no right to see himself as such, he is not allowed to be anything but a ‘object-soul’ in the shell of a man. The next morning the Reverend helped me to find a hotel in Phoenix. Maybe I could have stayed with them, but I was allergic to their cats and had become quite ill overnight with asthma. The hotel was far more than I could afford but it was still the cheapest we found. I settled and wrote to Ignacio. The following day I received my ‘invitation’ (as the prison called it) to witness Ignacio’s death. I had given the Reverend’s address as my contact address as I didn’t know where I would stay when I left England. As I read the invitation I noticed a few do’s and don’t’s. One of them was that ‘Contact with family members of the condemned is not permitted on prison property’… Ignacio has an 80 year old mother and she would be the only member of his family to be there. I felt outraged at the insensitivity of it. Sure, I understand the reason behind the fact that the witnesses are not permitted to bring weapons to the prison, I can even try to understand why witnesses may not wear blue jeans or orange clothing, but why none of his own witnesses and friends was allowed to speak to his mother or to comfort her as she watched her son being killed, I will never understand. I received another letter in Phoenix from him, and he indicated that I might get a visit on the morning of the execution. Ignacio wanted me and the Reverend, who was also going to be a witness, to be at the prison for 7.30 am. He said, if we go to the prison chaplain, he will then call the office, someone in there would ask Ignacio if we wanted to see us and he would then say, ‘Yes’. We would be driven to his cell and could say good-bye. The Reverend and I were outside the prison gates at 6.30 am. I didn’t mind waiting. The execution was scheduled for 3.00 pm and I just wanted to be there, I had no peace in the hotel and had not slept for two nights. How can I sleep if I look at the clock and think of Ignacio, having just 27 hours left to live, then 26, 25, 20. The time raced with a slowness and speed, that horrified me. I watched the seconds move, and every second took an eternity, yet the hours flew by, indicating an and that I so wanted to escape. With every moment I thought of what might be his ‘last’. His last evening meal, his last shower, his last breakfast, his last shave, his last … what? What was he doing at this moment? How I wished I could help him cope with facing his death at the hands of those who have known him, known him change and find a purpose in life, and still failed to see his humanity. I needed to be close to the prison, not scooped up in some hotel, with an irrational fear that the car would break down on the journey to the little town of Florence, or that the clocks would be slow or that I might oversleep, or any of the other fears that haunt us when we blur the line between reality and illusion. I wanted to say good-bye and I also thought of Ignacio’s mother who was going to be at the prison for her last visit. I had tried to call her and see her, but did not manage to get hold of her. I did not know what support, if any, she had. Besides, Arizona does not have contact visits, not even his mother would be allowed to give him a final hug. How would she cope? And how would Ignacio cope? For nearly 21 years he had not felt a loving touch, nothing but hands that hurt and hate. I felt the pain of condemnation and I felt something of the incredible loneliness and wrongness Ignacio felt. How much pain can a man endure and how much strength does it take not to break? We arrived at the prison and spoke to a prison officer. It was now 6.45 am.
He took our details, but told me that I was not allowed to take my bag inside. Fine, it did not matter to me.
I took out my passport, the letter of invitation, a handkerchief and my inhaler. I didn’t need anything else. We entered the prison and were taken to the office of the prison chaplain. It was still locked, he had not yet arrived. We were taken somewhere else to wait. I watched some inmates clean the yard. They watched us while continuing with their work. Certainly they would not be death row prisoners, but I wondered what they thought of capital punishment.
Did they have the same feeling that it is wrong? Maybe they just felt relief that they were not on death row. Did they even care? Finally, we were taken back to the prison chaplain’s office. He was in, eating his breakfast.
We introduced ourselves and mentioned Ignacio’s assurance that we can visit, if he, the prison chaplain arranges it with the death watch office. His reaction was dismissive, it had nothing whatsoever to do with him. ‘Why are you coming to me?’ We were at the wrong place, and we would not get a visit. I appealed to his humanity for help (was he not after all a man of the God who compassionately loves all his children?) and told him that I had been promised a visit by this very prison. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘that has nothing to do with me’. The telephone rang and for the next 10 minutes or so he spoke to someone who enquired about the body of the deceased… We did not hear the questions, but we heard the answers of the chaplain. ‘There will be a post-mortem… just a routine thing… no, it takes about 30 days before his personal belongings are released… yeah, she can pick it up or we can send it out… about $30… I heard she wanted cremation… or if she wants she can sort out something else, but that’s really up to her… no, we wouldn’t pay for that… he can always be buried here, if she can’t afford it…’ The conversation went on and on. The Reverend and I looked at each other, we didn’t speak but our thoughts must have been the same. They are talking of Ignacio, as if he is already dead. And it wasn’t just the words I heard, I also heard the tone in his voice, it was very cold, very impassive and very hard. He, the man of God, did not care. He simply did not care. When he had finished the conversation I asked him to take us to the warden, I wanted to have a word with him personally, ask him, beg him, to allow us to say good-bye.
