In July 2019, I received an execution date of October 10th of the same year. On October 4th - just six days away from my scheduled execution - I received the news from my attorneys that the Court of Criminal Appeals had issued a stay, and forwarded my case to the Trial Court for review. At the time of writing this (April 2020) my case is still under review, and I wait with hope for the right outcome.
On the day I received my stay of execution, the feelings of gratefulness and relief were overwhelming. After moving from Death Watch – the isolated section they move us to when we receive an execution date – I realised there was a lot of psychological trauma I needed to process and deal with. It didn't hit me all at once, and even now I'm still dealing with that trauma...This is why I wanted to write something that might help others who are going through the same process, and even those without a formal execution date may benefit from being prepared.
I particularly wanted to write this piece (and share the attached document) in the hope that it will shed some light on how things are done once an execution date has been set. I have always believed that none of this process (or anything to do with the death penalty) should be carried out in any kind of secrecy, and that everyone should know what the process involves – particularly those who support the use of the death penalty.
When I found myself going through the ordeal of being taken to death watch, the clinical nature of the process left me cold...The feeling that this was being carried out in a 'behind closed doors' fashion, served to rubber-stamp my feelings that they were trying to remove the 'human being' from what they were doing. My sense of dignity kicked in, and I felt a surge of courage and strength that got me through what came next, and carried me all the way until I received my stay.
When someone here receives an execution date, the Death Row Administration is sent a copy of the court order and scheduled execution date. They will then notify a pod officer of the execution date, and ask them to escort the inmate to the Captain or Major's office. If the inmate is aware of his execution date before this meeting takes place (usually we are notified firstly by our attorneys) it's wise to have any belongings packed and ready to go. This expedites the moving process and decreases the chance losing any personal property. I lived out of my property bags for a few days before being moved.
Once the inmate is in the Captain or Major's office, they will hand the inmate a folder with the necessary paperwork, and this has to be filled out FOURTEEN DAYS PRIOR TO THE EXECUTION DATE. I recommend that the visitation list for final visits be filled out, together with a Will and the paperwork for the arrangements after death, as soon as possible. I've known it happen numerous times when the administration asks for the paperwork early (it happened to me!) or the inmate was not prepared or didn't have the required information to hand. The final visits are extremely important to both the person facing execution, and their loved ones, and it's a good idea to have these details worked out as far in advance as is possible.
There used to be a time when a person on Death Watch was not given special privileges per se but were nonetheless considered 'top priority' because of what was at stake. Sadly, this top priority does not exist anymore. You are no longer guaranteed recreation...You are no longer guaranteed a phone call. When and if this happens, it's important to have a loved one or friend stay active for you throughout the process, and they can call to complain to a Warden on your behalf. For an inmate on death watch to have the small privileges he is entitled to, active involvement in the process is imperative. When you call the prison to complain, be sure to express that you are not asking for anything more than the inmate is allowed to have as a 'Level One Offender'. You are not asking for special attention, ONLY what he is allowed to have and should have, especially in those final days. If a family member cannot stay involved, don't hesitate to ask the inmate's attorney to get involved. Someone must put pressure on the Administration.
On March 1st, 2020, the rules regarding mail were changed. We can no longer receive greetings cards on death row, or in any Texas prison. I lost count of all of the wonderful cards and letters I received from well-wishers when I was on death watch. I appreciated each and every one of them and they kept my spirits raised throughout that very dark period. With cards no longer allowed, a note on a plain piece of white paper will always be appreciated by someone on death watch. It lets the person know that there are people who care, and who are praying for them, and is very important in helping the condemned person get through that period.
Please read the document attached to familiarize yourself with the execution protocol. It isn't an easy read by any means, especially as it's so clinical in its approach to what is essentially preparations to murder someone. That said, being aware of everything that needs to be done can and will avoid any unnecessary stress, at a time when things can be so painful already.
I truly hope this helps, and may G-d help us to end the death penalty once and for all.
