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The Loss of Hope

They didn’t know him, but they saw him through this reporter’s lense—a monster, a murderer, a rabid dog that had to be put down.

It was approximately 7pm on November 5, 2009 when I had my moment. I had spent the morning and the previous day with a young man who was scheduled for execution by the state of Texas. I found him to be soft spoken, intelligent and at peace with the circumstances of his life. At least that’s what he wanted me to believe. We talked about hope and surrender. He said that he’d surrendered to the possibility of his death, but he would never give up hope that he might live. His fate was out of his own hands.

I might have been naïve, but I was convinced that he’d get a stay and that his sentence would be commuted. He was not a cold, calculated murderer—a Ted Bundy or a Richard Ramirez. He was nineteen, just a kid, when it happened—a burglary gone horribly wrong. In the sentencing phase of his trial, the jury consulted the Bible to justify their sentence of death. If God says it’s okay to kill a killer, then it must be okay.

His spiritual adviser, a man of God from Louisiana told me that Khristian was unlike the other men he’d met on the row, and he knew a lot of them. He wasn’t institutionalized, he said. His parents visited him every week. He was shy and gentle and kind. This man of God compared him to a kitten. Those words stuck in my head.

I didn’t want to care for this man. I wanted to remain professionally detached—just get my story and go home. But I couldn’t. After leaving the row, I drove to where they would transport Khristian that afternoon to end his life. I stood vigil outside the brick building, a building that was situated in the middle of Huntsville, while the people of this city went on with their lives as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

A reporter from a local newspaper called him a “punk” because he refused to grant her an interview. She would be a witness to his death. She assured me that it wouldn’t bother her.

“I’ve seen worse things.”

Internet message boards spewed venom towards Khristian.
“Let him die.”
“Serves him right.”
“Fry.”

They didn’t know him, but they saw him through this reporter’s lense—a monster, a murderer, a rabid dog that had to be put down.

His daughter’s name was Kittisue. Kitty. There was that word again—a kitten on death row. He’d never met her. He told me that his one dying wish was for his daughter to know that he loved her.

Kittisue, your daddy loved you.

I entered the funeral home where they took the executed to prepare their bodies for burial. Khristian’s body was at the front of the room on a gurney. I had never seen a dead person before. His eyes were closed and his lips were slightly parted. A burgundy blanket covered his prison issued clothing. His parents looked stunned. His mother approached the gurney and gently touched his face and smoothed his jet-black hair, something she hadn’t been able to do in over eleven years.

I lost it. The mother and child reunion happened too late.

This morning, I sat and talked to a healthy human being who had made a horrible mistake in a moment of extreme duress. To me, he was not the living embodiment of his worst day. He was a human being.

I had hope.

But like him, it was now gone.

Comments

JPReese says,

Well done. I have struggled with the question of contrapasso for the last few weeks. A friend of mine was raped and brutally murdered twenty years ago by a repeat offender who suddenly had the Pope on his side a week before his scheduled execution. I have always been against the death penalty, but I had to think long and hard about my feelings in this particular instance. Other friends who also knew my murdered friend were screaming for the guy's blood, but I remained silent. I didn't really know how I felt. I knew putting this man down would not change the past, but because he was a hardened criminal with a terrible track record, I also knew there was no reformation in his future, and society would in no way benefit from his daily existence. The most awful fallout from this last-ditch attempt to save this man was that it brought up in vivid technicolor the entire horrible memory for her mother, who is dying from heart failure, and her only sister, who had to dodge reporters camping out on their front lawn, eager with microphones, ready to shove them in their faces, hoping to get that money shot of the grieving family member losing it on nightly TV news. I still haven't made up my mind, but I do know someone who is nineteen probably deserves some intelligent compassion and a chance to repent. As a citizen of Texas, I know this state is deeply in need of some fundamental compassion for those less fortunate, and I often wonder how many Khristians have been put to death here who were actually innocent. We all have to live with ourselves--some of us have a harder time with that than others. Thanks for your piece.

ThomThinn says,

First time you ever saw a dead body was this one? Epic.So glad you wrote this ~ saw this ~ knowing now for sure that State sanctioned murder is murder all the same.

VividLiving says,

This is so beautiful and poignant. Thanks for reminding us that humanity exists even in the darkest moments.

Level1 says,

Thank you for sharing this story. I was moved by it.

pamelajo says,

Thanks for commenting everyone. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

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