Friday, August 25, 2006

Things to Do in Texas When You're Dead

By the time you read this, Justin Fuller will be dead.

Wednesday, 8:43am

There's a specific mathematical equation which can be used to help understand why Houston is arguably the most God-awful place on Earth. It all comes down to the numbers: the fifth-worst traffic in the country, plus the second-worst air-quality, minus the constant 72-degree temperature which makes Los Angeles livable despite such problems, multiplied by the number of Texans equals, well, Hell.

A few minutes ago I purposely ignored the flight attendant's request that I switch off all portable electronic devices, choosing instead to continue listening to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Howl album blasted at full-volume through my iPod. Anything to make descending through a layer of shit-brown haze slightly less depressing.

I'm now standing in baggage claim with my photographer. We've unloaded six pieces of luggage filled with heavy camera equipment and are currently engaged in a harried conversation with an employee of Continental Airlines. This employee's sole reason for existence over the next few hours will be to find a seventh piece of luggage which has apparently vanished into thin air somewhere between Laguardia and George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

That's my first impression of Houston this morning: lost luggage, an airport named after the man whose sperm mutated into George W. Bush, and a sign I'm leaning against which bears a likeness of the Houston Police Department seal. It reads, "Order Through Law. Justice With Mercy."

How reassuring.

I can't leave this place quickly enough.

Wednesday, 9:52am

Fortunately, the wayward bag didn't contain any vital piece of camera equipment; unfortunately it did contain a vital pair of shoes -- which is why we're now parked outside of a Wal-Mart along Route 59 North. My anchor and I sit in the Jeep Grand Cherokee which the network has been kind enough to rent for us; I'm in the driver's seat, she's next to me. We're discussing the pros, cons and innate weirdness of going to your twenty-year high school reunion. Apparently at hers, she and her husband shared a table with a couple that argued the entire evening; he was a farmer, she was a stay-at-home mom. Eventually, after several drinks, the farmer threatened violence against his timid wife and was forcibly removed from the table.

My anchor has just unknowingly convinced me to attend my own reunion next year.

At some point, the other producer travelling with us on this little adventure comes running out of the front of the monolithic Wal-Mart -- bag in hand. When she throws open the back door of the SUV, my anchor and I giddily ask to see her purchase. She shows us the shoes she just bought -- which are about as impressive as you'd expect a pair of shoes bought at a Texas Wal-Mart to be, which is to say, not at all. They aren't open-toed however, which means that they meet the stated requirement for entry into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Polunsky Unit's Death Row area. Why anyone's choice of footware would be a sticking point, I'm not quite sure. I'm not willing to argue the point however, given that I've already had nightmares in which today's shoot turns into the last half-hour of Natural Born Killers. Best to get on the guards' good sides right off the bat.

The producer slips off the flip-flops she wore on the plane and slides on the new Wal-Mart specials.

Wednesday, 10:07am

Continuing north on Route 59, we pass another Wal-Mart; this one is a Supercenter.

Wednesday, 10:15am

My anchor says she's hungry, so we pull over to a combination Chevron Station/Subway on the side of the road. The fact that myself, the other producer, our anchor and photographer have all chosen to wear black shirts for today's shoot -- a decision made without a hint of pre-planning or irony -- doesn't go unnoticed by the locals, many of whom resemble the road crew of Monster Magnet. They look at us like we're A) lost B) gay C) from New York, or D) all of the above. I'm the last in line to order and the rest of my crew is already out the door when I look next to the cash register and notice a plexiglass box containing small bottles stacked neatly in rows. I recognize them immediately: Mini-thins -- illegal in most states because they contain ephedrine, which has been known to occasionally thin the herd of stupid high school kids by stopping their hearts. They're often found in convenience stores because they conveniently keep truckers awake during extended runs. They've been at my side through every cross-country drive I've ever made.

I'm smiling as I hand the cashier a ten, toss one of the little bottles into my Subway bag and walk out the door -- carefully sidestepping the display of Git-R-Done bumper stickers on my way -- and into the humid Texas air.

Wednesday, 10:26am

We pass another Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Wednesday, 10:35am

As Route 59 narrows into a four-lane stretch of road, we pass a small, yellow building on the right. Emblazoned on the front of it is a sign that reads, Joy Juice Liquors.