Randy E. Halprin
During his time on death watch, Randy wrote some very moving and traumatic accounts of seeing his fellow-inmates being taken to their deaths, and the trauma of all those on death watch in having to deal with these events. He also gave us some very valuable insight into what a death row prisoner's time is like on death watch.
Thank you for reading, and for your continued kindness and support.
By Jose Moreno...A Memoir
(by Randy E. Halprin)
The following is an account of the final hours leading up to someone's execution. It's a very moving account that I really wanted to publish here on my website, and was written by a man named Jose Moreno. Even now, in 2007, Jose still faces execution - that possibility still looms over his head, like a dark cloud. But since receiving his stay of execution and returning to death row, he has found peace, and God.
I wanted to share this testimony, even though I'm not a Christian myself, if only to show that redemption is possible...Even in the last moments of a person's life.
Texas Death Row - September 22nd, 2007
(by Jose Angel Moreno)
The barbaric practice of legal execution has become so common - especially in the State of Texas - that many people often compare it with and see it no different than animal euthanization. It's easy to see the process as nothing more than putting someone to sleep. Unfortunately, for those who find themselves condemned to execution, it is not that simple.
Execution by any means is a torture of the psyche. It is not something I would wish anyone to experience. But for those of you that would like an idea of the terror that someone experiences during those final moments before an execution, then continue reading..
Allow me to introduce myself...I am Jose, and I have been on death row for a little over two decades. Luckily, I have survived four execution dates, including one this year that came within three hours of being strapped to the gurney and given a lethal injection. I am not the first person to come so close and escape execution. Many more have come even closer. I personally know several lucky survivors. What we all share in this ordeal is a traumatic life-altering experience. What I hope to show you, the reader, is the deep level of anguish I went through and the frightening realization that I came to in the end. Something only someone about to die can ever understand.
For the majority of my life I have been a blissful agnostic, a belief (or lack of) that I can no longer hold. Over the years there have been numerous Christians who have tried to change my belief, especially during the last few months before my execution date. They see this as their last opportunity to convince me to accept Jesus so that I can die in peace. Every one of the Christians failed to reach me. On the days leading up to my execution date, it is one celebration after another. My friends on deathwatch are preparing special meals, my family and friends on the outside are travelling great distances to come visit me, the prison officials and administration are actually displaying a decency that I have never seen before. Sympathy for the condemned is soothing to a degree, but then comes the moment when all of that is forgotten. It's time to go to your death.
That exact moment begins when Assistant Warden Billy Hirsch comes to notify me personally that my visit is over at exactly noon on what is to be the day of my execution, May 10, 2007. My family knows the moment is coming and so we sit in silence. No one says a word, hoping that time will slow down or stop all together. My father's head is hung down, he looks utterly dejected. At that point I realize that I have failed to be a son that a father can be proud of. Hopelessness and helplessness start to seep into me. I watch as my family is led out in tears. Later, I discover that not only are my family escorted out of the prison, but several prison vehicles follow my family on their way to the Walls Unit, where my execution is to take place. When I am escorted out of the visiting room, I see a dozen or so civilian-dressed people, all there just to get a glimpse of the condemned prisoner. I don't recognize any of them, but they are undoubtedly VIP's, directors, parole-board members, wardens, and high-ranking prison administration employees - all here for the show.
From visitation I am escorted back to 12 building, where death-row inmates are housed. On my long walk to the rear of the building where a strip-and-search cage is located, I notice that not only is the whole building on lockdown just for this special event, but neatly tucked away in one of the side hallways is a five-man response team, all suited and ready to respond in case the dozen officers escorting me can't restrain me if I won't co-operate. In fact, when I get to the cage, Warden Hirsch steps up behind me and places his hands and arms in my back in a provocative manner presumably just to test me and see if I am going to get hostile. After a thorough search I am allowed to dress in all new state clothes and I am escorted to the back gate where a transport van awaits. Warden Hirsch's last words to me are, "Thanks for being a man about this."
