Voice of death testifies for life—-Ex-spokesman on execution aids
For 8 years and 219 executions, Larry Fitzgerald was the face of the
nation's busiest execution chamber, a man who watched as men and women
were put to death and then, often in the face of tough questions and
controversy, explained what had happened.
Now he is on the other side. Retired from the Texas prison system, where
he was chief spokesman based at the death chamber in Huntsville,
Fitzgerald helps death penalty attorneys trying to keep their clients
alive by testifying about life in the state prison system.
Fitzgerald's turnabout does not mean he is a capital punishment foe;
indeed, he favors the death penalty in some cases. Yet his new role has
prompted criticism from some, including a former warden who called him a
"My testimony isn't for or against the death penalty. It's to show the
prison system works. No matter how bad this person is, the Texas prison
system can handle him," Fitzgerald said.
1/3 of U.S. executions are in Texas Graphic Still, because the death
penalty in Texas has come under such withering scrutiny and is the subject
of much criticism, "there's an 'either you're for us or against us'
mentality," he said.
As the spokesman at the prison in Huntsville, Fitzgerald was known for his
straight-talking mannera byproduct, perhaps, of his years as a radio
reporter in small towns across Texas and a stint as the news director at a
station in Ft. Worth. Even after the most controversial executions, he
stepped forward to provide an account of a prisoner's last hours and
A 'PhD in prison life'
Fitzgerald, who supervised reporters' interviews with inmates at the
state's death row in Livingston, often got to know the condemned. Then
"they'd be on a gurney getting executed."
"That," he added, "was always difficult."
Nonetheless, he said, "I handled it the way reporters are supposed to
handle it. You're an observer." His job, he added, was merely to help the
news media get the story from the execution.
Fitzgerald retired in August 2003, leaving with what he calls a "PhD in
prison life." Not long after, a defense lawyer asked him to testify in a
death penalty retrial. Although the prisoner received another death
sentence, other attorneys began to call Fitzgerald, and he started
testifying. Since that first case, he has consulted in some 2 dozen
"He relates well to people. He has that intangible quality," said Ft.
Worth lawyer David Pearson, who called Fitzgerald to the witness stand
during the 2006 murder trial of a man charged with killing his parents.
"He doesn't come across like he's selling something."
Fitzgerald appears during the highly charged punishment phase of a death
penalty trial, after a defendant has been found guilty but before the jury
has decided whether he should live or die. He describes inmate life, talks
about education opportunities in prisons and, most of all, how secure they
"People," he said, "just don't understand all of what goes on inside a
Pearson sought Fitzgerald to testify for Andrew Wamsley, who was tried for
plotting the shooting and stabbing murders of his parents in December 2003
to inherit their $1.65 million estate.
Prosecutors were seeking death. Pearson and attorney Larry Moore were
trying to persuade the jury to spare the 21-year-old Wamsley and give him
a life sentence. Jurors voted for life; under Texas law, Wamsley has to
serve 40 years before he can be considered for parole.
"I needed somebody [who] could speak with firsthand information about how
someone convicted of capital murder and sentenced to a life sentence would
be handled," Pearson said. "So the jury would be assured the security
system could handle someone like that. It was his business as spokesman to
make sure he knew what was going on all over the prison system."
Prosecutors and others say Fitzgerald's experience does not qualify him as
an expert, and increasingly, Fitzgerald said, prosecutors are subjecting
him to tougher cross-examination.
Allison Wetzel, a prosecutor in Austin, had to contend with Fitzgerald's
testimony at the trial of Guy Allen, who was convicted of the stabbing
murders in 2002 of his girlfriend and her daughter.
Allen was sentenced to death.
"I guess by the verdict, jurors rejected Larry Fitzgerald's view of
things," Wetzel said.
A.P. Merillat, who investigates prison crimes for the state and has
testified for prosecutors at death penalty trials, said his work is more
relevant than Fitzgerald's prison experience.
"I don't like that he tries to portray himself as more knowledgeable than
we are, when it's our business," Merillat said of himself and colleagues
who investigate crimes committed in prison.
Fitzgerald, though, is deeply knowledgeable about the death penalty in
Texas. He was in the spotlight frequently during George W. Bush's first
At the time, Fitzgerald didn't offer a personal opinion. Now he
acknowledges that he favors the death penalty. But, he says, he has come
to believe Texas uses it "way too much."
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Inmate's family, friends protest execution
The family of Felecia Prechtl watched Karl Eugene Chamberlain become the
first Texas death row inmate to be executed since late September 2007.
Chamberlain, who raped and killed Prechtl 17 years ago in Dallas, was
pronounced dead at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday after he was given the lethal
injection at 6:21.
While Chamberlain's half-sister and 5 friends witnessed his execution from
behind another glass window, his mother stood in front of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justices Walls Unit protesting the death penalty.
Muina Arthur of Las Vegas, N.M., chose not to see her son executed a short
She was among 20 protesters waving signs in opposition of the death
penalty or voicing their viewpoint verbally.
Chamberlain became the 406th person executed in Texas.
"This country is a fascist country," Arthur said, using a megaphone. "This
is not a compassionate America. We have to stand on God's law. Jesus was a
pacifist. Jesus was a pacifist."
"How many men has the state of Texas murdered who were innocent?" she
cried out. "Many. They're dead, they're gone, they're martyrs."
"Let all the countries around the world put the pressure on The United
States of America," Arthur said with Ron Carlson standing next to her.
"The leader of killing. The leader of mayhem. We're talking about human
beings, we're talking about my son.
"He's a jewel; he's a teddy bear; and yeah, he messed up. He didn't have a
criminal record, and he's not a bad man. He's a good man. He's a jewel
compared to most. Compare him to Bush. God, oh Jesus save us.
"God is truth. My son is a believer, you're gonna, hey … he ain't dead
"This is not the 1st time I've stood with an inmate's family," said
Carlson, brother of Deborah Thornton Carlson, who was killed by Karla Faye
"Not only are the people that were murdered, their families, are victims,
but every time an execution takes place the family of the inmate is being
victimized, too," Carlson said. "And that's something that the media needs
"I'm sure you've heard her sobs; I'm sure you took photographs; you know
she's hurting. That's the reality of the death penalty. Nothing is going
to change by killing Karl Chamberlain.
"The victim's family may think that now this is over, but in the end, it
never ends. If it did, I wouldn't be here today."
When asked why she would not bear witness to the end of her son's life,
Arthur said, "My daughter is there. I've been with people who've died. Its
a real special reality; murder is a different thing. They're murdering my
son; he's not dying."
To the family of Felecia Carol Prechtl, Arthur had a solitary message.
"I love … I just love," she said. "I wish that moment had never
happened. There aren't any words when you lose a child. I love them."
Standing in front of Arthur was Capital "X" best known for his work with
Walk 4 Life.
He was videotaping her message for his own use to help demonstrate the
pain felt by the families of the executed, a view he felt was not
appropriately covered by today's media.
"It really hurts me to see all these people hurting, all these people with
love and compassion, and then you've got these jokers over here (gestures
to TDCJ guards standing close by) smirking and laughing," he said. "I'm
not saying they're all bad, there's some of them who don't believe in the
"But to stand there and smirk while this woman is getting her heart torn
out to me is like disrespect. There's not even a word for it. But if you
put the camera on them they're quick to turn their faces."
As the news reached Arthur that her son had been executed, she hugged Lamp
of Hope member Karen Sebung, and cried out in agony.
(source: Huntsville Item)