The chaplain took us to the main building, probably glad to get rid of us. He took us to a waiting area and told us to wait. We sat and waited, quietly talking of the telephone conversation we had listened to and in the silences of our conversation thought of our friend and what he might feel now.
We waited for over an hour, it was nearly 9 o’clock when a female officer asked us who we were and why we sat there. We told him that the prison chaplain had gone to get the warden and asked us to wait. Taking our letters of invitation and checking our identifications she left us, and returned some minutes later. ‘The warden will see you shortly’, she said and left. The warden did come a few minutes later but his face was cold and his eyes hard. ‘You can’t visit’.
I explained that I had been promised a visit, but he was not to be moved.
‘You have been given the wrong information, and I will not make an exception’. He told us to go away and come back later. Then he left us, empty and disappointed. I had asked for just 10 minutes to say good-bye, yet even that was more than he was willing to give. We left the prison and drove around for an hour to look at the scenery.
Anything to pass the time. Our thoughts were not at the beauty of the desert, but at the inevitability of time passing.
Could we stop time, or should we even wish to? Is not any time that is prolonged before the execution time that is spend in fear and horror? We got back to the prison at 10.30 am, the Reverend wanted to wait in the car, I persuaded him to go into the prison grounds. Surely we can sit somewhere… I am glad that we went in. We were checked and taken to the waiting room for witnesses. I was afraid that we sat in the same room as the official witnesses and even family members of the victim, but we were kept separate and for that I was grateful. The room we entered had a large table in the middle, with a dozen or so chairs around it. Some people were already present and we were introduced. I shook hands but didn’t hear or understand the words said. I felt totally empty inside. There were two other witnesses of Ignacio, both reverends and penfriends. I know that he corresponded with many people, and many of them were what he called his ‘Christian brethren’. A female guard in uniform checked for contraband and/or weapons with a metal detector before we sat down. Two other guards in civilian clothes sat at the table, with quick eyes that did not miss a thing, silently watching us. One of them had a list of names, and ticked off that we had arrived.
Ignacio’s mother was not there, neither was his attorney who had told me that he planned to come on the day of the execution. At the side of the room was a table with sandwiches that would feed 30 peopole, and coffee. More than 100 chocolate biscuits were on the table in front of us and I thought that the food provided would easily feed many more people than were present here and none of us was hungry. Absentmindedly I wondered whether the guards and officers, the secretaries and other prison staff would look forward to executions, so they could eat all the left over food that was provided for the witnesses. Eating was not on our minds. Ignacio’s other witnesses were all Christian ministers that he had befriended over the years.
As born again Christians their views were very different from mine. I heard someone say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter what happens today… We will see him again in Heaven’. And I thought, ‘Yes, it does matter. They are murdering him.’ Anger replaced my fear and my thoughts became four letter words. I did not join in their conversation for fear of saying what I really thought. Ignacio had believed me to be a Christian too. At the beginning of our friendship I told him that I did not believe in God, but how important it became to him that I do, became clear when during my visit to him 5 years earlier, he had requested two Bibles, one for him and one for me. Half of our visiting time was spent reading the Bible together. He asked me to read a passage and then told me the meaning. He was so eager to teach me and felt so much joy when he thought that I had found Christ, that I did not have the heart to tell him otherwise. I hoped that Ignacio was at peace, but I had no way to find out. The feelings of emptiness had left me and all I felt was anger. Anger at the system that takes a man and decides he does not deserve to live, and anger at our failings to see that he is human, just like us. Even dogs get treated better. If a dog is mistreated by his owner, abused, beaten and starved of love and affection, he bites. But people are forgiving, they think him innocent and blame his keeper.
They take him in and help him, heal his mental wounds, they care for him and embrace him.
If a man is treated like this as a child, and ‘bites’ he is condemned to death. But what are we, society, but the keepers of the innocence of our children?

——————————————————————————–
——————————————————————————–I began to feel very, very angry.
About half an hour after we got into the waiting room Ignacio’s mother returned from her last visit to see her son. I had not seen her before, but when the door opened and an old woman stood there, looked at me and opened her arms, and said, ‘Erika’, I decided to ignore point 2 of the invitation of what I was and was not allowed to do, and stood up to embrace her. If any guard had stopped me then I would have answered with words that would have made others blush. But nobody interfered. Isabel (Ignacio’s mother) and I sat together and the waiting was the hardest thing of all. The three ministers talked about their faith and about their belief of the everlasting afterlife Ignacio was going to have, something I just could not share.
