Huntsville Prison Cemetery | Photo by kwestfield via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1v69OFx)

Huntsville Prison Cemetery | Photo by kwestfield via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1v69OFx) Photo by kwestfield via Flickr


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The room is an unnatural shade of green. “Kelly” would be the best word to describe it, but all I could think about was why the room was painted at all; why the Texas correctional spent even one dollar to make the execution chambers at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville (also known as “Walls Unit”) less clinical than the bare brick walls would have been. Maybe a church youth group came to paint it; maybe someone donated buckets of leftover paint from their backyard shed project. Maybe kelly green is the most soothing color to see before you die.

Last week saw the first executions in the US (Florida, Georgia, and Missouri) since Clayton Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma in April was botched. According to the website DeathPenaltyInfo.org, there are 17 more executions scheduled for 2014. It was with all of this in mind that I recently watched Into the AbyssWerner Herzog’s 2011 documentary about Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, two young men from Conroe, Texas, who were teenagers at the time they were involved in a triple homicide. Perry and Burkett were responsible for the murders of Sandra Stotler, Sandra’s son Adam, and their friend Jeremy Richardson. They dumped Sandra Stotler’s body in nearby Crater Lake and left Adam and Jeremy’s bodies where they had killed them, in a dense wooded area. The reward and the motive for the killings was a red Camaro; Adam’s white Isuzu was a bonus.

Herzog is clear early on about his opposition to the death penalty, but the film doesn’t take sides in the debate. Instead, it presents the story on both ends–we hear from Burkett’s father (also imprisoned) and wife, from victim’s families, from Sandra Stotler’s daughter Lisa Stotler-Balloun who lost her mother and brother (Adam was actually her sister’s son, but was raised as Lisa’s brother) in one night. “Jesus probably wouldn’t have been an advocate of capital punishment,” Herzog said off-camera. “Probably not,” Stotler-Balloun replied. “But some people just don’t deserve to live.”

Toward the end of the film we meet Fred Allen, a former death row prison guard whose years in that line of work have made him an opponent of capital punishment. You can watch part of the interview here–it’s powerful stuff to hear from someone who has participated in over a hundred executions, buckling limbs to tables and moving lifeless bodies from one gurney to another.

Michael Perry maintained his innocence of Sandra Stotler’s death throughout the film, claiming that his initial confession had been extorted by police. He had found religion in prison, saying at one point that he would be going home whether he was executed or not. Jason Burkett pled guilty to the murders of Adam Stotler and Jeremy Richardson and is 13 years into a 40 year sentence.

Michael Perry was executed in that kelly green room on July 1, 2010. Lisa Stotler-Balloun was there, as was Perry’s mother. His father had died years before. Perry’s last meal was three bacon cheese omelets, three chicken enchiladas, and three cans each of Pepsi, Coke, and Dr Pepper. His last words were, “I want to start off by saying I want everyone to know that’s involved in this atrocity that they are forgiven by me. Mom, I love you. I’m coming home, Dad. I’m coming home.”

“By executing Michael, I don’t think it brought any of those people back,” said Delbert Burkett, Jason’s father. “I don’t think it deterred anything. I was on my knees [the night of the execution] at my bunk, praying for Michael…and a feeling come over me, that’s very very hard to explain, and it’s like I felt the loss of what used to be my son’s best friend.”

4 Comments

  1. The Great God Pan

    “Perry and Burkett were responsible for the murders of Sandra Stotler, Sandra’s son Adam, and their friend Jeremy Richardson. …The reward and the motive for the killings was a red Camaro; Adam’s white Isuzu was a bonus.”

    Perry and Burkett sound like a couple of very nice young men. I can’t believe these vengeance-crazed barbarians would want to execute them just because they murdered three people over cars.

    Jesus Christ himself has issued a press release: “Verily I have forgiven these upstanding young men. Yes, they hath sinneth, but the sin of murder is no greater than the sin of adultery or gay marriage. I doth forgive them, and thou hath better forgive them, too, else I shall rain down hellfire upon ye all! However, it is a good thing they had capital punishment back in My day; otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to die for thy sins. Wait, now I’m confused…”

  2. For a long time, I really did not know where I stood on the dp. It was just one of those issues. The issue came alive for me in 1983 and 1984 when my sister and father were murdered in two separate unrelated crimes.

    Throughout out time I wrestled with the dp issue as well as personal issues. It is normal for a human to want revenge when it comes to the taking of life of a loved one, especially when it encompasses murder. I can honestly say that for eight years of my life, I wanted to kill those same people the same way they destroyed my family.

    But through the grace of God and a blessing that I learned called “forgiveness”, I was able to move on with my life. The hate, anger, and want for revenge is gone. Heck, I even witnessed a execution of one of those so called monsters. That was on February 3, 1998. Right in that Kelly Green Room at the Walls Unit.

    What did I learn? I learned that the closure that many talk about did not happen. The sun did not shine any brighter on the morning of the 4th of February. However, that night before a whole new set of victims were created. Who might you ask? Very simple, the friends and the family members of the one being executed.

    The two cases I am speaking of were well publicized and high profile cases here in the Houston area as well as Seabrook, TX area.

    Do I support the dp today? NO. I don’t believe in killing. I don’t think it is right to kill, whether in vengeance or whatever. We are all God’s children, and we as a whole consist of the “Body of Christ”. Does it do the body good to kill off parts with poison and what have you so the rest of the body remains sound? I don’t think so.

    Jesus said to hate the sin, but love the sinner. I don’t believe killing those men and women on death row is loving our neighbor.

    Call me insane if you so choose. That is your place and your judgment. However for me and my house, I will serve the Lord.

    When we as human beings can learn to live together peacefully without all of the violence that exists in this world today, we will continue to kill, maim and destroy mankind. Is this what God intended for His creation?

    Think about it. Don’t use a knee jerk reaction. Consider all of the cost’s. The dp is just the tip of the iceberg. They said the Titanic was unsinkable. But it did sink. What will happen to the USA if we continue to kill off one another in the name of “justice”. Why can’t we all just get along?

    Let’s try loving God with all our hearts, soul, and mind and then loving our neighbor as ourselves. IIRC, that is what Christ himself told the leaders of that day when they questioned him about ‘the greatest commandment”. What did we do? We executed him too!

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