Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by Jeff Hood at Patheos and is published here with permission.
I used to think that God was everywhere…but God don’t live in spaces like this.
I’d seen it all in pictures before. The dim lights. The harsh colors. The small windows. I don’t think it would’ve mattered how many times I’d studied those pictures before. Nothing could have prepared me for standing in the midst of it all. Death was now a place…a physical reality. There would be no going back. The valley of the shadow of death was more than just metaphor now.
I started to shake from the moment I entered the room. What else was I supposed to do? How else was I supposed to deal with all of the emotions bottled up within? I was about to explode.
Completely immobilized, Arthur Brown laid on the gurney in the middle of the room. When he saw me, he started to shake his foot. I could see the white sheet moving rapidly. I knew this was his way of telling me to stay strong. I was trying.
My rosary cut into my hand.
Though the protocol had been shared with me, I was lost. I couldn’t remember when I was supposed to speak. It was so strange to have an order of service for an execution. Propping my back up against the wall, I kept my legs straight. On multiple occasions, I looked to the agent that was in charge of escorting me for guidance. Then, the moment came.
I read as loudly as I possibly could.
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and, making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Nobody seemed to listen to the words of Jesus. “Let anyone who is without sin…” Either that or all of those who were participating were sinless.
The time came for Arthur to give his final statement. In our visit before the execution, I’d encouraged him to use this opportunity to speak his truth to the world. He did.
What is occurring here tonight is not justice, it’s murder of an innocent man for a murder that occurred in 1992. For the last 30 years I’ve proven my innocence to the courts, but the courts blocked me and then refused me access to the ballistics for 20 years; I’ve proven facts and ballistics to be false. It’s been 30 years now, the state refused to turn over evidence. Nine of the ten trial motions were filled for discovery of evidence, but each were denied each time. I asked for DNA, I was denied DNA. My co-defendant was executed in 2006 and if I’m innocent he was innocent and they killed an innocent man, and the state doesn’t want the truth to come out. They won’t allow me DNA. The victim’s son identified on audio tape it wasn’t me or the co-defendant. The state hid the evidence so long and good that my own attorneys couldn’t find it. Tonight, Texas will kill a second innocent man for a murder that occurred in 1992. I have no further words.
Before the poison completely took over, I told Arthur that he was loved. “Keep fighting! Use my truth…” Right before he lost consciousness, he told me he loved me too.
For the next few minutes, I watched Arthur struggle to breathe. In the midst of it all, all I could do was shake. As the minutes grew longer, I kept asking God to forgive us. Close to 17 minutes passed before Arthur was pronounced dead. Those were some of the longest minutes of my life. I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long. How hard can it be to kill a man?
Just as quickly as it started…it was over.
The agent who had escorted me the entire night walked me out the door into the night.
I hugged him. While I’m sure he thought it was strange, it felt like the most human thing to do on such an inhumane night.
I’m still looking for God…
*Last night, I became the first spiritual advisor to accompany the condemned into the execution chamber in two different states, Oklahoma and now Texas. I was with Scott Eizember when he was executed on January 12, 2023. Now, I’d been with Arthur Brown on March 9. I’m still processing what it all means.