Page 12 of The Innocent Man

After thirteen years of frustration, Oklahoma finally managed to untangle the appeals process and schedule an execution. The unlucky inmate was Charles Troy Coleman, a white man who'd killed three people and had been on death row for eleven years. He was the leader of a small faction that was usually stirring up trouble on The Row, and many of his neighbors were not upset by the prospect of Chuck finally getting the needle. Most of the men, though, knew that when the killings finally started, there would be no turning back.

The Coleman execution was a media event, and the press converged outside Big Mac. There were candlelight vigils and interviews with victims, protesters, ministers, anyone who happened to walk by. As the hours passed, the excitement increased.

Greg Wilhoit and Coleman had become friends, though they argued bitterly over the death penalty. Ron was still in favor of it, though he swayed back and forth. He was not fond of Coleman, who, not surprisingly, had become frustrated with Ron's noisy presence.

The Row was quiet and heavily secured the night Coleman was executed. The circus was outside the prison, where the press counted down the minutes as if a New Year were approaching. Greg was in his cell, watching it all on television. Just after midnight, the news arrived- Charles Troy Coleman was dead.

Several inmates clapped and cheered; most sat quietly in their cells. Some were in prayer. Greg's reaction was completely unexpected. He was suddenly overcome with emotion and bitter at those who cheered the news. His friend was gone. The world was not now a safer place. Not a single future murderer would be deterred; he knew killers and what prompted them to act. If the victim's family was pleased, then they were far from closure.

Greg had been raised in a Methodist church and now studied the Bible every day. Didn't Jesus teach forgiveness? If killing was wrong, then why was the state allowed to kill? By whose authority was the execution carried out? He'd been hit with these arguments before, many times, but now they resonated from a different source.

The death of Charles Coleman was a dramatic revelation for Greg. At that moment he flipped 180 degrees, never to return to his eye-for-an-eye beliefs.

Later, he offered these thoughts to Ron, who confessed that he shared many of them. The next day, though, Ron was an ardent supporter of the death penalty who wanted Ricky Joe Simmons dragged in off the streets of Ada and shot on the spot.

The prosecution of Ron Williamson was vindicated on May 15,1991, when the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously affirmed his conviction and death sentence. The court, in an opinion written by Judge Gary Lumpkin, found several mistakes with the trial, but the "overwhelming evidence" against the defendant far outweighed any of the trifling errors committed by Barney, the cops, Peterson, and Judge Jones. The court spent little time discussing exactly what evidence had been so overwhelming.

Bill Luker called Ron with the bad news, and he took it well enough. Ron had studied the briefs, talked to Bill many times, and been cautioned against optimism.

On the same date, Dennis Fritz received the same news from the same court. Again, the justices found several mistakes in his trial but were evidently swayed by the "overwhelming evidence" against Dennis.

He had not been impressed with the brief filed by his appellate lawyer, and he was not surprised when his conviction was upheld. After three years in the prison library Dennis believed that he knew the statutes and cases better than his attorney.

He was disappointed but did not give up. Like Ron, he had other arguments to make in other courts. Quitting was not an option. But unlike Ron, Dennis was now on his own. Since he was not on death row, there were no indigent lawyers available for him. But the Court of Criminal Appeals was not always a rubber stamp for the prosecution. Much to Mark Barrett's delight, he received the news on April 16, 1991, that a new trial had been ordered for Greg Wilhoit. The court found it impossible to ignore the miserable job done by George Briggs in defending Greg and ruled that he did not receive adequate representation.

When you're on trial for your life, hire either the best lawyer in town or the worst. Greg had unwittingly hired the worst, and now he had a new trial. When an inmate was to be removed from his cell and taken off The Row for any reason, there was never an explanation. Guards simply showed up with orders to get dressed, quickly.

Greg knew he'd won his appeal, though, and when the guards arrived at his cell door, the big day had come. "Pack your stuff," one of them said, and it was time to leave. In a couple of minutes he stuffed his entire collection of assets into one cardboard box, then walked away with his escorts. Ron had been moved to the other end of the run, and there was no chance of a farewell. As Greg left McAlester, his thoughts were of the friend he was leaving behind.

