By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But the debate surrounding the execution of Gary Graham was decidedly racial, cleaving neatly along the color line. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” said Chad Wilson, another white SHSU student. “They should just give the guy the juice. An eye for an eye.”
The certainty that justice was being done to Gary Graham — which echoes Bush’s own comments on the death penalty — was nowhere to be heard among the African-American residents interviewed for this story. “As long as there is some question, I don’t think they should be giving him the lethal injection,” said Patricia Blanks, a born-again Christian, drawing sounds of affirmation from the group of blacks around her. “They ought to wait.”
Race is one reason why the death-penalty issue in general, and the Graham case in particular, may not end up “dogging the Bush campaign,” to use the phrase that tumbled off the lips of one pundit after another on Thursday. It’s hard to see how Al Gore (who also supports the death penalty) could exploit the Graham case in the way, for instance, that, 12 years ago, another sitting vice president exploited the fate of a black inmate named Willie Horton. Overnight polls showed 49 percent of likely voters approved of the way Bush handled the execution, compared to 30 percent against, suggesting that votes are still to be â found in being tough on criminals, even those of questionable guilt.
Indeed, by the next day, the conventional wisdom was backpedaling to the view that the execution had given Bush the opportunity to look “presidential,” when, dressed in a dark suit and speaking in sober, even somber, tones, he announced from the Capitol in Austin that Graham’s appeals had been exhausted and that he was allowing the execution to go forward.
As Graham’s execution grew closer and his appeals failed one by one, the crowd grew more desperate. Late in the afternoon, Black Panthers paraded through the streets with guns, threatening violence if Graham was put to death. Later, an activist yelled into a microphone, “Bush is a cold-blooded murderer; we can’t let this man become our next president.”
There was no public announcement at the moment of Gary Graham’s death at the hands of the state. No tolling bells or flickering lights, as one imagined happened in the days of the electric chair. The minute hand on the clock above the Walls Unit entrance swept around past the 3, the 6, the 9, creeping toward 9 o’clock as the crowd looked on restively. Finally, someone spotted Bianca Jagger and Jesse Jackson emerging from the building, and there was no doubt any longer. As word trickled through the crowd that Graham was dead, Bush’s image was burned in effigy.
The official time of death was 8:49 p.m., according to prison officials at the post-execution news conference. Graham had gone out kicking and screaming, and proclaiming his innocence to the very last in a rambling six-and-a-half-minute speech that ended only when the poison cut him short. “They are killing me tonight,” he said. “They are murdering me tonight. I did not kill Bobby Lambert. I am an innocent man.”
By 10 o’clock, the protesters were dispersing quietly into the night, with none of the rioting and looting authorities had braced for. The local news reporters were doing their final standups in front of the floodlit Walls Unit. The police were packing away their riot gear. Geraldo was signing off.
And with the heat finally relenting enough to dry sweat off bodies, the town of Huntsville, the capital of capital punishment, was returning more or less to normal. At a bar near the freeway, two young men cooled off with Budweisers while watching the wrap-up on the late local news. “Up here no one really pays attention to it, to be honest,” said one, with an air of detached bemusement. “Next week you all will be gone, and they’ll be juicing some more folks and no one will care,” said the other. “That’s just another day here. That’s just Texas.”
The next execution in Huntsville, of prisoner Jessy San Miguel, 28, was scheduled for Thursday, June 29, at 6 p.m.