After I am loaded into a small, cramped compartment in the back of the van, it slowly starts making its way out of the unit. When I get to the end of 12 Building, I'm looking in the windows for my friends and I see a brightly colored piece of paper waving back and forth to get my attention. The van is carrying me and five prison officers; the officers are are given AR-15 rifles, street sweeper type shotguns, and small caliber handguns, at the back gate. The van is preceded and followed by civilian vehicles and personnel, all heavily armed.
The drive to the Walls Unit takes about an hour due to security reasons, because they don't take a direct route. When we finally arrive at the Walls Unit, the transport vehicles are admitted through the first of many gates. To get from the back gate to where the execution chamber is, the transport vehicles must maneuver through a maze of narrow passageways between huge buildings. I feel like I am being swallowed by a gigantic beast.
When the engines on the vehicles are finally turned off, we are parked right outside the death chamber. From there I hobble the few feet it takes to get to the holding area next to the execution chamber. The prison employees along the way all stop what they're doing to gawk at the condemned on his way to death.
Once in the holding area, the only door in or out is locked behind me. Immediately I begin to get claustrophobic because the ceiling in the holding area is too low for its long length and to make it worse there are no windows. It feels like I am in an underground dungeon. The air has an eerie antiseptic chemical smell to it, and the floor is polished to a glass shine. Add to that the dim lighting, and the only other door in this room being at the end, leading to the execution chamber...a dead end in more than just one meaning.
The holding area comprises a row of cells, and the walkway in front of the cells has several tables of varying sizes and a few chairs, and in the room with me are about a dozen hand-picked prison officers of no less than sergeant rank. Most are heavy-built and tall, more than capable of subduing a single inmate. To prove this point they began removing all the restraints that had me hobbling: leg-irons, handcuffs, hogtie chain, and the big leather belt around my waist. Then I am stripped of the new clothing I received at the Polunsky Unit so I can be thoroughly searched again and given new Walls Unit clothing. The old clothing is heaped on top of my property that has been following me everywhere I go, two bundles of legal documents, records, books, receipts, and other now useless paperwork I have collected over more than two decades. I'd given away all my valuables long before I started my journey to the Walls Unit. There isn't even a Bible in my property.
Once I've redressed, I am allowed to walk freely as I proceed to the table where an old ranking official will take two sets of fingerprints - to make sure they are killing the right person, I guess. Once finished, I am allowed to walk to one of the cells. The cell is clean and the mattress, pillow, sheets and pillowcase are all brand new. The sheets are put on the mattress in prison fashion, tied underneath and tightened down. The pillow is fluffy. After I wash the ink off my hands I lay down in the bunk; I'm exhausted and very sleepy because I haven't slept in two days and can't sleep now either, because I'm told we await the arrival of the unit's warden, C. Thomas O'Reilly - it's about 10 minutes later when he arrives. All the while there is an officer sitting right in front of the cell, watching everything I do - the rest of the officers are off to each side or walking around.
The other tables in the room are for refreshments and snacks, and three huge containers of hot coffee, tea, and juice. Milk is chilling in a container of ice. The one item that stands out most is a big silver platter with all sorts of sweets on it: cookies, buns, rolls, pastries, etc. This silver platter must go back a long way, and it has probably served hundreds of condemned prisoners - it certainly doesn't belong in a prison! Even if I wasn't terrified and was capable of eating, I probably wouldn't have wanted to touch any of the sweets on it, not that I am offered anything anyway. The party doesn't start until after the warden has had a chance to talk to you.
When the Walls Unit warden shows up, he starts off by explaining to me what is going to happen. At three o'clock they will allow me to walk into the next cell where I will be behind a screen. Then my spiritual advisor will be admitted and I can visit up to an hour. At 4 p.m. they will bring the last meal. He has a copy of my last meal request in his hands, and he comments that I have a lot of food listed (pork chops, fajitas, spicy fried chicken, beef enchiladas, refried beans, Mexican-style rice, pico do gallo, guacamole, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos, black olives, garlic clove, corn tortillas, flour tortillas, empanas and a whole truffle) and then he asks if I'm really that hungry. Of course, I wasn't hungry at all, even though I hadn't eaten in at least a day, but I answered that I only wanted to sample everything. He then said they would fix most what I requested but they weren't going to be able to find the truffle.