When he arrived at the jail in Osage County, a bail hearing was quickly arranged by Mark Barrett. With a capital murder charge still pending and a trial date yet to be set, Greg was not exactly a free man. Instead of the usual exorbitant bond that was impossible to make, the judge set bail at $50,000, a sum Greg's parents and sisters quickly covered. After five years in jail, four on death row, Greg was free, never to return to a prison cell. Construction of H Unit had begun in 1990. Virtually everything was made of concrete-floors, walls, ceilings, bunks, bookshelves. To eliminate the chance of shanks being produced, no metal was included in the plans. There were plenty of bars and some glass, but not in the cells. Everything there was concrete.

When the structure was complete, it was covered with dirt. Energy efficiency was the official reason. Natural light and ventilation were extinguished.

When H Unit opened in November 1991, the prison celebrated its new, state-of-the-art death house by throwing a party. Big shots were invited. Ribbons were cut. The prison band was forced to play a few tunes. Tours were given-the future inhabitants were still over in the Big House, a quarter of a mile away. Guests were given the opportunity to pay to sleep one night on a brand-new concrete bunk in the cell of their choice.

After the party, and to work out the kinks, some medium security prisoners were moved in first and watched closely to see what mischief they could create. When H Unit proved sturdy, functional, and escape-proof, it was time to send in the bad boys from F Cellhouse.

The complaining and bitching started immediately. There were no windows, no chance of outside light, no hope of fresh air. Double-celling was implemented, and the cells were too small for two men. The concrete bunks were too hard and only thirtysix inches apart. A stainless-steel toilet/sink was wedged between them, so that a bowel movement was a shared event. The layout of the pods was such that most of the daily chatter-the lifeblood for the prisoners-was cut off. As a non-contact facility, H Unit was designed not only to keep the guards away from inmates but to isolate the prisoners themselves. The food was worse than on F Cellhouse. The yard, the most cherished area at the old place, was nothing but a concrete box much smaller than a tennis court. Its walls were eighteen feet tall, and the entire area was covered with a thick grate that blocked out whatever light could penetrate the sun dome. It was impossible to see green grass.

The new concrete had not been sealed or painted. Concrete dust was everywhere. It piled up in the corners of the cells. It clung to the walls, settled on the floors, hung in the air, and of course was inhaled by the inmates. Attorneys visiting their clients often left coughing and rasping because of the dust.

The state-of-the-art ventilation system was "closed," meaning there was no outside circulation at all. This was tolerable until the power went out, which happened often while the bugs were being worked out of the system.

Leslie Delk, an indigent defense lawyer assigned to Ron Williamson, discussed the problems in a letter to a colleague who had sued the prison:

The food situation is horrible and almost every client I have has lost weight. One client has lost 90 pounds in 10 months. I have communicated this with the prison, but of course they tell me he is fine, etc. One thing discovered on a recent trip to the infirmary was that the food is brought over from the old prison where it is prepared behind the walls. When it arrives at H-Unit, there are inmates-shock incarceration guys, I think-that serve it up. These guys are told that they can have whatever is left, so the portions the death row inmates are now receiving are about half of what the rest of the prison receives. It is my understanding that there is little or no DOC supervision of the food as it is put on the trays for the death row guys. All my clients have complained that the food is always cold now, and that it is so poorly prepared that the men are sick from it and the quantities are so low that most people are forced to purchase food from the canteen so they can get enough to eat. This is of course the prison store that charges whatever they want for the foods they offer. (Usually much higher than we could purchase from a grocery store.) Also many of my clients have no family to help support them so they go without.

H Unit was a shock to the inmates. After hearing rumors for two years about a new, modern $11 million facility, they were stunned when they moved into an underground prison with less space and more restrictions than F Cellhouse.

