HRLR
Los Tocayos Carlos
Chapter 16
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Executions have been around for millennia, ever since there's been something resembling a "state" to execute its people. Still, Texas's lethal injection of Charles Brooks was an experiment, the first legal killing ever carried out in that manner. "There was no book to go by, no manual to go by," Pickett explained later. "Nobody ever executed a person this way. So nobody, including the doctors, could tell us what to expect."49 For the fifteen years he was part of the lethal injection process, Pickett said, it was "a fearful situation, all the time, because we never knew" what might happen.50

The warden wanted everything to go smoothly: get the inmate quietly onto the gurney so the executioners could strap him down and insert drips for three lethal drugs into veins in his two arms.51 That's a big part of why the warden hired Pickett and provided him with a place to live only fifty feet from the Death House.52

"My responsibility, according to the warden, was to be there in the Death House . . . when [the condemned prisoner] walked in. I was to be the face that he saw outside the guards. That was important," the preacher explained in his slow, soothing cadence.53 "Because every inmate distrusts guards. They have to. They're taught that. They're abused by them" sometimes, Pickett said.54 "[The warden's] charge to me was, and these are his words, 'to seduce their emotions so they won't fight getting out of the cell or getting up on the table.'55

"I could be a pastor to them, I could be a minister to them, I could work with them whatever their religious presence was. But he told every one of them, the first warden did, and all the other ones that followed him . . . 'I suggest you talk to him because he's a good counselor. If you don't want to talk about religion, that's fine. But whatever you do, just talk to him.'56

"And all but one of those ninety-five talked to me," Pickett recalled, quietly proud of how well he had carried out his second calling as a pastor. "Of course there were fifty or sixty more that came in and got stays [of execution]. But as far as going to the table, I did that ninety-five times."57

Every bit of Pickett's time, from early in the morning to after midnight, on every "execution day was set aside just for that."58 Most of the day was spent talking to the prisoner, going over the steps that would lead to his execution that night, advising him about his burial and the disposition of his things that required a lot of paperwork, and mentally preparing him for his last moments.59 There also "were reports to give the warden, reports to give to the executioners, and there was a time when I would go visit with the [inmate's] family" to help them decide whether to watch the execution or not. And there were confessions to hear, a lot of them.60

Pickett was serious about his work and attentive to each detail that could pacify or rile up a condemned inmate in his charge. The holding area of the Death House, for example—a small "dungeonlike" room with a cell for the inmate and some space outside of it where Pickett and the attending guards stayed—had only a single small window to let in a little outside light and air.

The chaplain noticed that an inmate's mood would often darken when he glanced at the window. He realized that the men were using the tiny patch of natural light to gauge the progress of their last day's journey into night and the execution that awaited.61 "I sought and was granted permission to have the panes of the window painted black," he disclosed in his book on his last ministry, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain.62

"That it took so long to determine the cause" of the inmates' darkening moods "angered me," the "Death Angel" wrote. "My job—'seduce the prisoner's emotions, calm him, help him in whatever way you can'—had been undermined by my own inability to recognize an elementary problem."63

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Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:42:50–21:44:42, 21:44:53–21:45:38 ("Two and a half years . . . after I started to work there [at the Walls Unit] as my ministry, . . . they scheduled an execution. Of course, there hadn't been any executions in Texas since 1964. So none of us knew what it was going to be like. None of us knew what we were going to do. None of us knew what was going to take place. But it was started on December the 7th of 1982, when we did our first execution by lethal injection. First one in the world."; "We were the first in the United States to do any lethal injection executions. There was no book to go by, no manual to go by. Nobody had ever executed a person this way. So nobody, including the doctors, could tell us what to expect. It was just a fearful situation all the time, because we never knew.").

See supra note 49.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:45:38–21:47:25:

In those days we were executing at midnight. They'd bring them in early in the morning. My responsibility, according to the warden, was to be there in the death house, which is in the northeast corner of the unit, which is only about 50 feet from the house where I lived. My responsibility was to be there when he walked in. I was to be the face that he [the condemned prisoner] saw outside the guards. That was important. Because every inmate distrusts guards. They have to. They're taught that. They're abused by them. Not all guards are abusive, but some are. So it was my responsibility to be there. His charge to me was, and these are his words, "to seduce their emotions so they won't fight getting out of the cell or getting up on the table." And that was primarily what I was supposed to do. I could be a pastor to them, I could be a minister to them, I could work with them whatever their religious presence was. But he told every one of them, the first warden did, and all the other ones that followed him that I worked with, which was about six. They would tell them, "I suggest you talk to him because he's a good counselor. If you don't want to talk about religion, that's fine. But whatever you do, just talk to him." And all but one of those ninety-five talked to me. Of course there were fifty or sixty more that came in and got stays. But as far as going to the table, I did that ninety-five times.