I spit Dr. Pepper all over the steering wheel.

Wednesday, 10:43am

Up ahead of us on the side of the road is a large white tent. As the SUV approaches it and pulls parallel, we each stare silently; it's a massive display of swords, daggers and medieval-looking axes. There must be hundreds of them. Stretched across the top of the tent is a banner; it's succinct in its pronouncement: Swords!

As we glide past, I turn to my anchor. "Hey, you never know," I say blankly.

Wednesday, 11:06am

From the outside, the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas looks about as you'd expect. It's a complex of ugly, two-story buildings surrounded by high fences topped with razor-wire that gleams in the oppressive, unobstructed sunlight. It sits in the middle of a barren field which is constantly patrolled by corrections officers in trucks, on ATVs and on horseback. At each corner of the complex is a tower; walking the landing of each tower is a guard armed with a Remington 11-87 combat shotgun and wearing the obligatory mirrored aviator sunglasses.

As we approach the guard gate -- which isn't a gate at all so much as a checkpoint -- a corrections officer tears himself away from a cooler of water that sits on top of a picnic table next to the road. He walks slowly around the front of our Jeep Cherokee. Before we even roll down the window, we go ahead and get it out of the way.

"What we got here is -- failure to communicate," comes a disembodied voice from the backseat; it's my photographer.

"No one can eat fifty eggs," I respond.

We're allowed in without incident and I park in the visitor's lot, next to a dusty red Chevy Geo with the words "Just Married" scrawled across the back window.

Wednesday, 11:17am

The first thing I notice when I enter the lobby -- which acts as a sort of purgatory between the outside world and the interior of the prison -- is the large sign bolted to the steel door on the other side of the metal detectors. It reads in bold letters, HOSTAGES WILL NOT EXIT THROUGH THIS DOOR, which makes me wonder if it's ever their decision which door they'll exit through.

We're met by a female corrections officer who bears a striking resemblance to Food Network host Paula Deen, right down to the comforting Southern drawl. Translation: she in no way looks like she belongs within ten miles of a place where some of the most dangerous men in the United States are at that very moment forcing the new guy to perform oral sex on them. She leads us through the metal detector and runs down the checklist: no cell phones or Blackberries, no paper money, no pens or pencils, no cigarettes (as they can be traded for contraband), no sunglasses (as they can be traded for good contraband), no gloves (as they can be used to climb the fence), and of course -- no weapons (which suddenly makes me glad we didn't stop at Earl's Fabulous House of Swords).

Once we're given our visitors' passes, we're introduced to a young woman whose intention is to sell us Avon, or maybe recruit us for Junior League, or perhaps take us to a sorority mixer.

This is my first impression upon meeting her anyway.

The media liason for the Polunsky Unit's Death Row is the kind of girl that folks around these parts no doubt describe as "Cute as a Button." She's an attractive brunette in her mid-20s with a perfect complexion and -- for some reason I can't possibly fathom -- a smile that you likely couldn't remove from her face with a crowbar. Quite simply -- like Guard Paula Deen -- she's the last person anyone would expect to willingly spend her days surrounded by guys who are about to be executed. She seems more like a cruise director than someone who works for the Department of Criminal Justice.

After a few minutes of small-talk, which only adds to the palpable surreality, we're escorted into the prison yard via the large steel door -- the one hostages will not be exiting through.

On our way across the yard, Julie Your Cruise Director points to a nearly-windowless building that looks as if it's been flattened with a giant steam iron.

"That's Death Row. It's actually kind of a nice building," she exclaims.

I don't even know how to respond.

Wednesday, 11:36am

A few minutes ago, I and my crew were led into the visitors' wing which is attached to Death Row. Now that I'm looking around, the entire area reminds me of my elementary school -- right down to the bizarrely encouraging affirmations painted on the walls. "Remember, Safety is Priority One!" proclaims one. "Welcome to the Polunsky Unit!" screams another. There are picnic tables outside. There are vending machines against the far wall. I find myself looking around for a shuffle-board court.

In the room the inmates come and go, talking of life on Death Row.

