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Last words of Texas death row inmates: a kind of gallows poetry

August 12, 2012|By Matt Pearce

Texas executed a man with an IQ of 61 last week for murdering a 21-year-old police drug informant in 1992.

Lawyers for Marvin Wilson, 54, had battled his execution for years, building a mountain of appeals that Texas prosecutors demolished again and again until the executioner finally strapped him down. There, Wilson uttered his last words on Earth:

“Y'all do understand that I came here a sinner and leaving a saint,” he said. “Take me home, Jesus, take me home, Lord, take me home, Lord. I ain't left yet, must be a miracle. I am a miracle. I see you, Rich. Don't cry, son, don't cry, baby. I love y'all. I'm ready.”

Then Wilson was dead, the seventh inmate executed in the state this year and the latest in a long line of convicts whose last words have been preserved for posterity by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Published on the department’s website, the inmates’ last prayers, apologies and insults form a 30-year database of grief and outrage, studded with protests of innocence and requests for absolution. Taken together, they form a kind of gallows poetry in verses both long and short.

Charles William Bass, executed April 12, 1986, kept his to eight words: “I deserve this. Tell everyone I said goodbye.”

“Is the mic on?” Dale Devon Scheanette asked on Feb. 10, 2009. Known as the “Bathtub Killer,” he was convicted of raping and strangling one woman and suspected of raping and drowning another. "My only statement is that …  no cases are error free. You may proceed, warden."

His executioner did, filling Scheanette with lethal poison until his heart stopped.

On July 9, 1985, Henry Porter faced down his executioners. “From there you call me a cold-blooded murderer,” he said.  “I didn’t tie anyone to a stretcher. I didn’t pump any poison into anybody’s veins from behind a locked door. You call this justice. I call this and your society a bunch of cold-blooded murderers.”

Kelsey Patterson seemed confused by the invitation to speak. “Statement to what? State what?” Patterson said on May 18, 2004.

He insisted he was innocent of shooting two people to death. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had  recommended clemency to Gov. Rick Perry, who rejected it. Part of Patterson’s protest -- “Go to hell” -- has been redacted from the record because  Texas officials deemed his profanity insensitive.

Patterson's last words: “Get my money. Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my life back."

By and large, however, Texas convicts have gone peacefully. Inmate after inmate has apologized for their crimes, for taking the lives of victims who never got the chance to utter last words of their own. Some convicts used the opportunity to proclaim the glory of God and to tell their families that they loved them.

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Larry Davis said on July 31, 2008. “It is finished.”

Davis and two other men perpetrated a 1995 robbery-murder in which the victim, Michael Barrow, was hit in the back of the head with a dumbbell, tied up, stabbed with a knife, stabbed with an ice pick, stabbed with a butcher knife, struck with a pipe and kicked. Finally, Davis told an accomplice to step on Barrow’s throat to suffocate him.

In 2011, Humberto Leal asked for forgiveness, said he was truly sorry, and said: “Let's get this show on the road.”

Then he added: “One more thing: Viva Mexico. Viva Mexico.”

An analysis finds “love” is the most common word in Texas’ execution chamber, followed by “family,” “thank,” “sorry” and “God.”

“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you too bro,” Rogelio Cannady said on May 19, 2010, addressing his family. “Take care of y’all. May God have mercy on my soul.”

Cannady kept talking as he faded out.

“I thought it was going to be harder than this," he said. "I am ready to go. I am going to sleep now. I can feel it, it's affecting me now."

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