Page 17 of Ford County

There was a long heavy pause as the finality sank in. Inez was crying. Leon was staring blankly at the wall where the tea and ice were sliding to the floor. Butch was looking forlornly at the last two hush puppies. Tanner appeared ready to faint.

Raymond cleared his throat and said, "I'd like to see that Catholic guy. We need to pray."

"I'll get him," the warden said. "You can have one last moment with your family, then it's time to go."

The warden left with his assistants. Tanner quickly followed them.

Raymond's shoulders slumped, and his face was pale. All defiance and bravado vanished. He walked slowly to his mother, fell to his knees in front of her, and put his head in her lap. She rubbed it, wiped her eyes, and kept saying, "Lord, Lord."

"I'm so sorry, Momma," Raymond mumbled. "I'm so sorry."

"They cried together for a moment while Leon and Butch stood silently by. Father Leland entered the room, and Raymond slowly stood. His eyes were wet and red, and his voice was soft and weak. "I guess it's over," he said to the priest, who nodded sadly and patted his shoulder. "I'll be with you in the isolation room, Raymond," he said. "We'll have a final prayer, if you wish."

"Probably not a bad idea."

The door opened again, and the warden was back. He addressed the Graneys and Father Leland. "Please listen to me," he said. "This is my fourth execution, and I've learned a few things. One is that it is a bad idea for the mother to witness the execution. I strongly suggest, Mrs. Graney, that you remain here, in this room, for the next hour or so, until it's over. We have a nurse who will sit with you, and she has a sedative that I recommend. Please." He looked at Leon and Butch and pleaded with his eyes. Both got the message.

"I'll be there till the end," Inez said, then wailed so loudly that even the warden had a flash of goose bumps.

Butch stepped next to her and stroked her shoulder.

"You need to stay here, Momma," Leon said. Inez wailed again.

"She'll stay," Leon said to the warden. "Just get her that pill."

Raymond hugged both of his brothers, and for the first time ever said that he loved them, an act that was difficult even at that awful moment. He kissed his mother on the cheek and said good-bye.

"Be a man," Butch said with clenched teeth and wet eyes, and they embraced for the final time.

They led him away, and the nurse entered the room. She handed Inez a pill and a cup of water, and within minutes she was slumped in her wheelchair. The nurse sat beside her and said "I'm very sorry" to Butch and Leon.

At 12:15, the door opened and a guard said, "Come with me." The brothers were led from the room, into the hallway that was packed with guards and officials and many other curious onlookers lucky enough to gain access, and then back through the front entrance. Outside, the air was heavy, and the heat had not broken. They quickly lit cigarettes as they walked along a narrow sidewalk next to the west wing of the maximum security unit, past the open windows covered with thick black bars, and as they moved casually to the death room, they could hear the other condemned men banging their cell doors, yelling in protest, all making whatever noise they could in a last-minute farewell to one of their own.

Butch and Leon smoked furiously and wanted to yell something of their own, something in support of the inmates. But neither said a word. They turned a corner and saw a small, flat redbrick building with guards and others milling around its door. There was an ambulance beside it. Their escort led them through a side door to a cramped witness room, and upon entering, they saw faces they expected, but had no interest in seeing. Sheriff Walls was there because the law required it. The prosecutor was there, by choice. Charlene, Coy's long-suffering widow, sat next to the sheriff. She was joined by two hefty young gals who were no doubt her daughters. The victims' side of the witness room was separated by a wall of Plexiglas that allowed them to glare at the condemned man's family but prevented them from speaking, or cursing. Butch and Leon sat in plastic chairs. Strangers shuffled in behind them, and when everyone was in place, the door was closed. The witness room was packed and hot.

They stared at nothing. The windows before them were shielded by black curtains so that they could not see the sinister preparations under way on the other side. There were sounds, indistinguishable movements. Suddenly the curtains were yanked open, and they were looking at the death room, twelve feet by fifteen, with a freshly painted concrete floor. In the center of it was the gas chamber, an octagon-shaped silver cylinder with windows of its own to allow proper witnessing and verification of death.

And, there was Raymond, strapped to a chair inside the gas chamber, his head secured with some hideous brace that forced him to look ahead and prevented him from seeing the witnesses. At that moment he seemed to be looking up as the warden spoke to him. The prison attorney was present, as were some guards and of course the executioner and his assistant. All went about their tasks, whatever they were supposed to be doing, with grim determined looks, as if they were bothered by this ritual. In fact, all were volunteers, except for the warden and the attorney.

A small speaker hung from a nail in the witness room and conveyed the final sounds.

The attorney stepped close to the chamber door and said: "Raymond, by law I'm required to read your death warrant." He lifted a sheet of paper and continued: "Pursuant to a verdict of guilty and a sentence of death returned against you in the Circuit Court of Ford County, you are hereby sentenced to death by lethal gas in the gas chamber of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. May God have mercy on your soul." He then stepped away and lifted a telephone from its receiver on the wall. He listened, then said, "No stays."

The warden said, "Any reason why this execution should not go forward?"

"No," said the attorney.

"Any last words, Raymond?"

Raymond's voice was barely audible, but in the perfect stillness of the witness room he was heard: "I am sorry for what I did. I ask the forgiveness of the family of Coy Childers. I have been forgiven by my Lord. Let's get this over with."

The guards left the death room, leaving the warden and the attorney, who shuffled backward as far from Raymond as possible. The executioner stepped forward and closed the narrow chamber door. His assistant checked the seals around it. When the chamber was ready, they glanced around the death room - a quick inspection. No problems. The executioner disappeared into a small closet, the chemical room, where he controlled his valves.

Long seconds passed. The witnesses gawked in horror and fascination and held their breaths. Raymond held his too, but not for long.

The executioner placed a plastic container of sulfuric acid into a tube that ran from the chemical room to a bowl in the bottom of the chamber, just under the chair that Raymond now occupied. He pulled a lever to release the canister. A clicking sound occurred, and most of those watching flinched. Raymond flinched too. His fingers clutched the arms of the chair. His spine stiffened. Seconds passed, then the sulfuric acid mixed with a collection of cyanide pellets already in the bowl, and the lethal steam began rising. When Raymond finally exhaled, when he could no longer hold his breath, he sucked in as much poison as possible to speed things along. His entire body reacted instantly with jolts and gyrations. His shoulders jumped back. His chin and forehead fought mightily against the leather head brace. His hands, arms, and legs shook violently as the steam rose and grew thicker.