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I Was Virginia's Executioner—Here's What I Learned

I was responsible for putting 62 inmates to death in Virginia and it taught me a lot about our legal system.

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If I had a choice, I would choose death by electrocution. That's more like cutting your lights off and on. It's a button you push once and then the machine runs by itself. It relieves you from being attached to it in some ways. You can't see the current go through the body. But with chemicals, it takes a while because you're dealing with three separate chemicals. You are on the other end with a needle in your hand. You can see the reaction of the body. You can see it going down the clear tube. So you can actually see the chemical going down the line and into the arm and see the effects of it. You are more attached to it. I know because I have done it. Death by electrocution in some ways seems more humane.

3. What caused you to change your opinion on the death penalty?

It's not something that I enjoyed. I never enjoyed none of it. When I accepted the job, there was nobody on death row in Virginia. A person had to be foolish to commit that kind of crime knowing they could be put to death. It's like volunteer suicide. I never thought that 100-some people would end up on death row. I had no idea that I would actually execute 62 people. I didn't know that when I signed up.

Even when I was on the job, I was always asking, what can I do to prevent these guys before they get there? I used to bring kids down from schools. I would allow the kids to sit in the chair and explain that I want to see kids get an education and remove themselves from violence or you'll end up here. I know it helped. I used to get letters. They would write back saying thank you for steering them in the right direction. I also never understood why we would spend money on the death penalty instead of spending money to try to prevent these people from getting in the system in the first place.

When I found out they had some innocent people on death row that came almost hours before I had to take their life, then I knew we had to change. That would be on me for the rest of my life.

I honestly believe God stepped in and said enough is enough. I was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. I remember the day because I was supposed to have an execution soon, March 16, 1999. They were after a friend of mine. To make a long story short, the grand jury said I was involved in money laundering and perjury for buying cars for my friend who obtained the money illegally. I told them I thought he had straightened out. But I  did 57 months in a federal institution. I knew then that the system wasn't right. I don't believe I had a fair trial, so I realized maybe some of the people I executed weren't given a fair trial.

4. What kind of training did you need to be an executioner?

It was complicated for me. When I was asked, death row was empty in Virginia. I was thinking to myself, I didn't agree, but I would give it some thought. Then after the first execution in 1982 that I assisted, the guy who did it got sick. He just stopped working and retired. And I took over from there. We had so many executions so close together. After the first one, I did it by myself in 1984. I always said once I get to 100, I was going to stop. I'm glad I never got that far.