Friday, July 22, 2011

The Killing Machine

By Ronald W. Clark Jr.

I arrived on Florida’s Death Row on Friday February 22nd 1991. At that time there had only been 25 executions since it’s re instatement in the 1970’s. That 25th execution was Raymond Clark who had spent 13 years on Death Row.

Several months after my arrival the Governor would sign Roy Harich’s death warrant and scheduled his execution for April 24th 1991 four days after my 23rd birthday. I didn’t know Roy but I was around guys who did know him and I could see how it affected them. Back in those days the Electric Chair called ‘Old Sparky’ was used. Weeks before the execution the generator would be started several times a week in preparation for the execution. This took a toll on a lot of men. The next three men who were executed while I was still in the building were number 27 Marion Francis executed June 25th 1991, number 28 Nollie Lee Martin executed on May 12th 1992 and number 29 Edward Kennedy executed on July 21st 1992. I saw the stress that it put on the men who knew them. We could smell burnt flesh during these executions. Guys that were located in certain areas could watch the vans filled with witnesses pull in and out, watch the hearse pull in and out and pick up the body. Witnessing that was even more disturbing but it would be some years later before I’d witness that.

On February 23rd 1993 I’d get transferred form Florida State Prison to the new death Row housing unit at Union Correctional Institution (UCI) and on April 21st 1993 the 30th man to be executed would be Robert Henderson. Again I didn’t know him but over here at UCI it was as different as night and day. You were separated from the experience of the execution. The only way you knew about it was if you were keeping up with it through the news or newspapers.

The 31st execution would take place on May 8th 1993. I knew this man and lived around him. His name was Larry Johnson who we called Timebomb. He was only in his late 40’s but looked like he was in his 60’s. Life had not been kind to him at all. Number 32 would be Michael Durocher executed later that year on August 25th 1993. He was only on the Row for two years. He arrived a few months after I did. I didn’t know him but I had passed him in the hall and had seen him in Medical. The next three men were Roy Stewart executed April 22nd 1994, Bernard Bolander July 18th 1995 and Jerry White executed December 4th 1995. I had seen these guys around, been on the recreation yard with them but I wasn’t close to them.

In October 1994 I moved to the top floor of C Wing and there I’d meet Phillip Atkins who lived several cells down from me. We called him ‘Bull’. Why? I DON’T KNOW. He was a puny little white guy, 5 foot nothing, 100 plus pounds. He played basketball and I’d talk to him on the yard. In mid 1995 as I’d pass his cell going to the shower or a call out or visit Bull would always be there sitting on the edge of the toilet smoking a cigarette. I could see the stress in his face, I could see the change. One day in September or October 1995 while on 2 wing recreation yard the basketball game had ended and he came over and began talking to me. He said ‘man they are fixing to sign my warrant any day now and he said ‘and I’ve got a really bad case’. I said ‘I don’t want to know what you are in here for. I judge you on who you are now not what you did’. We then got interrupted because the officers called me off the yard for a call out. Several days later his warrant was signed and on December 5th 1995 Bull would be the 36th man to be executed by the State of Florida. And only through the news coverage did I discover his crime. But I got to know the man not the crime.

John Bush, who we called ‘Little John’, would be the next man executed on October 21st 1996. And shortly after that on December 6th 1996 they would execute John Mills. Pedro Medina who we called ‘KC’ would be the 39th man executed by the State of Florida, on March 25th 1997. He was a black Cuban. This man was eating his own feces leading up to his execution yet they still murdered him under the mantle of Justice, for the sake of an eye for an eye, blood for blood. A year after KC’s murder the Governor would sign four death warrants. Gerald Stano who they would kill on March 23rd 1998, Leo Jones who they would murder on March 24th 1998. There are still a lot of unanswered questions concerning his guilt. And on March 30th 1998 Florida would execute the first woman since the re instatement of the Death Penalty making Judias Buenoano the 42nd person to die in Florida’s electric chair. The 43rd would be Danny Remeta. I had never lived around Danny but I had spoken to him and his wife in the visiting park on many occasions. They were both very nice people.

The last person to be murdered in Florida’s electric chair would be on July 8th 1999, Tiny Allen Davis. The uproar over this botched execution, being the third botched execution in a decade starting with that of Jesse Tafero, an innocent man that Florida murdered on May 4th 1990. Flames shooting from the top of his head, burnt flesh as he jerked against the straps that held him in ‘Old Sparky’. Seven years later they made the same mistake killing KC. Tiny’s execution threatened to shut Florida’s machinery of death down. So in January of 2000 Florida would reconstruct the death chamber and implement lethal injections.