Ron hated H Unit. His roommate was Rick Rojem, a resident of The Row since 1985 and a calming influence. Rick was a Buddhist who spent hours in meditation and also enjoyed playing the guitar. Privacy was impossible in their cramped cell. They rigged a blanket from the ceiling and between the beds in a lame effort to withdraw into their own worlds.

Rojem was worried about Ron. He had lost interest in reading. His mind and conversation could not stay on one subject. He was medicated at times, but far from getting proper treatment. He would sleep for hours, then pace around the tiny cell for an entire night, mumbling incoherently or chanting about one of his delusions. Then he would stand at the door and scream in agony. Since they were together twenty-three hours a day, Rick was watching his cell mate go insane, and he couldn't help him.

Ron lost ninety pounds after moving into H Unit. His hair turned gray, and he looked like a ghost. Annette was waiting one day in the visitors' room when she saw the guards lead a wiry old man with long, stringy gray hair and a beard into the room. Who is that? she thought. Her brother.

She said, "When I saw them bring this man with long hair and just a skinny, horrible, emaciated-looking man that they brought to visit me that I would not have recognized if I met him on the street, I came home, and I wrote the warden asking him to have Ron checked for AIDS because he looked so gauntish, and knowing the stories you hear about prisons, I asked them to check him for AIDS."

The warden wrote back and assured her Ronnie did not have AIDS. She fired off another letter and complained about the food, the high prices in the canteen, and the fact that the profits from the canteen went into a fund to help buy exercise equipment for the guards. In 1992, a psychiatrist named Ken Foster was hired by the prison and soon met Ron Williamson. He found him to be disheveled, disoriented, out of touch with reality, thin, gray, frail, emaciated, in poor physical condition. It was obvious to Dr. Foster, as it should have been to the prison officials, that something was wrong.

Ron's mental condition was even worse than his physical. His outbursts and explosions were far beyond normal prison clamor, and it was no secret among the guards and staff that he had lost contact with reality. Dr. Foster witnessed several bouts of the maniacal screaming and noted three general themes: (1) that Ron was innocent, (2) that Ricky Joe Simmons had confessed to the murder and should be prosecuted, and (3) that Ron was in great physical pain, usually in his chest, and he was afraid he was about to die.

Though his symptoms were obvious and extreme, the records reviewed by Dr. Foster indicated that Ron had been receiving no mental health treatment for a long time. The denial of medication for a person as sick as Ron normally results in the onset of psychotic symptoms.

Dr. Foster wrote, "The psychotic reaction and the accompanying deterioration are worsened when a person is under the multiple stresses which accompany being in a death row environment and having the knowledge that you are scheduled to die. The GAF scale, as set forth in authoritative mental health manuals, considers imprisonment a 'catastrophic' stressor."

It was impossible to speculate how much worse the catastrophe might be for an innocent person.

Dr. Foster decided Ron needed better medications in a better environment. Ron would always be mentally ill, but improvements were possible, even for a death row inmate. However, Dr. Foster soon learned that helping sick and condemned prisoners was a very low priority.

He spoke to James Saffle, a regional director with the Department of Corrections, and to Dan Reynolds, the warden at McAlester. Both were familiar with Ron Williamson and his problems, and both had more important things to worry about.

Ken Foster, though, proved to be a rather stubborn, independent sort who disliked bureaucratic decisions and actually wanted to help his patients. He kept reporting to Saffle and Reynolds and made sure they knew the details of Ron's serious mental and physical problems. He insisted on meeting with Reynolds at least once a week to review the status of his patients; Ron was always mentioned. And he spoke daily to a deputy warden, gave the routine updates, and made sure the summaries were passed on to the warden.

Repeatedly, Dr. Foster explained to those who ran the prison that Ron was not getting the medicines he needed and that he was deteriorating mentally and physically because of inadequate treatment. He was especially incensed that Ron would not be transferred to the Special Care Unit, or SCU, a building within view of H Unit.