See James S. Liebman's Notes on Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, (July 11, 2004) at 1 ("Whole goal of Rev P[ickett]'s work [was] that no one would fight the guards before the execution; none of them ever did fight on his watch.").

See Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:45:38–21:47:25 ("In those days we were executing at midnight. They'd bring them in early in the morning. My responsibility, according to the warden, was to be there in the death house, which is in the northeast corner of the unit, which is only about 50 feet from the house where I lived.").

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:45:38–21:47:25.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:45:38–21:47:25.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:45:38–21:47:25.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:45:38–21:47:25;

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:58:38 ("[T]he warden gave me freedom to do whatever I felt like would keep them calm.");

see Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:58:38–22:00:27:

Fortunately, we never had a problem. Nobody ever fought coming out of the cell when I was there. Nobody ever fought getting up on the table. I understand last year they had at least three [in Texas who fought]. It's terrible, to watch somebody fight. We practiced this in 1982. One time the warden brought in a person and he just surprised us all by kicking him. People got hurt. As I wrote to the people in New Jersey and New York just this past week, it would be terrible to have somebody fight coming out of the cell. But the warden gave me freedom to do whatever I felt like would keep them calm. There were a lot of people who threatened to fight, or some who threatened to kill the chaplain, because they knew the system, and I had to go through that. But I never had one of them. And Carlos came in quiet, very, very scared.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:45:38–21:47:25.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:47:35–21:49:22:

A lot of inmates who died have good people. They might have done something wrong, they might have been accused of something wrong, but their families were innocent. So one of my responsibilities was to get the families in. But before Carlos ever let his family in, he told me—I was there when he came in . . . . We had lots of time to talk. . . . And there were certain responsibilities I had to do. Every execution day was set aside just for that, it didn't have anything to do with my work in the unit. But there were reports to give to the warden, reports to give to the executioners, and there was a time when I would go visit with the family.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:47:35–21:49:22 ("He began to hang on to me. And I mean that not critically, but he didn't want me to leave. He wouldn't let me leave. And there were certain responsibilities I had to do. Every execution day was set aside just for that, it didn't have anything to do with my work in the unit. But there were reports to give to the warden, reports to give to the executioners, and there was a time when I would go visit with the family.").

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 21:47:35–21:49:22;

see Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 22:26:53–22:27:54 ("His family visited in the daytime, and then I went over to the hospitality house to visit them, and they decided they . . . didn't want to witness [the execution].").

On the family's decision whether to view the execution, see infra note 235 and accompanying text. On the confessions Pickett heard, see infra notes 97, 105, 170–77 and accompanying text.

Rev. Carroll Pickett with Carlton Stowers, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain 171–72 (2002):

In the Death House there was one small window. When it was open, it allowed in the fresh air. The rays of sun streaming through it, I believed, helped brighten the dungeonlike atmosphere. Once an inmate settling in for his daylong wait, his attention would inevitably be drawn to the window . . ., his mood growing darker.

I finally realized why. The small peephold to the outside world offered no comfort, only a grim reminder that time was slipping away. As shadows lengthened and the daylight gradually faded to dusk, then dark, I would sense an increasing apprehension that I could only attribute to thoughts of the events that lay ahead. . . . But finally it occurred to me that the window, through which the inmate could mark the slow approach of the last night of his life, created a level of anxiety that no watch or clock could ever cause.

That it took me so long to determine the cause angered me. My job—"seduce the prisoner's emotions, calm him, help him in whatever way you can"—had been undermined by my own inability to recognize an elementary problem. Resolving it was easy. I sought and was granted permission to have the panes of the window painted black . . . .

Rev. Carroll Pickett with Carlton Stowers, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain (2002) at 171–72.

Rev. Carroll Pickett with Carlton Stowers, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain (2002) at 171–72.

Chapter 16
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