August 15, 2007
Texas Death Row: Executions in the Modern Era at Bookpeople
The following post is by new Austinist contributor Joel Nihlean -- Ed Note
Texas Death Row: Executions in the Modern Era is too small (and probably too grim) to make a good coffee table book. It is too stark and bare to be considered literature, or even a “true crime” book. The book is merely a distillation of the public domain information preserved by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
But none of this takes away from the creepy and bone chilling, if understated, weight of this book.
Compiled and edited by Austinite Bill Crawford, Texas Death Row presents, in numerical order, the mugshots of every person Texas has executed since 1972, along with a look at the life, crimes and last meals of those in the many mugshots.
Nothing humanizes the death penalty more than looking a condemned person in the eyes. Crawford’s book and BookPeople are making it uncomfortably easy to do just that.
The photographs of the 399 executed prisoners will be exhibited at BookPeople in a sort of “gallery of death” for the week of Aug. 19, along with scrolls listing the names of their victims.
On Friday, Aug. 24 at 7pm, amidst the exhibit of death row inmate mugshots, Crawford and former public information manager for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Larry Fitzgerald, who has been witness to countless executions, will host a discusion of the death penalty.The panel will also include Paula Kurland, mother of Mitzi Johnson-Nalley who was killed here in Austin by executed offender #160 Jonathan Wayne Nobles, to give the victim's family's perspective. Larry Fitzgerald and Paula Kurland both witnessed the Nobles execution.
Refusing to lean in any direction politicaly, the book is neither pro-death penalty nor abolitionist in stance. It is “just the facts, ma'am,” as Sgt. Joe Friday would have said. If you are for the death penalty, this book will probably reinforce that, and vice versa if you're hatin' on it.
The stunned-looking, institutional portraiture (not unlike your ugly driver's license photo), along with the details of their often grisly crimes, is juxtaposed with last statements and last meals.
Facing death, some have nearly lost their appetite. “(4) olives with seeds, (1) bottle of wild berry water.”
Others, retreating to the comforts of food, try to taste everything one last time before they die. “(20) tacos beef, cheese, jalapeños, (20) enchiladas beef, cheese, (2) double cheese burgers with onions, a pizza with jalapeños salt on side, ½ chocolate cake, ½ vanilla cake, (4) pints ice cream (cookies & cream, dulce de leche, Carmel pecan fudge), small fruit cake, fried chicken plus some spaghetti with salt, (2) cokes, (2) orange juices, (2) root beers, (2) Pepsi.”
When it comes to executions, Texas is nothing if not efficient. Since the book's publication, Texas has sent another 23 prisoners to meet their maker. The last execution took place on Aug. 15, and four more are scheduled before the end of this month.
[Links to listings of those on death row, scheduled executions and completed executions]
Bill Crawford, Larry Fitzgerald and Paula Kurland present Texas Death Row
Friday, Aug. 24
Exhibit open to the public for the week of the 19th.