Inmates who exhibited serious mental problems were routinely moved into the SCU, the only facility at McAlester designed for such treatment. However, the DOC had a longstanding policy that denied death row inmates access to the SCU. The official reason was vague, but many capital defense lawyers suspected the policy was in place to help speed along executions. If a severely disturbed death row inmate was properly evaluated, he might be found to be incompetent, thus thwarting a trip to the chamber.

The policy had been challenged many times but remained intractable. Ken Foster challenged it again. He explained repeatedly to Saffle and Reynolds that he could not adequately treat Ron Williamson without placing him at the SCU, where he could monitor his condition and regulate his medication. Often his explanations were pointed, heated, and intense. But Dan Reynolds proved stubbornly resistant to the idea of moving Ron and saw no need to improve his treatment. Don't bother with death row inmates, Reynolds said. They're going to die anyway. Dr. Foster's appeals on behalf of Ron became so bothersome that Warden Reynolds locked him out of the prison. When the lockout ended, Dr. Foster resumed his efforts to move Ron to the SCU. It took four years.

After his direct appeal was over, Ron's case entered "post-conviction relief," the next stage in which he was allowed to present evidence that was not offered at trial. As was the practice at that time, Bill Luker transferred the file to Leslie Delk, with the Appellate Public Defender's Office. Her first priority was obtaining better medical treatment for her client. She saw Ron once on F Cellhouse and realized he was a very sick man. After he was transferred to H Unit, she became alarmed at his eroding condition.

Though Delk was not a psychiatrist or psychologist, she had received extensive training in the detection and nature of mental illness. Part of her job as a capital defense attorney was to observe such problems and try to get adequate treatment. She relied on the opinions of mental health experts, but it was difficult with Ron because a proper examination was impossible. As part of the noncontact policy at H Unit, no one could sit in the same room with the prisoner, not even his lawyer. A psychiatrist trying to examine Ron had to do so through a sheet of glass while talking to him on the phone.

Delk arranged for a Dr. Pat Fleming to do a psychological evaluation of Ron, as required in post-conviction proceedings. Dr. Fleming made three attempts but was unable to complete her assessment. Her patient was agitated, delusional, noncooperative, and hallucinating. The staff informed Dr. Fleming that such behavior was not at all unusual. It was obvious that he was a very disturbed man who was in no condition to assist his attorney or function in any meaningful way. She was severely restricted in her attempt to evaluate Ron because she was not allowed a confidential visit in which she could sit in the same room to question, observe, and administer tests.

Dr. Fleming met with the staff physician on H Unit and detailed her concerns. Later, she was assured that Ron had been seen by mental health professionals from within the prison, but she saw no improvement. She strongly recommended a commitment to Eastern State Hospital for an extended period to stabilize Ron and properly evaluate him. Her recommendation was denied.

Leslie Delk hammered away at the prison officials. She met with the correctional staff, the medical staff, and the various wardens to lodge her complaints and demand better treatment. Promises were made, then ignored. Benign efforts were made slight changes in Ron's medications-but he received no significant treatment. She documented her frustrations with a series of letters to the prison officials. She visited Ron as often as possible, and when she was certain his condition could not worsen, it did. Leslie worried that he might die at any time.

***

While the medical staff struggled to treat Ron, the correctional staff was having great fun at his expense. For amusement, some of the prison guards enjoyed playing with the new intercom on H Unit. Each cell had a two-way speaker to the control room, yet another smart toy to keep the guards as far away from the inmates as possible. But it wasn't far enough.

"Ron, this is God," a haunting voice called into Ron's cell deep in the night. "Why did you kill Debbie Carter? " A pause, then the guards would snicker as they heard Ron screaming through his door, "I didn't kill anybody! I am innocent!" His deep, raspy voice rattled through the southwest quad and disrupted the quiet. The seizure would last an hour or so, upsetting the other inmates but greatly humoring the guards.

When things were quiet, the voice returned. "Ron, this is Debbie Carter. Why did you kill me?" His tormented screams would go on and on.

"Ron, this is Charlie Carter. Why did you kill my daughter?"

