Here, Michelle, tells the story in her own words.
S￼huffling into the quiet room, I studied the expression of an old woman next to me.
The metal door leading into the chamber was sealed shut and a man was strapped carefully onto a gurney.
‘Do you have a last statement?’ the prison warden asked sombrely.
The man – a child-killer and rapist named Ricky McGinn – murmured his love for his family and God.
The inmate’s mother, who stood near me, stepped towards the glass and pressed her wrinkled hands against it.
‘Oh God,’ she kept repeating, her voice quivering with grief.
Wearing her best floral Sunday dress, the woman was waiting to watch her son die. And I was there to witness his final moments, too.
As a prison reporter in Texas, my job was to record the last minutes of some of the state’s most notorious murderers.
I’d interview cold-blooded killers awaiting death row, then watch on weeks later as they slipped away.
Afterwards, I’d remind myself not to be sympathetic. These people were monsters.
He killed his stepdaughter, but watching his mother... was heartbreaking, I wrote in my notes.
With no time to dwell, I’d scramble to send copy over to my newspaper editor for the next edition.
Being there as humans took their last breath was a profound experience. No single prisoner was the same.
Child rapists and murderers would sob apologies as they lay on the gurney, while some killers wouldn’t offer a shred of remorse.
Brian Keith Roberson, a double-murderer who stabbed his two elderly neighbours to death, turned to stare at his victims’ family before he died.
‘Be careful when you drive home, I hope ya’ll don’t have a wreck and kill yourselves,’ he snarled.
Minutes later, the cocktail of lethal drugs kicked in and he fell unconscious. I could feel evil pulsating out of that man.
Another inmate, who had fiercely professed his innocence while on trial, quietly admitted to his crime to the prison chaplain.
‘Just don’t tell my mum,’ he said gravely. ‘She re-mortgaged her house to pay for my defence.’
After landing this dream role, I’d expected to cover one execution a month.
But in my first year on the job, I witnessed 38. It became a blur of faces and names, crimes I couldn’t remember, and weeping families I couldn’t forget.
The first death-row inmate I ever interviewed was a man named Billy Hughes, 47, who had shot and killed a state trooper in 1976.
Sitting opposite him, I was shocked at how normal he seemed. It was easy to forget that this man – who had his head cocked to the side, observing me intently – was a convicted killer.
‘I didn’t do it,’ he said softly. I was taken aback by his gentle nature.
‘Okay,’ I said carefully. ‘Why do you think they say you did it then?’
Listening to him claim innocence despite the overwhelming evidence was unnerving.
Weeks later, I saw Billy again. Only this time, I was there to watch as he was lethally injected. Looking through the glass, I listened to his last words.
‘If I’m paying my debt to society, I am due a rebate and a refund,’ he said.
I let out a tiny snicker and was immediately horrified with myself.
The more executions I watched, the easier it became to feel detached.
After almost two years watching from the sidelines, I accepted a job as a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
It was my duty to witness every single execution carried out in the state. But this time, I experienced it from an entirely new angle.
I’d lead victims’ families into a windowed room, then take the loved ones of the killers into a separate chamber.
By 2005, I’d fallen pregnant with my daughter.
Before this, I’d barely shed a tear watching these men and women be forcefully taken from this world. But carrying a child made me much more emotional as I stood there, seeing people pant their last, rasping breath.
Some executions I wish didn’t happen. I came to actually like a former hit man named Rodolfo Hernandez.
On the day of his death, he stopped to talk to me. ‘You remind me of my daughter,’ he said. ‘Can
I shake your hand?’ I stood frozen, staring at his extended palm. A horrific image came to mind.
Only recently, a chaplain had visited an inmate, Juan Soria, who asked to touch his hand through the bars of his cell.
The prisoner had grabbed the priest’s arm, breaking it, and hacking it with a razor.
After a few moments, I offered a few fingers, which he gratefully shook.
By 2012, after more than 12 years working in the prison system, I decided it was time to leave it all behind. I had watched nearly 278 executions. It was too hard being a mum and watching other mothers cry as their children were put to death.
The mixed emotions of second-hand grief and pain I felt for the victims’ families almost broke me.
Instead of bottling it up, I wrote my own memoir, Death Row: The Final Minutes.
I spent hours remembering the 278 faces and their last minutes on earth, helping to strip myself of the guilt I felt.
Life and death are so complex and I am still trying to understand it all. I think we all are.
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