McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 8, 2012

A heartbreaking day — Execution day

By Rachel Petersen
Staff Writer

McALESTER — On Nov. 6, I came back to my office, sat at my computer and stared at a blank screen while I searched for the words within me to describe the huge injustice I had just witnessed. Injustice — my judgment, my bias.

I searched for the words to lead my story about the execution of Garry Thomas Allen. I wanted to write “Garry Thomas Allen had no idea he was about to die — and then Oklahoma executed him.”

In the stories that I write, I try my best to report the news to my readers without including my own judgment, my bias. This is what I am supposed to do and sometimes, because I am human, this is a very difficult task.

I don’t really know what Allen was aware of, what he may have been thinking. I was not in his head.

So I did my best to write the story and use words describing the facts — describing what I saw and heard — not what I felt.

Today, in my column, I write about what I felt — because this is my opinion and I am allowed to have one.

I have witnessed eight executions at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary over the past two years. I remember all of their names. And I remember the names of all of their victims, too.

Eight executions, and I am sad to say that I don’t cry anymore.

I cried so much at the first execution — John David Duty. In fact, I was crying so hard that Duty’s brother and sister-in-law were handing me tissue.

I didn’t cry quite as much at the second one — Billy Don Alverson. But I did cry and my heart ached for Alverson’s sister, who was wailing as she watched her brother die.

I had a handful of tears at the third one — Jeffrey David Matthews. I watched him die as I listened to his mother tell him “just breathe, just breathe” as she watched her son die.

I had a single tear drip down the left side of my face at the fourth one — Gary Roland Welch. He had no family there to witness his death. His mother, who was the last relative to stay in contact with him, had died years earlier. When the blinds were raised at his execution, he looked at the witnesses. Our eyes met. He winked at me.

Earlier, I had the opportunity to chat with him for a couple hours. He had told me that he wanted his buddies to celebrate him, not mourn his death. He said he wished they could go out for a beer — something they clearly couldn’t do since his buddies were death row inmates. I told him I would have a beer for him that day. I hate beer. But I had one that night.

I had a strong burning sensation, but no tears, at the fifth execution I witnessed — Timothy Shaun Stemple. And I watched his mother chew endlessly on the inside of her lower lip while she watched her son die.

I had no tears and no burning sensation at the sixth — Michael Bascum Selsor. But I watched his son, who looked like a younger version of his father, rock his body back and forth in his seat while he fidgeted with his hands as he watched his father die.

Again, I had no tears or burning sensation behind my eyes at the seventh — Michael Edward Hooper. I listened to his mother say “amen” as he finished saying his last words. She then watched her son die.

And then at the eighth — Garry Thomas Allen — I thought I might have felt the burning sensation behind my eyes again. I watched as a woman, one of Allen’s attorneys, lowered her head in her hands as Allen rambled on unintelligibly about Obama, Romney and Jesus. In fact, Allen said alot of things in his lengthy ramblings — I just couldn’t understand what he was saying.

Like Welch, he had no family present at his execution. Just the lawyers who worked as hard as they could — without success — to get his death sentence commuted.

Allen had raised his head off his death bed — the execution gurney — and looked at his two attorneys in the witness area. “Hi,” he said to them. And they both raised their hands in the air and waved at him.

My judgment, my bias, my opinion: Allen had no idea he was about to be executed. This is what I feel. And when the deputy warden said “Let the execution begin,” Allen turned his head and looked at him and said “Huh? What?” And then when the lethal dose of drugs ran through his body, he looked again at the deputy warden and loudly groaned. I truly believe he didn’t know what was happening to him.

And now, days after the execution, I am questioning myself. I was a witness, I was there, and I sat quietly taking notes with a pen and paper. I watched an injustice take place before my own eyes and I did nothing. I merely scribbled words on a piece of paper.

Contact Rachel Petersen at