Reverend Carroll Pickett is the former death house chaplain at the Walls Unit in Huntsville from 1982-1995. Pickett ministered to ninety-five men on the final day of their lives and was present in the chamber during their executions. He is now an outspoken activist against the death penalty.He provides a first hand account of the execution of Carlos DeLuna in his book "Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain".
In 1986 he had been convicted of robbing and murdering a twenty-four-year-old
DeLuna fled on foot with the small amount of money that he'd taken from the cash register. Shortly afterward, police found him hiding beneath a truck parked only a few blocks away. Though he was twenty-seven when I met him, he seemed much younger. That he'd managed to pass through the first nine years of public school was a sad commentary on our education system. As we talked, I found myself trying to imagine my own children-teenagers at the time--attempting to grasp the concept of their own death.
Upon his arrival at Death House, he demonstrated the characteristics that, since the Penry case, I'd often prayed never to see again. Like several I'd encountered before him, he had no real understanding of why he was there.
The signs were always the same. While the inmate of average of above-average intelligence was always focused, those with low I.Q.s seemed disoriented their thoughts ping-ponging from one subject to another. Despite the popular myth most condemned men who order an elaborate last mean only pick at it. The mentally challenged always display a voracious appetite. When the time came to describe procedures that would occur inside the death chamber, most have an endless series of questions. But all DeLuna was concerned with was the pain he might feel when the needles were inserted into his arms.
"It'll be like getting a shot in doctor's office," I tried to explain.
"You promise it won't heart?"
"Will you hold my hand?"
That I told him, would not be possible.
Because, I explained, his hands would be taped down to the gurney. As I'd done so many other occasions, I explained that when the warden removed his glasses, it would be the signal for the injection to begin, and I assured him that once they started it would be no more than seven to twelve seconds before he was unconscious. Several times before the time came for him to leave the cell, we counted the numbers off together one...two...three...
Still, as we entered the death chamber, a lot of utter confusion swept over DeLuna's face, his piercing brown eyes searching mine. What happening? Why are they doing this to me? When can I go back to Ellis? As members of the tie down team were strapping him down to the gurney, they briefly blocked him from my view. "Where did the chaplain go?" he suddenly cried in a childlike voice. I immediately moved to a position where he could see me. "I'm here," I told him. "I won't leave you."
He responded with a smile. "It will be over soon," I assured him.
"Hold my hand?"
"Carlos, I told you, I can't."
"Why?" why, indeed?
Standing at the foot of the gurney, I again tried to assure him that only a few seconds would pass before the process was completed. He would, I whispered, be aware when the chemicals began entering his body. "Breathe out," I said, repeating advise that a doctor had suggested I offer. "Clear your lungs of air, and you'll go to sleep more quickly."
With that I placed my hand on his ankle.
Soon, the warden left his glasses, the chemicals began to flow, and the seconds ticked away. They stretched into an eternity. Well passed the twelve seconds I had promised, I could still feel a pulse beating beneath my hand. Carlos DeLuna's eyes remained open, staring at me, filled with fear and disappointment. I was certain that I could read his though; You lied to me. You promised. Why did you lie to me?
I felt my own body began to shake as several more agonizing seconds crept by before he died. His eyes never closed, and as I looked down on his lifeless body, i was overwhelmed by a feeling of failure. He was the 33 inmate put to death since I'd become the prison chaplain, and for the first time I felt I let someone down.