In December 1999 I was moved back to Florida State Prison (FSP) and placed on Q wing on the second floor due to an incident I had been involved in. So I could hear the construction work being done in the execution chamber. And as soon as they had finished the Governor would re sign the death warrants of Terry Sims and Anthony Bryan, two men that I knew very well. I had lived around both of these men. I had met Tony’s family in the visiting park. When their 30 day warrants were signed they would be placed on the bottom floor of Q wing in a death watch cell. So for the next 30 days I would speak with them through a vent in the back wall. I’d see Tony in the non contact visiting park with family and friends and I could only imagine that their suffering was far out reaching his. For the survivors (family) would have prolonged suffering that would last for years as they slowly witnessed what is the greatest degree of pre meditated homicide to have ever taken place.

On February 23rd 2000 I would talk to Terry for the last time at approximately 6am an hour before his death. He said ‘I talked to my son last night on the phone and he sang me a song that he wrote for me’. He said for his last meal he had had fish (Grouper), French fries and a Boston cream pie which he shared with Tony. He said ‘They are here for me man, I’ve got to go. Ya’ll take care and I’ll see you on the other side.’ I got down stood at my cell door looking out across the hallway. I saw the van pull in through the window, I saw the white hearse pull up and stop in the parking lot outside the fence, waiting, preying over Terry’s dead body like a vulture. I knew what was going on under me. Murder in the fraudulent name of equal Justice! Bullshit!! It’s not Justice, it’s freaking revenge!! I watched the witness vans leave and the hearse pull in and within 15 minutes I watched it exit out of the back of FSP with the body of Terry M Sims the 45th person to be executed since 1976 and the first person to be put to death by lethal injection in the State of Florida on February 24th 2000.

I’d repeat the same thing. I woke up called down to Tony and we talked until they came to get him. He was preaching about his Christian faith. I just listened and agreed until he had to go. He spoke about the last visit with his family. So I imagined they were out there with the protestors. I thought of them as I stood over at the bars and watched the vans come and go. As I watched the hearse pull in and then leave. There was fog that morning and as that hearse sat at the back gate with Tony’s dead body I saw the sun shine down through the fog and it was amazing. From where I was standing that was the light that I needed to start my fight to educate people on the injustice of capital punishment.

The 47th execution was June 7th 2000. Bennie Demps who we called ‘Dezalene ‘ or ‘Dez’. I had spoken to Dez back in November or December 1999 in the visiting park after he had come back from an outside court and he was positive things were looking up and he was going to get his sentence overturned. So in April when I heard he got his warrant signed I was shocked that he was now downstairs. I would run into him in the hallway on several occasions and he would nod his head and say ‘take it easy’. I knew it was a long shot for him to get a stay. I could see the defeat in his eyes. He never got on the vent to talk. This was not the same happy go lucky Dez that I knew.

Fourteen days after they murdered Dez they would kill Thomas Provenzano. They had him scheduled to be executed on June 29th 2000. I never spoke to him on the vent. I had only seen him in passing at medical and legal call outs. I stood that morning and watched the vans pull in. I had seen the hearse out in the parking lot. Just after 7am I saw the vans leave and thought that’s too early. And then the hearse left which told me that he got a stay of execution. I learned later that he was strapped to the gurney, needles in his arms and at the very last minute the phone rang. It was the governor’s office and they issued a stay. However the stay was a 24 hour stay and the next morning June 21st 2000 he was thrown back on the gurney and killed.

Dan Hauser would be the next man executed on August 25th 2000 but I call this ‘state assisted suicide’. He terminated his appeals in order to escape this brutal world of the condemned. As would my friend, the 50th man killed by the state of Florida, Edward Castro who we called ‘Gato’. He was killed on December 7th 2000. By this time I had been moved off Q wing and on to G wing formerly known as R wing death row housing. There I could still witness the vans entering and exiting as well as that white hearse. Robert Glock who we called ‘Tattoo’ after the little guy on Fantasy Island would be the next man executed on January 11th 2001. He was on G wing several cells down before they killed him so I got to know him there. That’s tough watching a healthy human being be put down euthanized like a stray animal. The next man was even more difficult, for he was my neighbor Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco, known as ‘Sanchez’. We used to gamble, play cards. He would do art work for me and we would talk. Again I knew the man not the crime and it was a crime that was eating him up inside. So he had dropped his appeals and Governor Bush and the state of Florida assisted Sanchez to commit suicide on October 2nd 2002. To this day I still have the cards we played with. One of the officers came over and told me that Sanchez sent his regards to you on the way out and he was joking with the officers as they passed the air conditioning unit saying ‘Hey can I take that with me. I might need it where I am going.’