As my photographer finishes setting up for our shoot, I walk slowly toward the partitioned glass booths in the center of the room. The front of the booths face outward, but the back is attached to a long hallway which leads directly to and from the Death Row cell block. The prisoners are never brought into the part of the room I'm standing in; they're simply shuffled into the hallway then dumped into one of these booths. It's like a macabre peep-show -- complete with a telephone. It's only when I look up that I notice that the subject of our interview -- the person we came all this way to see -- is already in his assigned booth; he's directly in front of me.

When our eyes meet, we exchange a cordial smile.

This is Justin Fuller.

In 1997, Justin Chaz Fuller -- at that time an 18-year-old recent high school graduate -- participated in the kidnapping and murder of an acquaintance. 21-year-old Donald Whittington was taken from his apartment in Tyler, Texas, driven to an ATM where he was forced to take out $300, then to an area near Lake Tyler where he was shot in the head. Witnesses say in the days following the murder, Fuller led them to the body and bragged about shooting Whittington. Three other people participated in the crime and during the trial Fuller insisted that although he took part in the kidnapping, he wasn't the triggerman. He expressed sorrow to the victim's family for his role in their loved one's death, but he's always insisted that he can't apologize for something he didn't do -- and he says he did not shoot Whittington.

Fuller has a baby face. In keeping with the confusing, dichotomic nature of everything in this place, he doesn't look like he belongs here. He's soft-spoken and has an easy, almost infectious smile. At one point, he makes eye-contact with one of the guards and both of them begin to laugh, as if sharing an inside joke. I'm not quite sure how he has the ability to be so insouciant, given that he'll be dead in less than thirty-six hours.

Wednesday, 11:55am

Houston, we have a problem.

My photographer has just informed me that his camera isn't working.

As he was hauling it out of the airport in Houston, he accidentally slammed it against the automatic doors. We assumed it was fine. We apparently assumed wrong.

Suddenly I'm no longer waxing philosophical in my mind about the justice system and Justin Fuller's place in it; I'm trying to figure out how to salvage an important and expensive interview -- one which needless to say can't be "rescheduled." In a flash I'm back out into the hot sun and walking quickly across the protected area of the prison yard, out through purgatory and finally out into the parking lot. I'm cursing under my breath and sweating like Oprah on a Stairmaster.

When I get back to the SUV I begin making desperate phone calls to our National Desk. A few minutes later, I'm informed that a freelance photographer is being dispatched to our location and should arrive within the hour. Crisis averted. The power of network news emerges triumphant.

Wednesday, 12:23pm

After another pass through the metal detector accompanied by another kindly smile from Office Paula Deen, I'm once again back in the Death Row visitors' area where I'm met by the other producer. She quickly gives me the thumbs up and informs me that in my absence the camera mysteriously began working properly. The interview is happening right now.

Since I have the phone number of the freelancer in my pocket, I ask Julie Your Cruise Director to borrow her cell phone and place a call to let him know to stand down.

Then I quietly walk over behind the camera, pull up a chair, grab an earpiece and listen.

Wednesday, 12:31pm

Justin Fuller speaks softly and articulately; the effect is hypnotically disarming.

He talks first about his family: his father who coached his youth soccer team; his mother who believed for so long that she had raised him right. He expresses sadness over the fact that tomorrow these ostensibly good people -- these innocent people -- will sit by helplessly and watch their son die. He pauses for a moment as he says this -- exhales softly.

When asked about his crime, he stands by his assertion that he wasn't the one who fired the bullet that killed Donald Whittington. "I was 18. I was stupid," he says when pressed about why he became involved in the crime in the first place. "I was a follower, you know? I should've known better." Still, he believes that his own death won't bring peace to Whittington's family -- that it's simply a case of two terrible wrongs attempting to make an elusive right.

"You can't teach people not to kill by killing people," he says.

As I listen, I find myself wondering about the thought processes behind Fuller's statements. He appears -- for all intents and purposes -- to be a very bright young man, but I can't help wondering how much of his rhetoric is the result of his own personal reflection and how much is simply a series of talking points naturally absorbed into his character after almost ten years of steady repetition by defense lawyers. I pay attention to key words and phrases, unusual terms that seem to stand out in a sea of common language. I pay attention to how often he repeats these terms during the conversation.

