On December 7, 1989, Texas executed Carlos DeLuna. His death marked the State’s thirty-third legal killing since renewing the death penalty in 1982 after an eighteen-year hiatus.1
DeLuna’s barely noticed execution was also the thirty-third time that Texas Death House Chaplain Carroll Pickett had eased a prisoner through his last day and onto the gurney where he was injected with poison until dead.2
DeLuna was executed for stabbing Wanda Lopez to death with a seven-inch lock-blade buck knife in a 1983 Corpus Christi robbery.3 Shortly after the killing, police found DeLuna cowering under a pick-up truck, arrested him, and took him to the Sigmor Shamrock gas station and store where Lopez had been working alone that night.4 There, a lone Anglo eyewitness, who briefly saw a Hispanic man running out of the store, identified DeLuna as the killer.5
During their hours together, Pickett found DeLuna “childlike.”6 The young man was as simple and inconsequential as the case itself, which hardly compared to the more elaborate and horrifying crimes that usually brought men to the Death House in Huntsville, Texas to be readied for execution. DeLuna was terrified that the lethal injection would hurt, and Pickett read the Twenty-Third Psalm to calm him.7 The scripture confused DeLuna, and he asked what it meant. Pickett knew he had to keep it simple. “We’re in the valley of the shadow of death, Carlos,”8 he explained.
After years of dealing with the worst kinds of criminals, what struck Pickett most was a detail of the case in a newspaper clipping he read as he prepared to meet DeLuna. “The average convict,” the Death House chaplain said later, “will not stop a block away and hide underneath a truck. If [you’re] going to run, you keep running and running and running. You get as far away from the scene as possible. . . . Carlos DeLuna goes and hides under a truck a block away. That’s childlike.”9
Aside from some reporters, only DeLuna’s sister Rose and a few other relatives traveled to Huntsville in East Texas to attend the execution.10 Wanda Lopez’s parents and brother stayed away.
Pickett officiated at sixty-two more executions, ninety-five in total. Only DeLuna’s led him to seek psychiatric help.11 Partly, Pickett was moved by DeLuna’s claim that he was innocent. Unlike most of the men Pickett ushered to their deaths, DeLuna didn’t confess to the crime.12 Pickett was also haunted by his belief that the anesthetic in the mixture of drugs injected into DeLuna’s vein had failed, so the terrified young man was awake as the other drugs paralyzed him and slowly suffocated him to death. Reverend Pickett has since become an outspoken critic of the death penalty.13
* * * * *
On a scorching August day in 2004, Fernando (“Freddy”) Schilling, a Corpus Christi man serving time in the Jester III Unit of a Richmond, Texas prison, received a visit from a private detective.14 The investigator showed him a picture of a handsome young Hispanic man, 5’8” tall, 160 pounds, with heavy eyebrows and dark wavy hair. Without hesitation, Schilling identified the man as his brother-in-law, Carlos Hernandez, twenty years earlier.15
Schilling still bore scars from his fights with Hernandez, whose brutal life was punctuated by sometimes deadly violence, much of it directed towards poor, young Hispanic women in Corpus Christi, often with a lock-blade buck knife.16
Executions in the U.S. from 1976–1986, Death Penalty Info. Ctr., http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions-us-1976-1986 (last visited Feb. 13, 2012); Executions in the U.S. from 1987–1990, Death Penalty Info. Ctr., http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions-us-1987-1990 (last visited Feb. 13, 2012); see infra Chapter 16, note 35–37 and accompanying text.
See infra Chapter 16, notes 168–192 and accompanying text.
Rev. Carroll Pickett & Carlton Stowers, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain 177, 179 (2002); see infra Chapter 16, notes 250–261 and accompanying text.
Peso Chavez’s Notes on Interview with Freddy Schilling, Brother-in-Law of Carlos Hernandez (Aug. 5, 2004) at 1 (“On the above date I contacted FERNANDO SCHILLING (TDC#563535), at the Jester III unit in Richmond, Texas.”).
Peso Chavez’s Notes on Interview with Freddy Schilling, Brother-in-Law of Carlos Hernandez (Aug. 5, 2004) at 4 (“When I showed Mr. Schillings [sic] the two photographs I had [of Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez], he identified them as Carlos Hernandez. When I told him that the younger photograph was Carlos DeLuna he stated, ‘Man he’s a ringer of Carlos Hernandez when he first got out of prison. That gives me the goose bumps.’”).
Rev. Carroll Pickett & Carlton Stowers, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain 177 (2002).
Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 22:59:00–23:00:20;
Rev. Carroll Pickett & Carlton Stowers, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain 176 (2002); Transcribed Videotape Interview with Carroll Pickett, Texas Death House Chaplain, in Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 26, 2005) at 22:23:15;
see infra Chapter 16, notes 218–219 and accompanying text.