The other inmates begged the guards to stop it, but they were having too much fun. Rick Rojem believed that two of the more sadistic guards, in particular, lived for the fun of mistreating Ron. The abuse went on for months.

"Just ignore them," Rick pleaded with his cell mate. "If you ignore them, they'll quit."

Ron couldn't grasp this idea. He was determined to convince everyone around him that he was innocent, and bawling it at the top of his lungs seemed the appropriate way. Often, when he couldn't scream any longer, when he was physically spent or too hoarse to continue, he would stand with his face close to the speaker and whisper incoherently for hours.

Leslie Delk finally heard of the fun and games and fired off a letter on October 12, 1992, to the manager of H Unit. It read, in part:

Also, I had mentioned to you that I had been hearing from different folks that Ron was being harassed through the intercom by certain guards who apparently find it humorous to taunt the "crazies" and get them to react. I am continuing to hear about this problem and most recently heard that Officer Martin walked up to the door of Ron's cell and started harassing him and taunting him (I believe that the content of these usually revolve around "Ricky Joe Simmons" and "Debra Sue Carter"). From what I understand, Officer Reading stepped in to get Officer Martin to quit his behavior but had to repeatedly tell him to quit harassing Ron before Martin actually stopped.

I have heard Officer Martin's name from several different sources now as being one of the people who routinely harass Ron and so I would like to know if you could investigate this matter and take appropriate action. Maybe it would be [beneficial] for you to have some training sessions for your guards who have to deal with those inmates who are mentally ill.

Not all of the guards were cruel. A female guard stopped by Ron's cell late one night for a chat. He looked awful and said he was starving, said he hadn't eaten for days. She believed him. She left and returned a few minutes later with a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of stale bread.

In a letter to Renee, Ron said he enjoyed the "feast" immensely and there wasn't a crumb left over.

Kim Marks was an investigator with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System who ultimately spent more time on H Unit with Ron than anyone else. When she was first assigned his case, she reviewed the trial transcripts, reports, and exhibits. She was a former newspaper reporter, and her curiosity drove her to at least question Ron's guilt. She made a list of potential suspects, twelve in all and most with criminal backgrounds. Glen Gore was number one, for all the obvious reasons. He was with Debbie the night she was murdered. They had known each other for years; thus, he could gain access to her apartment without force. He had a wretched history of violence against women. He had pointed the finger at Ron.

Why had the cops shown so little interest in Gore? The deeper Kim probed into the police reports and the trial itself, the more she became convinced that Ron's protests were well grounded.

She visited him many times on H Unit and, like Leslie Delk, watched him completely unravel. She approached each visit with a mix of curiosity and apprehension. Never had she seen an inmate age as rapidly as Ron. His dark brown hair was grayer with each visit, and he was not yet forty. He was gaunt and ghostlike, due in no small part to the lack of sunshine. His clothes were dirty and fit badly. His eyes were hollow and deeply troubled. A major part of her job was to determine if the client had mental problems, then attempt to find not only adequate treatment but also expert witnesses. It was obvious to her, and obvious to any layperson, that he was mentally ill and suffering greatly from his condition. Early on, she was stiff-armed by the DOC policy of keeping death row inmates out of the Special Care Unit. Like Dr. Foster, Kim would fight that battle for years.

She located and reviewed the 1983 videotape of Ron's second polygraph. Though at that time he'd already been diagnosed as depressed and bipolar, and perhaps schizophrenic, he was coherent, under control, and able to present himself as a normal person. But nine years later, there was nothing normal about him. He was delusional, out of touch with reality, and consumed with obsessions-Ricky Joe Simmons, religion, the liars at his trial, lack of money, Debbie Carter, the law, his music, the massive lawsuit he would one day file against the state, his baseball career, the abuses and injustices to which he was being subjected.

She talked to the staff and heard their reports of his ability to scream for an entire day, then she got a good dose of it. Because of the peculiarities of the layout of H Unit, the women's restroom had a vent that carried sounds from the southwest quad, where Ron was housed.

