Nine Days Left to Live
Here’s what the pending execution of David Powell–the man who’ll be killed by the state of Texas in Huntsville on June 15th–has me thinking about today.
I’ve been thinking about the family of Ralph Ablanedo–the man David murdered on May 18th, 1978, who was a police officer, husband, and father of two small children.
And I’ve been trying to even imagine what they must be thinking about and feeling today, knowing that David has nine days left to live. I mean, I know there’s NO WAY for me to ever know or feel what they’ve gone through.
In fact, I’d like to say that again: I know there’s no way for me to ever know or feel what they’ve gone through. The kind of suffering and anger and grief.
And I know that it would be unspeakably vulgar for me to even pretend to know.
But I’ve been thinking about them. And the lifetime that’s passed between the night of Ralph Ablanedo’s murder, and now. THIRTY-TWO years. That’s a whole generation; four different decades; six different presidents. Birthdays, christenings, weddings…
And since David Powell’s first two sentences were overturned, that means the Ablanedo family has lived through three different court trials against the man who murdered a man they love(d).
You know, I wasn’t even alive on May 18th, 1978. My mother wasn’t even pregnant with me yet. So, for more time than I’ve been alive, Ralph Ablanedo’s family has been grieving over his death. And David Powell has been in prison. And the state of Texas has been saying they’re going to kill him.
And nothing about any of that sounds like justice to me.
In fact, for everybody involved, it sounds like slow torture. Imagine having to get up and get dressed day after day, year after year, and go to some horrible courthouse, in order to listen to total strangers argue over the murder of somebody you love(d).
And then having to see the man who murdered him sitting there. And his mother.
And then having to listen to it all being discussed on TV, and read about it in the newspapers, and maybe even on blogs like this one.
I wonder if the Ablanedo family just can’t wait to get past June 15th, or if they’re looking forward to it, or if by this point, the whole thing just feels totally irrelevant to what they’ve lived through. I wonder if they feel like the past thirty-two years have all been leading up to June 15th. And if they do, what do they want from that day?
I mean, beyond wanting David Powell to just die. What is it they want from that experience? Closure? Revenge? Catharsis?
Again and again, I read quotes in the newspaper from people whose loved ones have been murdered, and who attend the executions of their killers. And so often, they express this tragic, tragic feeling of disappointment about what they’ve seen. Just the other day, for instance, in the “Dallas Morning News,” a family member was quoted as saying that his nephew’s killer’s death was “too easy. It was like laying down and going to sleep,” he said. “My nephew suffered.”
I can only imagine that–beyond losing a beloved family member, and all the unknowable torture and agony that entails–living through the execution of a loved one’s killer, and then being disappointed by it, would be one of the saddest things life could ever hand you.
Particularly if you’ve been waiting for it for thirty-two years.
Because just think, for decades, you’ve been looking forward to this one day, which you’ve wanted desperately, but you can’t really be happy about. You’ve wanted the satisfaction of watching a loved one’s killer die. And then, just like that, it’s over, and it wasn’t good enough. Like a horrible, horrible version of that hollow, sad way you felt as a child on Christmas morning after you ripped open your presents, and then Christmas was over, and you’d never really FELT it. You know? Like that old Peggy Lee song, “Is That all There Is?”
Because here’s what’s really going to happen to David Powell: He’s going to be strapped to a gurney, and given a few injections by a strange crew of trained medical personel, government bureaucrats, and prison guards. He won’t ever wake up again. And everybody’s going to go home knowing they’ve seen a man die.
And what will they go home with?
You have to really, truly hope that the Ablanedo family, at least, goes home with some measure of peace, and a sense that a horrible part of their life is finally, finally over. You have to genuinely hope that they get whatever they wanted out of this terrible day they’ve been waiting a lifetime for.