In the Dead of the Night Continued from Cover Death Row was moved to Ellis in 1965. “It’s several rows; it’s several cell blocks,” Brown said. Three condemned women are held for killing 150 miles from Huntsville, around Gatesville. Of the 265 condemned Texans at that particular point, Brown said, 132 were white, 99 were black, 33 were Hispanic, and one was “other.” Harris County was providing by far the most of them, 91 of the 265 one in every three. “I witness every execution myself,” Brown said. “I’ve seen about 19, probably.” Who is the executioner? “It’s several people back there we don’t know who. I don’t even want to know,” he replied. Although the law is silent on press coverage, the rules are far tighter than they were when I covered the electrocution of Charles Elbert Williams at Huntsville in 1961 \(Texas Observer, four articles, May 27 reporters just asked to be let in. Now only five representatives of the press are permitted. Three of the slots are assigned to the two wire services and the local paper, the Huntsville Item. A fourth place goes to print media and a fifth to broadcast media, with preference in both cases given to reporters from the home town or city of the condemned person .. Anyone else who wants to report an execution has to get on a waiting list, maintained against the unlikely chance that one of the five authorized journalists won’t attend. \(When I made plans to cover an execution in February I was No. 17 on the list until I made arrangements to ask or care whether these rules constitute an unconstitutional burden on the freedom of the press, yet it is clear that most statewide and national media are excluded. A’TTORNEY GENERAL Jim Mattox, the state official with the most important role in the state’s killings and the most complex and interesting set of positions on the subject, has attended 22 of the 26 executions that have been committed since he took office, and he has talked personally with “12 to 15” of the condemned men just minutes before they were poisoned. He does not think the death penalty deters murderers. “I think in most cases you’ll find that the murder was committed under severe drug and alcohol abuse,” he told the Huntsville Item last year. “It is my own experience,” he wrote David Brinkley of ABC News on July 7, 1987, “that those executed in Texas were not deterred by the existence of the death penalty. In fact, I suspect that some capital murders have occurred in an effort to make certain there was no witness to an otherwise modest felony such as stealing a six-pack of beer from a convenience store.” Death Penalty Protest Texas law requires that a condemned man be killed by sunrise, but in practice the deed is done as soon as possible after midnight. Mattox believes cameras should be allowed he wants the state’s killings taken out of the dead of night and aired on television screens. “The public should have an understanding of what takes place,” he told the AP last year. “The public appears to take this in stride.” Opponents of the death penalty have suspected that this is a covert anti-death penalty position. Mattox always argues that television would make state killings into real deterrents and would stimulate public reflection on the issue. “For these things to be conducted in the still of the night with no crowds around, it is likely not to bring about the deterrent impact that people would like for it to have,” he told the AP last year. Heretofore he has seemed to have it both ways on this question. For instance, consider this story in the Austin AmericanStatesman of March 8, 1987: “Mattox said he has reservations about the death penalty and doesn’t believe its claimed deterrent effect is real. . . . ‘I think society has made the decision in Texas to exact that punishment, because we are frustrated with the kinds of crimes that people commit. Society, in effect, is exacting that revenge, that retaliation.’ ” During a long interview in his office, attended by four of five of his staff people who were interested in what he was going to say in a definitive interview on the subject, Mattox stated with some clarity that he believes in the death penalty. He began going to the executions, Mattox said, because he wanted to make sure that someone was there who had the authority to see that things went according to the law. “This is such an important act,” he said. “If my job was going to be that of making final decisions on the life or death of an individual, I was going to be sure I understood what the \\ process was and what was happening.” He said that on one occasion he became convinced that it was not proper for a certain execution to go forward because of pending legal questions. “They had already placed the inmate on the gurney. I in effect ordered them to take him off the table. Despite that order, the director kept hiin on the table for an additional 30 minutes.” He made it clear after that, in discussions with the TDC director, James Lynaugh, that “as your lawyer I tell you to go forward or I tell you not to go forward.” Mattox maintains a policy as the state’s chief legal officer not to oppose the initial legal arguments of condemned men against their being killed, provided he does not regard those arguments as frivolous. On the other hand, after he thinks the basic questions have been litigated, he has his lawyers go all out to get the man killed. His standards in each case, he said, are to be sure the law has the right man and to see “that the individual has received what a normal person in the society would consider a fair trial not necessarily what THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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