To the editor:
I was behind a glass window, covered on one side by a venetian blind. There were several rows of seats. I selected one, up front, in the middle of the window. I wanted to see if my belief in the death penalty was real.
I became a witness to this execution by virtue of having as a student in my criminal Justice masters class that was part of the execution team for the State of Missouri.
I had expressed a desire to learn the procedure of how one would apply to be a state's witness at an execution. He said he would have the paperwork sent to me. A few weeks later the paperwork arrived and I filled it out and returned it. A few months went by and I was contacted by the prison authorities that I was selected to be a witness that coming June 2000. I replied that I was available and so the stage was set.
I met with my contact in Jefferson City on the appointed date and drove to Potosi Correctional Center in Potosi, Missouri. We arrived at about 2 p.m. and checked into a motel.
At around 6 p.m. we drove out to the prison. I was taken up to the superintendent's office where I met other witnesses. There sandwiches and soft drinks. The topic of conversation after the introductions, centered on how the evening would proceed.
Because it was still some hours away from the execution, I was given a short tour of the facilities. I was impressed by the cleanliness of the hall ways and cellblocks. Unlike many prisons, which are constantly a din of loud music and noise, this one was silent. Whether because of the seriousness of the event to occur or by design of the regulations, I do not know.
The tour included where the execution would take place. The adjoining room was where the chemicals would be injected into the IV system that would be located in the arm of prisoner to be executed. The room doubled as a supply storage room for the dental workers.
We returned upstairs and waited. At 11 p.m. I was escorted down to another waiting area where other witnesses were. Twenty minutes to midnight we were taken, as a group, to a courtroom adjacent to where we would witness the execution. There we were told what would happen and in what order. We then were led into the witness area.
I was there to see as much as I could and so I secured the front and center seat. The blinds over the glass window were closed. The blinds were opened and we could now see the gurney with the prisoner. His feet were less than 10 feet from where I was seated. He was conversing and laughing with someone in the room to my left, but because of the configuration of the room I couldn't see who it was. I was told after that he was chatting and laughing with his attorney. The room to my right contained family members of the murdered victims. The prisoner then turned and lifted his head and looked over his toes to where my window was opened. He studied us. At this time he was hooked up to an IV in his left arm. Also in the room were a chaplain and the Superintendent. They were conversing with the prisoner but we could not hear what was being said.
Standing behind our row of seats, which were elevated, stood various prison officials from other prisons. They carried walkie-talkies and this allowed all of us to hear what was being said in the Superintendent's office. They were in contact by phone with the Governor's office.
At midnight they asked the Governor's office "is there a "stay" in place?" The reply was, "no, there is no stay in place". The office here then repeated what the Governor's office said. That, I understand there was, "no stay in place." The Governor's office confirmed the statements.
The command was then given, "begin phase one." The first chemical, sodium pentothal, was injected. All injected chemicals were lethal in their dosage.
I watched purposely to see the effects it was have. As he was still studying us his head was elevated. When the first chemical took effect his eyes rolled up and his head fell back. There were three small coughs. After that, all was silent and still, as this chemical renders one unconscious. The command was then given to begin phase two. The second chemical, pancurium bromide was injected. This chemical, I was told, is a paralyzing agent. There were no discernable effects observed.
The command, begin phase three injected a chemical, potassium chloride, to stop the heart. Six minutes passed.
It was over.
We filed once again into the adjoining room and signed the witness certificate.
It was done, we fulfilled our obligation. We went home. My belief in the death penalty was strengthened.
The following day there were reports that the condemned experienced, "violent convulsions .. jerking his head and chest , straining against the straps that held him .. his mouth frozen in a grotesque contorted position with his eyes open."
This did not occur. I was there.
Joseph L. Kibitlewski, PhD.