He's asked if he understands what's going to happen to him tomorrow -- if he knows the details of the lethal injection process. His response is eerie in its matter-of-factness.

"Yes, Sodium Thiopental will put me to sleep. Pancuronium Bromide will paralyze my muscles -- and then Potassium Chloride will stop my heart and kill me."

That's it. It's that simple. He describes the process that will end his life as if he and the woman sitting across from him were at a table at an intimate restaurant -- and he was placing an order for the two of them.

It's at this point that I begin to wish that the subject of our interview bore more of a resemblance to Hannibal Lecter; that he was someone more cunning and unapologetic -- that he was someone easily dismissable. It's at this point that I begin to wish that Justin Fuller were more of a caricature, and less human.

I remove the earpiece and step over to Julie Your Cruise Director, who's seated several feet away from the camera.

"How do you do this kind of thing?" I ask -- not accusingly, but out of a legitimate desire to understand something which seems incomprehensible.

She looks at me and, with a smile that adds a jarring irony to her words, says offhandedly, "I drink -- a lot."

Every Wednesday, she's here helping men make their final statements to the world.

Every Thursday, she watches those same men die. She attends every execution held here.

Wednesday, 1:16pm

We thank Justin Fuller for his time, which at this point is something I'd imagine is quite precious to him. He remains in the caged booth -- behind the thick glass -- as we begin tearing down our equipment.

I'm staring out of the window onto the prison yard, trying to push myriad thoughts out of my head: the strangeness of a place where death is literally doled out on an assembly line; the questionable equity of a justice system which seems to arbitrarily condemn one murderer to die while allowing others to live; the possibility that lethal injection isn't so much a humane method of execution for the benefit of the condemned as it is a means to make us feel better about the process -- to help us sleep at night, as well as a means to make us feel superior to the condemned, who may have killed without such supposed humanity.

This reverie is suddenly broken by the three words no producer ever wants to hear.

"It didn't record," my photographer says.

I fight the urge to spin around in a panic, choosing instead to simply close my eyes and sigh.

"I figured I got the camera rolling. It looked like everything was alright," he continues.

I motion to Julie Your Cruise Director -- letting her know that I need her phone again.

"You guys gave me a thumbs-up. If I had known that there might still be a problem, I would've gotten the freelancer out here as a back-up."

I don't wait for my photographer to respond. I'm redialing the number for the freelance photographer; after five rings, I hear him pick up.

"How fast can you get here?" I ask him.

Not fast enough.

We're screwed.

Wednesday, 2:03pm

It's been a long time since I've driven. Aside from a recent car rental, I haven't been behind the wheel of a vehicle since I begrudgingly sold my Audi A4 and moved to the land of subways and taxis. Thankfully I've forgotten none of the technique I learned while growing up in Miami and tearing through the streets in an attempt to replicate the driving style of Miami Vice. I'm weaving through traffic at near warp-speed in the hope of quickly reaching a local affiliate station which has graciously agreed to allow us to play back the tape of our interview. My anchor made the arrangement by phone just a few minutes ago. The prayer is that the problem we're having is with the camera's playback setting -- and not with the tape itself. None of us is very hopeful.

The other potential crisis at the moment is that our flight leaves in about two and a half hours, and I'm now about to drive into the center of Houston right at the start of rush hour -- in the rain.

I've got to get out of this business.

Wednesday, 3:07pm

I pull the SUV up and slam it to the curb right outside the affiliate. My crew throws open the doors and runs up the covered steps and into the building. I close my eyes and try to remain calm.

Wednesday, 3:13pm

As they exit the building, I can tell by the looks on their faces that things are not good.

"It's worthless," my anchor says as she climbs into the passenger's seat.

We came all this way for nothing.

Our flight leaves in an hour and a half.