On a trip to the restroom, she was stunned to hear him bellowing like a madman. It rattled her, and, working with Leslie, she pushed even harder to force the prison to provide better treatment. They tried to get an exception to move him to the SCU. They tried to have him evaluated at Eastern State.

Their efforts were futile.

In June 1992, Leslie Delk, as part of the post-conviction process, filed an application for a hearing to determine mental competency in the district court of Pontotoc County. Bill Peterson filed an objection, and the court denied the request. This denial was immediately appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, where it was upheld.

In July, she filed an extensive application for post-conviction relief. Her claims were based primarily on the voluminous records of Ron's mental health, and she argued that his lack of competency should have been addressed at trial. Two months later, postconviction relief was denied, and Leslie appealed again to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

Not surprisingly, she lost again. The next step was a routine and hopeless appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A year later it issued a perfunctory denial. Other routine filings were made, more routine denials were entered, and when all state remedies were exhausted on August 26, 1994, the execution of Ron Williamson was set by the Court of Criminal Appeals for September 27, 1994.

He had been on death row for six years and four months.

After two years of freedom, Greg Wilhoit was dragged back into a courtroom to once again face charges of murdering his wife.

After he left McAlester, he settled in Tulsa and tried to reestablish something close to a normal life. It was not easy. He carried emotional and psychological scars from his ordeal. His daughters, now eight and nine years old, were being raised by some friends from church, two schoolteachers, and their lives were quite stable. His parents and sisters were supportive, as always.

His case had gathered some attention. His trial lawyer, George Briggs, had mercifully passed away, but not before having his license to practice revoked by the state. Several prominent criminal lawyers contacted Greg and wanted to represent him. Lawyers are attracted to cameras like ants to a picnic, and Greg was amused to see so much interest in his case.

But it was an easy choice. His pal Mark Barrett had won his release, and Greg was confident he would now win his freedom.

During his first trial, the most damaging evidence was the testimony of the state's two bite-mark experts. Both told the jury that the wound on Kathy Wilhoit's breast had been left there by her estranged husband. The Wilhoit family found a leading bitemark expert, Dr. Thomas Krauss of Kansas. Dr. Krauss was stunned at the discrepancies between Greg's dental impression and the actual wound. The two were drastically different. Mark Barrett then sent the bite mark to eleven nationally renowned experts, many of whom usually testified on behalf of the prosecution. They included the FBI's top bitemark consultant and the expert who testified against Ted Bundy. The verdict was unanimous-all twelve bite-mark experts concluded that Greg Wilhoit had to be excluded. The comparisons were not even close.

At an evidentiary hearing, an expert for the defense identified twenty major discrepancies between Greg's teeth and the bite mark, and testified that each one conclusively excluded Greg.

But the prosecutor pushed on and insisted on a trial, which quickly became a farce. Mark Barrett successfully excluded the state's bite-mark experts, then destroyed the credibility of the DNA man called by the state.

After the prosecution rested, Mark Barrett made a forceful motion to dismiss the evidence presented by the state and direct a verdict in favor of Greg Wilhoit. Then the judge called for a recess, and they went to lunch. When they returned, and when the jury was back and the courtroom was settled, the judge, in a rare move, announced that the motion would be granted. The case was dismissed.

"Mr. Wilhoit," he said, "you are now a free man."

After a long night of celebrating with his family and friends, Greg Wilhoit raced to the airport the next morning and flew to California, never to return to Oklahoma unless it was to visit his family or fight the death penalty. Eight years after Kathy's murder, he was finally a free man.

By chasing the wrong suspect, the police and prosecutors had allowed the real killer's trail to grow cold. He has yet to be found.

The new death chamber on H Unit was working just fine. On March 10, 1992, Robyn Leroy Parks, male black, age fortythree, was executed for the 1978 murder of a gas station attendant. He had been on The Row for thirteen years.

Three days later, Olan Randle Robison, male white, age forty-six, was executed for murdering a couple after he broke into their rural home in 1980.