He then says he is going to leave and I won't see him again until 6 p.m., or when the courts notify him that all my appeals are finally exhausted. At that point he will return and say, "It's time." I will then walk out of the cell and go directly to that door (he points at it, and I can see it clearly from inside the cell). "On the other side of that door is the execution chamber," he continues. "You will be helped up onto the gurney, and you will be strapped down. Then, two medically trained personnel will stand next to you - one on each side - and they will proceed to insert a catheter into each arm. A sheet will be placed over your body up to your chest. Then, I will stand behind your head and the chaplain will stand by your feet, holding one of your ankles if you want him to hold you. Then I will ask you if you have a last statement. "Do you have a last statement?" I answer him that I am still undecided. I certainly didn't have a last statement prepared, and all the jokes I contemplated saying were the last things on my mind. The warden continued, "I will give you two minutes to make your last statement but I'm flexible, depending on what you are saying. I have two rules: one, no profanity or cursing, and two, it must be in English because I don't understand Spanish." Then he tells me that if I get a stay of execution the chaplain will come and inform me of it.
Finally, he asks me if I have any questions and it is at this time that I am supposed to ask for any special requests, like the telephone. The warden tells me that I can call as many people as I want but the person must live in the continental U.S. and all phone calls will stop at 5 p.m. When the warden leaves, that's the cue for the party to start. The chaplain pours me a tea and offers me the infamous silver platter. I ask for milk instead. Then I get right on the phone. The first person I talk to is my friend of 27 years, but I'm not doing much talking because I'm trying to choke down the sobs. Right then, I am more scared than I've ever been in my whole life. I talk on the phone for about half-an-hour and then the chaplain informs me that I had received a stay of execution! Immediately the special privileges are terminated and the party is over, but now I'm crying tears of joy.
The mad hurry to transport me back to the Polunsky Unit is immediately underway. The return trip is much quicker but on that ride back to death row I had the following revelation: dying is like walking through a one-way door; once you step through, there is no coming back to this side. When you are about to cross that metaphorical door to the unknown, that's when you comprehend the staggering losses you will have. You are going to lose everything you value and love. What will you gain on the other side? Certainly not any of your family and friends from this existence! When we die, the bonds in our relationship with others are severed. You can't even count on having someone waiting for you on the other side. For an agnostic there is little to look forward to. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, all have something to expect. I, on the other hand, had nothing.
Everything I had done to make my final days pleasant - the parties I had with my friends on death watch, all the "final" letters I left for my family, all of the special visits I received during those days, the special Shout-Out show that played hours of my favorite music on KDOL 96.1, the treats on that silver platter, my last meal, and even being able to call anyone I wanted to - none of that mattered. I realized that at 5 p.m. I was going to have to stop talking on the phone, and my friends from death watch were not going to be in the cells next to me. In the execution chamber, no one was going to be there with me except some chaplain I've only known for a day. Even if my family and all my loved ones could have been there holding me during the execution, this was a journey that I was going to be making by myself. It wasn't dying that I was so scared of at that moment, it was the fear of God. Afterwards, on the ride back to the Polunsky Unit, I realized that I almost died outside the grace of God. Instead of indulging in those materialistic gifts the State of Texas (and possibly Satan) was using to distract me, I should have been on my knees praying.
Since returning to death row at the Polunsky Unit, my hands stopped shaking after two days and my sleep returned to normal after three days. The experience of visiting the death chamber as a potential participant instead of a tourist, has changed my life completely. The person that went to the Walls Unit is not the same person that came back. It is my hope and prayers that I never again find myself in that evil place. But the possibility exists, as my appeals have not succeeded. I have only won a temporary reprieve.
However, if I must return to face the ultimate punishment, next time I will be in the grace of God.