Wednesday, 4:30pm

I have visions of the unparalleled benefits of profiling; it would have to work better than the system the TSA has in place right now at our nation's airports. I wonder how anyone can claim that confiscating water bottles and gel products prior to boarding is in any way keeping Americans safe in the skies. The question I want to ask one of these idiots is simple: "If you knew that liquid explosives were a potential threat -- then why the hell were we ever allowed to bring water on a fucking plane?" As usual, terrorists are thinking ahead, while the people paid to outsmart them have set up a safety net as secure and impenetrable as the space between Bill Buckner's legs.

I'm fidgeting. I'm angry. I'm about to miss my flight.

Wednesday, 4:56pm

Our plane rises through the gruesome haze of pollution spread low across Houston. A moment ago, I stood up slightly and looked around the cabin -- making sure my anchor, my photographer and our other producer made it. They did.

The man seated next to me is reading Bernie Goldberg's 100 People who are Screwing Up America, now expanded to 110 people. I can only assume that Hillary Clinton had ten new children since the publication of the last edition, or maybe Bernie just had ten more mini-strokes which translated into ten more Quixotic rants against liberals, feminists and any other Godless cretins his elderly mind deems offensive.

I lean back and close my eyes.

My iPod is plugged into my head.

The quiet beauty of Mazzy Star's Rhymes of an Hour washes over me.

I want to get Justin Fuller's comfortable smile out of my head.

I want to go home and hold my wife.

Thursday, 6:07pm

The first of three chemicals is pumped into Justin Fuller's body. He's looking at the faces of his mother and father as he drifts off.

Thursday, 6:18pm

Justin Fuller is pronounced dead.


VOTAR said...

Mmmmm... I love Dr. Pepper.

oh and uh, yeah, this was outstanding.

Chez said...

There's a footnote to this post that I'd like to mention, but I don't want to publish it on the main page.

Justin Fuller's final interview was to be part of a story about the recent legal challenges to lethal injection. Obviously, it will never be seen.

However, CourtTV put together an exceptional profile of Fuller on their website.

Click here.

famous mortimer said...

What a shame.

That you had to go to a shithole like Houston and your efforts to relay a story (save on your blog) were thwarted by technology.

But that Justin Fuller is now dead, well, not so much a shame.

Obviously you connected with him on a very basic, empathetic level, which is to look into the eyes of someone you KNOW is going to die, and that we were raised to believe that life was both sacred and killing was wrong. But there's no way that's going to make his execution, or that of hundreds of other death row inmates any kind of tragedy.

I'm not familiar with his case and I don't know what happened to the other three participants, nor do I care. All four of them were involved and responsible for Whittington's kidnapping and murder. No amount of sympathy or remorse or rehabilitation is going to bring his life back or undo the stupid senselessness of the crime.

Is Justin Fuller a bad person? Not in the sense that he seemed to be polite and well spoken, but 8 years pondering your life can put a polish on a person that was tarnished by foolish actions. Perhaps his crime is not on par with Scott Peterson or OJ, or anywhere in the league of Dahmer or Bundy or Manson, but an innocent person's life being taken has to be treated the same, no matter how heinous the act that killed them or the person doing so.

It would be heartless not to take pause and recognize the unfortunate and terminal situation of Justin Fuller, but even after doing so I'm still quite happily a proponent of the death penalty.

And while the floodgates will probably open over the death penalty (so everybody can get out their religious and moral soapboxes) and the name calling will begin (I'm a moderate liberal in LA and not a conservative douchebag as many would suspect from my stance), I'll just end by saying that Chez did a good job of documenting his trip.

Schwa Love said...

We pass another Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Just a warning, if you do indeed leave New York, expect this in many areas of the country. True, my experience is limited to my local environs, as well as fleeting glimpses of the rest of America during occasional roadtrips through the rest of the country. But goshdarnit, that's enough for me to make a sweeping generalization and apply it to some rambling commentary. In the city of Fort Collins (population ~128,000) where I grew up, there's a Wal-Mart on the south side of town. But this wasn't enough for most people since it closes at night and you never know when you'll need a grill, a snorkel, and several pairs of tube socks at three in the morning, so a Supercenter was built a few miles away on the way to the interstate. In Loveland (population ~51,000), Fort Collins' neighbor about ten miles south where I now live, there is also a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the way to the interstate. There was a smaller olde-timey Wal-Mart from the eighties as well, but the Supercenter has long since replaced it, and I think it's a Hobby Lobby or Big!Lots or some other all-important big boxy store noe. You would think this would be enough. But now plans are in place to build another fucking Supercenter on the tiny strip of highway connecting the two fair cities, which I'm sure will improve traffic greatly, and uproot more wildlife, who will have the fabulous opportunity to be flattened by cars and motorhomes. Not that every fuzzy little creature is killed by traffic... nature isn't completely retarded. For instance, occasionally there are newspaper reports of how reported incidences of foxes roaming neighborhoods and making off with small pets has increased over the past decade or so. Not to mention articles about how raccoons are so much meaner than people thought they were. I mean, they're so fluffy and cute... why would they bite and scratch and scratch and scratch like that?