Isabel and I sat together and talked of Ignacio, of the son she loved and of the friend I loved. Shortly afterwards Ignacio’s spiritual advisor, a minister also called Ignacio, arrived. He was a most incredible man with a mohican hair style and a sense of humour, even on a day like this, that did not offend, but eased the situation. He also recognised me as Ignacio had shown my photo and shown my letters. Knowing his needs, I had chosen religious cards and words that talked of hope and trust in the Lord’s will. I am not religious but it caused me no sleepless nights to comfort in words I did not believe myself. The minister told me of Ignacio’s last visit with his mother. They spoke to each other through a glass window, but in the room where Isabel sat the guards had the radio turned on and being hard of hearing, Ignacio had to shout for his mother to understand him. He was very upset about this and at first refused to shout, it was only when the minister told him that this is the only way for his mother to understand, that he felt able to do so. I remember Ignacio from our visit 5 years ago and he was a soft-spoken man. How hard it must have been for him to see his mother under such circumstances! And what a small act of compassion it would have been for the guards to turn off the radio. But compassion does not rate very highly on death row. Ignacio, the spiritual advisor of my friend, told me that my friend Ignacio was very upset at not seeing me. And so we both used his minister as a messenger to relay last words to each other. He left to see my friend again. The time of waiting was hard and it were the longest hours of my life.
There was a clock on the wall and I kept looking at it, yet the minutes seemed to go so slow that what seemed like an hour only moved the hands of the clock a few minutes further to the inevitable. Ignacio’s christian friends were still taking of their faith, the guards silently watched us, only Isabel and I were sitting close together. I felt like being stranded on an island, with no boat to leave. The others had their purpose, their belief or their conviction that what was going to happen was right, yet Ignacio’s mother and I had nothing like this. Could we swim or would we drown? All we had was the knowledge that the man we cared for was going to be killed.
It was only 11 o’clock, a full four hours before the execution took place, but what does one talk about in those hours? Isabel was desperate to talk, but she did not seem to understand me well. She is Mexican and started to teach me Spanish. Anything to do to pass the time. She must have felt it much stronger than I. At some point we found ourselves in a different room for the briefing. I cannot remember now how we got there or when we were told to go there, but after getting into the waiting room and going to the witness room we were taken to another room, where we stood for a couple of minutes or so before a guard entered, read out a brief statement of what was going to happen and left again. My thoughts were whirling around and I felt disembodied throughout the morning of waiting and as I try to recollect details now, some of my memory has gaps. Back in the waiting room with the untouched buffet the time went slowly, I kept looking at the clock and thought of what Ignacio must be doing and thinking now. Would he now have his last meal? Were they already taking him, strapping him onto the gurney? What did he think? Was he at peace? Minister Ignacio came back and told me that Ignacio knew I was there.
‘How is he?’, ‘He is excited as if he is going on a trip, thinking of whether he has done everything, has he forgotten something’, he replied. ‘He is ok, he is at peace. He will be united with our Lord soon, he knows that’. Minister Ignacio stayed with Isabel and me and the three talked quietly, my eyes straying towards the clock on the wall, it’s hands moving ever so slowly. It was now 2.50 pm, just 10 minutes before the execution. I looked at the clock and hope rose in me that maybe he got a stay after all. Rationally, I knew it could not be so, as his legal team had no further appeals going, and his attorney was now sitting with us, talking to the three ministers. But it was time to go, would they forget us? I watched the female guard. She had only briefly spoken when spoken to, otherwise she sat in total silence, just like the other two civilian officials, watching every move, listening to every word. I noticed that she also looked at her watch. I looked at her, trying to catch her eyes with my silent question, ‘What is happening now?’ Before she looked at me the door opened and we were told it was time to go. As we left the cool building the desert heat hit me. The call it ‘the valley of the sun’ and it was 95 degrees. I looked up and saw the blue sky, the blazing sun and as I watched a bird flying above me, the scene seemed surreal. There was life all around me, yet I was to watch a man being killed. How can life and death be so close? In a few minutes the sun would still shine, the bird would still fly, yet the man now lying on the gurney would no longer breathe, his body slowly decomposing, he would continue to live only in our memories, traces fading over time. I do not know how far we walked. Reverend Rye later talked of a quarter of a mile to walk and felt outraged that the other witnesses were driven to the witness room, whereas we had to walk. I did not notice. The only thing I was aware of was the life-giving heat of the sun, the bird flying above, Isabel’s hand in mine, occasionally squeezng it and me putting one foot in front of the other. I took one step at a time, not knowing, nor caring where we walked. Fear rose in me and replaced the anger. It gnawed at my stomach, burned into my soul like acid.