Ron Williamson was to be the third man strapped to a gurney on H Unit and offered the opportunity to say a few final words.

On August 30, 1994, Ron was greeted at his cell door by a menacing squad of frowning guards who wanted to take him somewhere. He was cuffed at the ankles and wrists, and a belly chain linked all the hardware together. This was something serious.

As usual, he was gaunt, dirty, unshaven, and unstable, and the guards gave him as much room as possible. Officer Martin was one of the five.

Ron was led out of H Unit, into a van, and driven the short distance to the administrative offices at the front of the prison. Surrounded by his entourage, he was taken to the warden's office, to a room with a long conference table where many people were waiting to witness something dramatic. Still shackled and guarded closely by his sentries, he was seated at one end of the table. The warden was at the other, and he began the meeting by introducing Ron to the numerous staff members seated around the table, all looking rather glum.

A real pleasure to meet you all.

Ron was then handed a "notification," which the warden began reading: You have been sentenced to die for the crime of murder at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday September 27, 1994. The purpose of this meeting is to inform you of the rules and procedures to be followed for the next thirty days and to discuss certain privileges you may be afforded.

Ron became upset and said that he hadn't killed anyone. Maybe he'd done some bad things in his life, but murder wasn't one of them.

The warden kept reading, and Ron again insisted that he did not kill Debbie Carter. The warden and the unit manager chatted with him for a few minutes and calmed him down. They were not there to judge him, they said, but they were just following the rules and procedures.

But Ron had a video of Ricky Simmons confessing to the crime, and he wanted to show it to the warden. Again he denied killing Debbie, and he rambled on about somehow getting on television in Ada to profess his innocence. He mentioned his sister going to college in Ada.

The warden continued reading:

On the morning prior to the date of execution, you will be placed in a special cell where you will remain until the time of execution. While in this cell and until the time of execution you will be under constant surveillance by Correctional Officers.

Ron interrupted again, yelling that he did not kill Debbie Carter.

The warden plowed on, reading pages of rules regarding visitors, personal belongings, and funeral arrangements. Ron tuned him out and became subdued.

"What should we do with your body? " the warden asked.

Ron was emotional and confused and unprepared for such a question. Finally he managed to suggest that they just ship him to Annette.

When he had no questions and claimed he understood it all, he was marched back to his cell. The countdown began.

He forgot to call Annette. Two days later she was riffling through her mail when she came across an envelope from the Department of Corrections in McAlester. Inside was a letter from a deputy warden:

Ms. Hudson:

It is with empathy that I must inform you that your brother, Ronald Keith Williamson (#134846) is scheduled to be executed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, September 27, 1994.

Visiting during the day prior to the execution date will be limited to Clergymen, Attorney of Record, and two other persons who have been approved by the Warden. As difficult as it may be, funeral arrangements must be considered, and these arrangements are the responsibility of the family. If this responsibility is not assumed by the family, the State will attend to the funeral. Please inform me of your decision.

Sincerely,

Ken Klingler

Annette called Renee with the horrible news. Both were distraught and worked hard to convince each other that it couldn't be true. Other conversations followed, and they decided that they would not bring his body back to Ada. It would not be put on display at Criswell's funeral home for the town to gawk at. Instead, they would have a private service and burial in McAlester, by invitation only. Only a few close friends and a few family members would attend.

They were informed by the prison that they would be allowed to witness the execution. Renee said she couldn't do it. Annette was determined to be there at the end. The news swept through Ada. Peggy Stillwell was watching the local TV station when she heard the rather surprising report that an execution date had been set for Ron Williamson. Though this was good news, she was angry because no one had informed her. She had been promised that she would be allowed to witness the execution, and she certainly wanted to. Perhaps someone would call in a few days.

Annette kept to herself, and tried to deny it was happening. Her visits to the prison had become less frequent, and shorter in duration. Ronnie was out of his mind and would either yell at her or pretend she wasn't there. Several times she had left after seeing him for less than five minutes.

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