A week later Aileen Wuornos would be the 53rd person and the second woman executed by the state of Florida.

On November 7th 2002 I was placed back on G wing with Linroy Bottoson who had gotten a stay of execution that year, as well as Amos King who I had known for over a decade. On December 9th 2002 Linroy would be executed and Amos King would be executed on February 26th 2003. I’d see him several days before his execution and again I saw that hopeless look in his eyes. The same look that I had seen Dez’s eyes. The next two executions would be Newton Slawson on May 16th 2003 and Paul Hill on September 3rd 2003. I had seen Paul Hill around and I knew his case, killing an abortion doctor.

The next execution would take place on February 4th 2004 Johnny L Robinson. I knew him well. I lived around him for two years on the old S wing at FSP. He used to do some beautiful crochet work. I met his wife in the visiting park once. She used to come down from Alabama to see him. His death was an emotional strain on me.

The 59th execution would be that of John Blackwelder on May 26th 2004. Although he had only spent just over two years on death row I had known him since 2000. I met him in the summer of 2000 while on Q wing. John did not commit the murder that he was executed for. I don’t think this I know this. See John was in the prison population and he was being sexually assaulted. Used as a sex toy. He had had enough of it so Charles Globe told him he could get him out of there if he was willing to take the blame. So Globe killed the victim who was another gay guy. John would take the blame and get a free ticket to death row, where he would drop his appeals and the state would assist in his suicide.

Glen Hocha who we called ‘Raven’ would be the 60th person executed on April 5th 2005. He also used the machinery of death as a tool to commit suicide. By this time I was back at UCI. Clarence Hill who we called ‘Mobile’ or his Muslim name Raizot would be the next man killed on September 20th 2006. I knew him well and played basketball against him over the years. Shortly after his death they would sign the death warrant of Arthur Rutherford who went by the name of Dennis. He would be put to death on October 18th 2006 and I knew him as well.

The 63rd person executed by the state of Florida would be one of the more famous Danny Rolling who would be put down on October 25th 2006. I knew Danny pretty well. I could see that he was mentally disturbed. I recall a disturbing conversation between him and another inmate over a K Bar knife and I knew then that he wasn’t wrapped too tight. I still have a drawing that he did for me.

Angel Diaz who we called ‘Poco’ was the next man to not only die in Florida’s death chamber on December 13th 2006 but to be tortured. The execution went terribly wrong. The IV that the deadly cocktail would flow through was put in wrong, they missed the vein and the poison was absorbed through the body tissue. Six years earlier they butchered Dez when they couldn’t find a vein in his arm.

Mark D Schwab would be the next man to be executed on July 1st 2008. I was on the bottom of one wing formerly known as A wing when they signed his warrant and took him by my cell. I had lived around him several times over the years. The 66th man to die was Richard Henyard on September 23rd 2008. I knew Little Rich well. I had lived on the same wing with him and Mark on two separate occasions. So these were extremely difficult executions to deal with. I am just glad that I wasn’t at FSP.

The next person was Wayne Tomkins who we called ‘Grey Cloud’. He would be killed on February 11th 2009 yet he spent a good five years on G wing with a warrant signed but no date. Which I’m sure was hard on him and his family.

The 68th man would be John Marek who would be executed on August 19th 2009. I didn’t know him, I knew people that did.

The 69th man and last execution to this date was Eddie Gross a man who we called ’Eddie Spaggiti’. I met him and his family in the visiting park. Luckily his mother passed away before they killed him.

These are the executions that I’ve experienced here on Florida’s death row. It would be a good thing if I never have to update this essay. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening. Human’s blood lust for vengeance seems to over ride human decency. And the death penalty is an act of revenge, the thirst for death. One day a time will come when a more civilized society will look back on us with the same contempt and disgust as we have looking back at the murders and executions of the Roman Empire. But until that day the killing machines in America will continue to spit bodies out because of our blood lust for vengeance.

Ronald W. Clark Jr #812974
Union Correctional Institution
7819 N.W. 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32036-4440 USA

Ronald has previously written a Letter for a Future Death Row Inmate and can be read HERE

He also has a website maintained by a friend:

© Copyright 2011 by Ronald Clark Jr and Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

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