This could not be real, this was not happening. Yet every step took me closer. Panic welled in me and the feeling I had earlier of being stranded on an island with no boat to leave increased. Yet now I was not only stranded, the water was lapping at my feet, rising and rising ever more. I needed to run away and escape. Panic overwhelmed me that I would drown. And yet my feet moved slowly forward, one step at a time. I was holding Isabel’s hand, Minister Ignacio holding her other hand. Ignacio’s spiritual advisor prayed quietly, speaking words of comfort to Isabel, I heard myself saying things like, ‘It will be over soon, his suffering will be over. He will not hurt anymore’, fully aware that the platitudes I spoke to Isabel were wholly inadequate. Yet I had nothing else to offer her. I walked on automatic pilot, spoke words that seemed empty and without meaning while my soul was drowning in a sea of fear, wondering what is reality, what is illusion. There were to be 42 witnesses (29 had arrived), most of them official, but also two children of the victim. The witness room was separated in steps so that those in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th rows stood higher than others and could see equally well. We were the first to arrive and stood in the front row. Ignacio’s attorney who had arrived shortly before decided to stay as witness too. As we walked towards the open door Minister Ignacio whispered to us, ‘Don’t go in first, his head is near the door’. I nodded and held Isabel back. She didn’t understand and wanted to go in. I repeated the words, ‘His head is near the door’. I don’t know whether she understood, but she slowed and let Reverend Rye and the other ministers go in first, we followed. I was determined to hold on to Isabel, and equally determined to allow her to be as close to her son as she could. The room was only dimly lit. There was a large dark blue curtain in front of us, which covered the whole wall. I had both my arms around Isabel and minister Ignacio had his arm around the both of us, quietly speaking to Isabel, praying with urgency in his voice. Slowly the other witnesses arrived. There was total silence. Nobody spoke. We did not look round to see who was behind us, we heard footsteps, but they did not exist for us. All that existed in our thoughts was the dark blue curtain and the man who was behind it. Once everybody was inside, a guard who stood by the door locked it and spoke something into the phone he held.

Arizona execution chamber
‘Everybody is inside’, I heard. It seemed a long time, but was probably only a minute or so when the curtain opened and we saw Ignacio already strapped onto the gurney, with a white sheet covering him up to his neck.
We could not see the straps, nor could we see the needles they had inserted ready for the poison to flow. I kept thinking ‘Do they really believe the image of someone covered as it he is going to sleep will fool us into believing that what happens here is not murder?’ Ignacio lay still, his eyes shut and head towards the ceiling. He was determined to die with as much dignity as he could and I believe if he had looked at us he may have fallen apart. He did not want that and so his eyes did not open. After a short while someone came in, stood by Ignacio’s feet and we heard the microphone being switched on. The man announced that there was no stay. The microphone was switched off. The man walked out again, without looking at the man about to die.
Then, after a short while, someone else came in to read the warrant, looking only at the witnesses. I noticed that Ignacio started to shake. His face was set, but his hands and particularly his feet were shaking violently. I knew then that all this talk about going to Heaven and having everlasting life and joy, did not stop his fear. It was wrong to kill him. I knew that and he knew that too. The man who read the warrant asked if Ignacio had any last words, without looking at him.
In a loud and clear voice he said, ‘Yes’. ‘Jesus Christ is the Lord’ (repeating the words in spanish), ‘Heavenly Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (and again repeating his words in spanish). As he was saying ‘into your hands’ his voice broke and he had difficulty in speaking the last words. He said, ‘Thank you’ and was silent after that.
His eyes shut, his face set. The loud speakers were switched off and I saw a tear run down the side of his face. At the wall behind him was an opening which had been covered with some curtain material.
There was movement of the curtain, as if there was a draft. I knew that the first injection took place. I watched Ignacio’s face. I so much wanted to instill some kind of comfort or friendship or love in him to ease these final moments. I had planned so many things that I hoped would help him, show him he was cared for. I had rehearsed this moment in hours of fear and anger and disbelief. I had wanted to reach out to him, smile, put all my expressions of friendship and love and respect for him into my face, anything at all that would make it just a little easier for him. But he did not open his eyes, he could not if he wanted to keep his composure. That had become the most important thing for him. To keep strong, to keep composed, not to give a spectacle for others to gloat over, to die in the knowledge that the Lord loves him and will welcome him. I watched for anything in his face to change, any reaction and saw his head and chest heave up once as if he was choking. He breathed twice more and then lay still, his eyes and mouth now slightly open. We stood and waited. I knew he was dead, but I expected him to turn around and look at me, I willed him to live, to get up and walk away. A man came in and announced ‘Death at 3.05 pm. Please take note. Death at 3.05 pm.
