Last night they executed Richard Henyard. Although I didn’t personally know him, his death still bothered me. For almost a quarter of a century I have been on Florida’s death row myself and through these years there have been many men whom I personally knew led to their own death. But since we are all kept in “solitary confinement”, effectively segregated from the many others who are also condemned, it is not so unusual that although Henyard had been here for over ten years, I never got to know him.
That is only a small part of what bothers me. I know only too well just how completely isolated each of us here can feel when we are cut off from all our family and what friends we had before we came to prison. I know that for one reason or another, this place has a way of alienating the condemned. That outside world just slowly drifts further and further away as the years slowly pass by, each day bringing us closer to that last day.
But it bothers me that in the small world we call “death row” one of us can live among us and yet not be known by most of us. If those of us who are also condemned do not know those who are put to death from among our own ranks, then it stands to reason that it would be so much easier for someone among us to also be forgotten by society.
Henyard was deliberately chosen to be executed. What does that say about the mental process at work that decides who should live and who should die? This was the second execution ordered by Governor “Chain Gang” Charlie Crist since he took office last year. Both Richard Henyard and Mark Schwab before him were deliberately selected from among many who had already exhausted their appeals. Not because a jury decided that Henyard and Schwab were somehow more worthy of being executed than the dozens others also considered “death warrant eligible”, but because the Governor himself has proclaimed that those convicted and condemned to death for commiting a crime against a child are his first priority.
Of course, this deliberate selection process has more to do with politics then it does “justice”, but am I the only one bothered by how politics can only too easily decide who will live and who will die? Like so many others, I don’t care much for anyone who would prey upon an innocent child. Even here on death row those convicted of killing a child are often looked down upon.
But when politicians deliberately select individuals for execution because of the specific nature of their crime, then at what point do we, as a society, cross the line from carrying out “justice”, to advocating lynch mob vengeance? Shouldn’t our highest elected officials, such as Governor Crist , be above shamelessly using his power to play vigilante?
As yesterday passed I had a hard time finding out if Henyard was still scheduled. I know that they had his execution scheduled for 6:00 pm last night, but none of the local news stations mentioned it. Only later did I finally hear a report that said Henyard’s execution had been delayed for two hours as the US Supreme Court considered his last appeal. But at 8:00 pm last night they carried out the state-sanctioned execution of Richard henyard.
This means that in the final hours of his life Richard Henyard was forced to anxiously await the uncertainty of his fate. Imagine if someone put a gun to your head and cocked the trigger, then at the last minute said ‘oh, let’s think about this just a bit more”. All the while the gun remains cocked and loaded, pointed at your head. And then finally, they decide to go ahead and kill you after all.
How could this not be the very epitome of any definition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment”. The prolonged anxiety of imminent death, the long minutes ticking away as your faith remains undetermined. Can any of us even begin to imagine the torment this man must have endured?
So here I am contemplating these thoughts. How can we call this “justice” when at so many levels the whole process to put even the most “worthy of death” (so they say) to death is carried out in an undeniable cruel and unusual manner.