But I digress. My point is fuck Wal-Mart, there's enough Wal-Mart here, we don't need more Wal-Mart, and I wish someone would start spraying for infestations.

I want to get Justin Fuller's comfortable smile out of my head.

I want to go home and hold my wife.

Very sad and very well-written entry.

I'm a big wishy-washy fence-sitter on a lot of political issues, but I have been against capital punishment for a long time now, simply because mistakes are made, and it's one way of punishing criminals from which there is absolutely no turning back.

Liz said...

Wow. I've got nothing intelligent to add, beyond wow. Is it our basic human programming to feel that kind of empathy for someone villanous, or is it society's? Because sometimes I will be watching one true crime show or another and will hear about some atrocious serial killer. Usually I experience a vicious satisfaction that they are buying it, but sometimes I actually feel pity for them. It makes me hate myself for some reason, but it's part of who I am. If I can't feel compassion for these broken souls then I am less than human myself.

I am of two minds about the death penalty. I believe that it should be used. Better yet, punish the criminal with the same torture he inflicted on his victim. It has a certain medievel cache to it. I'm a bloodthirsty type of person, but do worry about frying an innocent man.

Wal-Mart is ubiquitous in the southern states. Get used to it if you become decide to become one of us, Yankee.

famous mortimer said...

Do we hate Wal-Mart or the culture of Wal-Mart? Do we hate Starbucks or the culture of Starbucks? Do we hate Myspace or the culture of Myspace? Overwhelmingly, it's the culture.

Wal-Mart has finally made it's presence known in California, and I'm not pleased. It brings all the insert-routine-by-up-and-coming-commedian stereotypes about backwoods bargain hunters and low-class clans to life. And the worst part is like moths to a flame they can keep opening and keep drawing people out because that's what this country is. It's obnoxious Ari Gold types who want their half-calf chai soy grande extra hot latte and 19 year old androgynous emo boys trying to get their friend count up, and it's bible lovin' flag waving fat secretaries and truck drivers bring their ilk to the Supercenter for a pallet of Doritos and a retractable garden hose.

Wal-Mart, I hate you.

PS. the same goes for you, Joe America, and your lowest common denominator culture.

PPS. I can't help laugh that this thread as turned from one man facing his death to the proliferation of bargain megastores. Everybody turn on American Idol and wait on your sofa for the invasion. As long as it's not a commerical break, you won't notice a thing...

Chez said...

Wal-Mart has tried on several occasions to worm its way into the New York City area; everytime it's been met with the kind of reaction usually reserved for the front gate of Frankenstein's castle; or maybe the front lawn of the child molester who just moved into the suburban neighborhood.

I know I've complained before about New York being far too elitist for its own good -- and I certainly don't subscribe to the Manhattan-centric view of the universe, but I have to admit that the venomous outrage kinda made me smile with pride that I call this place home. Course I may be about to leave my safe island and head out into the sea of Wal-Marts, so go figure.

Of course we've been overrun by the virulence of big-box stores and average coffee chains. We're creatures of convenience -- and we've been bred to be that way since birth. Nothing is more convenient than finding everything in one place, (Wal-Mart) or one thing every place (Starbucks).

We're consumers. We consume.

I'd love to complain about it, but I need to run across the street and get a chai tea from one of the six Starbucks within a one block-radius of my office.

slouchmonkey said...

"Buy American, shop Wal-mart!"

Some dumb shit, "dooo, what?" dumb fuck once said this to me.