Please take note’, and he never looked at the man in whose death he had just taken part. It was as if for all those who spoke to the witnesses, this man on the gurney did not exist, as if he had already gone, left his humanity behind like an old coat that one can just take off or put on as one pleases. For them, he already ceased to exist. There was no need to look at him. He was not a person anymore, he did not need to be regarded anymore. He was a nothing. We were just five feet apart, joined in friendship, and yet separated for ever like a river without a bridge. Without understanding I watched my friend die. Without words I watched the last flicker of his life which had a special value for me which hatred can never perceive. As deaf and dumb and blind servants of ‘the people’ with eyes that should have seen his humanity, ears that should have heard his integrity and tongues that should have said, ‘stop, no more killing’ society killed a man that was my friend, was Isabel’s son and was no danger to society.
The man I knew was deeply religious, and he was friendly, kind, caring and compassionate to others. He never had a bad word against anyone nor against the harsh treatment he received. The man lying there dead now had been the smile I always saw in letters as they were written, he was the friend who offered advise, and welcomed me into his life. He was the warm feeling of familiarity, of knowing I have been accepted with all my faults and shortcomings, and the knowledge that this friendship was mutual. He was the joy I know was there as my letters were received. Yet now everything was too late. It was too late for letters and too late for words. The doors opened and we (Ignacio’s witnesses) were taken out and taken immediately in a van to the car park. I felt numb and empty. Isabel was picked up by friends who had to leave immediately, his attorney left with a short good-bye, Minister Ignacio hastily wrote his address down for me and left to see some other prisoners, and only Reverend Rye and I stood at the empty car park. I saw nobody else. There was no media, no protestors, nobody but us. The road had been blocked off earlier, but still I thought someone must have been there. Did nobody knew what went on? Did nobody care? Was it real? And what happened to life now.
Would it go on as normal, TV news reporting traffic accidents and scandals, the citizens of Arizona reading about the execution with their morning coffee, grateful that they can now sleep safer as another ‘animal’ has been killed? Was society really safer now? I spent a sleepless night in the garden of Reverend Rye, not being able to go into the house because of his cats, yet not resting in the garden either. I left the following day. Like a double exposure on a film where we see two images, I see Ignacio lying on the gurney whatever I do now. Today is Wednesday, 10 November 1999. It is 2 weeks now since my friend was killed and his image is with me constantly. What I saw was murder, as cold and heartless as any the men on death row are believed to be capable of by society. The ritualised slaughter of a scapegoat for society’s failings to take into account that a person is more than the worst act they ever commit. He may have been a murderer, but he was also a son, a friend and a person who was valued and respected by whoever came in contact with him. A few days after the execution someone asked me ‘would you do it again?’ and I replied without hesitation, ‘Yes’. It was the last act of friendship I could do and traumatic as it was, I have no regrets of being there for him. I will never forget my experience, and I never should forget what I witnessed. It was the most brutal form of extermination I had seen. And yet bearing witness to it meant that it was not done without providing the reasons to ask ‘Why’.
Why can we not find a way to punish murderers that will build on reconciliation? Punish them, yes. Protect society, yes. But also understand, forgive and build, rather than destroy. And by witnessing Ignacio’s execution, I carry the question ‘Why’ to all those who will listen, until I get an answer or until society will look deep within these men to find the human inside him.

About mukut k saha

Mukut Kanti Saha is a renowned Indian journalist based in Kolkata,West Bengal.A national awardee,he boasts of a strong academical background.despite the fact that he graduated with physics honors under the calcutta university, Mukut chose to tread on the path of mainstream journalism. Mukut had worked with a number of reputed news dailies and leading TV channels as well.the list boasts of names like the statesman,the times of India, bartaman & many more. Mukut was felicitated with a number of prestigious awards for his contribution. Mukut owns a web designing and software development company of his own headquartered in Kolkata.webfx india specializes in web designing, customized software development and search engine optimization. Mukut is a prestigious member of a number of international organizations.south Asian journalists' association , html forum, Indian journalist association, web designing association, international web designers' association are just to name a few of them.his expertise in analyzing the trend of the Indian stock market is well known.he had always had a penchant for share market and no wonder, columns penned by him are hugely popular among thousands of readers across the globe.he can be contacted at 91 923 923 9000.mail him at mukutksaha@gmail.com. View all posts by mukut k saha

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