Barbara Becnel Continues NYC Speaking Tour Friday Night in Harlem.
By Renee Feltz “So I saw the most horrific experience of my entire life,” Becnel said. “I saw his body contort to the point… his contractions went so deep… it was unnatural. You could see his rib cage. It was the worst thing I ever saw in my life and it went on for nearly 10 minutes.” Becnel said she went from praying for Williams’ life to be saved to asking God to “take him now.”
When California executed Stanley Tookie Williams his friend Barbara Becnel was there to witness what she called the theater of death. “What became the worst day of my entire life has also put steel in my spine and determination in my heart,” said Becnel. Becnel is touring the country sharing the details of what she saw in San Quentin’s death chamber on December 13, 2005. She spoke Thursday to Columbia Law School students.
“What I learned is a far cry from what’s in your books,” said Becnel. Becnel began talk began with a quick acknowledgement, and then dismissal, of the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the same question she is addressing. “Is lethal injection cruel and unusual?” Becnel said. “We don’t need the Supreme Court. I have the answer.” Becnel’s recollection of the execution of Williams was mixed with information she gathered from a testimony at a hearing before California federal District Judge Jeremy Fogel that led him to halt the state’s use of the lethal injection process. She described how a prison guard told her that “this thing” would only take a few minutes, but that Williams took at least 10 minutes to die.
She said an unlicensed nurse administered the 3-part cocktail that was put Williams to sleep, then paralyze him and provoke a massive heart attack. She said the hearing revealed that the nurse struggled to properly inject the needle to administer the cocktail and had collapsed two of his veins. She did not follow procedure to do a backup catheter. Becnel said Williams was given a one-size-fits-all dose of the drugs, as is San Quentin’s regular protocol, despite the fact that he weighed 250 lbs. She said this contributed to the horrific scene that followed.
Becnel said the paralyzing barbituate only worked on Williams’ face and lungs, but not below this part of his body. “So I saw the most horrific experience of my entire life,” Becnel said. “I saw his body contort to the point… his contractions went so deep… it was unnatural. You could see his rib cage. It was the worst thing I ever saw in my life and it went on for nearly 10 minutes.” Becnel said she went from praying for Williams’ life to be saved to asking God to “take him now.” After the execution Becnel told others what she witnessed but prison authorities said she was hysterical and “had an untutored eye.”
She continued to share her story and then more details came out during Judge Fogel’s hearing that supported her account. “It proves what I said was true,” said Becnel. “I feel outraged. I don’t feel vindicated.” Audiences at schools, churches and community centers have heard Becnel share her experience during stops on her "A Broken System Crying out for Justice" national tour with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
She speaks again Friday night in conjunction with Amnesty International’s “National Weekend of Faith against the Death Penalty.” The event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church in Harlem (521 West 126th Street).