Kitty X said...

As a Texas who lives in Houston, works in criminal justice, is oddly perky, seemingly misplaced in the this line of work, a heavy drinker, and opposes the death penalty for fiscal reasons rather than moral, I loved this post.

It's amazing how widely varied the personalities that find themselves guests of our system, and I'm quite glad that you picked up on the one thing most people outside the system do not - the script that cons develop over time through communications with their own defense attorneys and second and third hand advice from other cons' attorneys. After years of preparing for parole hearings with attorneys (only to be jerked back into prison for double murder), reading your own press (usually written by people who could care less about you, but would love to use your circumstances as an example of a flawed system), and talking to "jail house lawyers" who've read every US Supreme Court case they can get their hands on with no idea what stare decisis means (much less the finer points of Miranda and its progeny), these men and women develop a roster of terms and phrases that are beyond their typical vocabulary and comprehension and blithely toss them about, like thoughtfully discussing punishment theories with a television news crew.

That type of language tends to overshadow the truth, which is that years of personal reflection and contemplating forgiving yourself doesn't change what the criminal justice system is in place to accomplish: punishment for crimes against society, NOT making the victim or his family whole again. Justin Fuller was executed, not because someone wanted to make the victim's family feel better, but because when a friend hatched a plan to kidnap a man, force him to withdraw $300, and then shoot their victim, he did not call the police or try to stop a gruesome murder, but he simply followed along. His decision to cart others to the body and show off the handiwork of his posse's "youthful mistake" likely only strengthened his culpability in the minds of the jury who convicted him and answered the magic questions that would condemn him to death.

More than anything, I am left wondering whether Justin Fuller ever regretting taking his case to trial. What type of plea bargain was offered in an attempt to get him to roll on the "real" shooter? Was his decision not to squeal and then plead guilty predicated upon bad advice of counsel or on the soft-spoken naivete you noticed in the interview?

PS - You get used to the smog in Houston and the trash in line at WalMart. I'm pretty sure that LA and New York have their fair share of trash, too, it's just that the accents are different and it's too cold to show off your back bacon in a tube top most of the year in NYC.

famous mortimer said...

Kitty X is (half) right...

In LA, we import our back bacon babes come up from the Riverside / San Bernadino County area. NY gets theirs from New Jersey.

You are not allowed to live in Manhattan or Beverly Hills unless you are are cultural and physically superior to everyone else. Or at least think so.

TK said...

Someone wiser than me (whose name I forget) once said that we should do away with the death penalty because if we fundamentally believe that to kill is wrong, or uncivilized, than to get rid of the death penalty will help move towards a more civilzed society. Is Justin Fuller a murderer? Possibly. Probably. Does he deserve to die? I'm not capable of making tht decision, nor do I trust any other human to make it. I'm sorry, I know about the stats on recidivism - that's what life sentences are for. But I agree with the author - we can try all we want to say that lethal injection isn't cruel and unusual, but I think we do it more for ourselves, our own fragile psyches, than because we actually believe it.

The death penalty has never been about justice. Justice is catching a criminal, putting him through the system, and putting him in jail. It's not even about punishment. The death penalty is about revenge. It's about hurting someone as much as you possibly can. I can certainly empathize with those who support it, because when I go through it instinctively, I'm tempted to agree with it. But that impulse is the same impulse that, I believe, is what drives certain people to beat their kids and kick their dogs. It speaks to the basest instincts of humanity, the worst dark place in our black hearts, and for that, I simply cannot, and will not, ever support it. Honestly, I believe that when it comes to murderers and rapists, we should put them in the jug and hammer in the goddamn cork.

We can humanize it as much as we want by saying that it's not cruel or unusual, but it will always be, in my opinion, both of those things.

*Steps off soapbox, takes deep breath*

All of that said, this was a wonderful piece, and one of the reasons I enjoy your writing. Thank you.

jon said...

+5 points for the prufrock allusion.

Glenn said...

+ 100 points for the Warren Zevon title, man Chez, your writing is awesome, you capture the hell of houston, the ignorance of Texas and the death penalty, and man's inhumanity toward man, all in one post.

this is what kids in high school and college should be reading.