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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The woman of the 300 executions

Por Feco

It is known that Texas has executed many more people than any other state in the United States, and Michelly Lyons, a former employee of the state, witnessed hundreds of them. Lyons told the BBC about the effect this had on her. The text says that some convicts remained on death row for decades and Lyons got to know some very well, among them serial killers, child killers or rapists.

Since 1924, every execution in the state of Texas takes place in the small town of Huntsville. There are seven prisons, including Unidad Walls, an imposing Victorian building that houses the death chamber. In 1972, the Supreme Court suspended the death penalty claiming it was an unusual and cruel punishment. But, within a few months, several states began to rewrite their statutes to reinstate it. Texas restored its own less than two years later and then adopted lethal injection as the new method of execution. In 1982, Charlie Brooks was the first criminal executed using this method.

Over the years, Huntsville earned a reputation as the "center of the world's capital punishment." According to the BBC, several journalists, usually European, have written about the feeling of death that floods the city. It is known that Hunstville is a small and orderly city, located in the middle of a beautiful forest, in an area that is known as the "Biblical Belt", a term that refers to the extensive US region where Evangelical Christianity has deep social roots. There are churches everywhere, people are friendly, and you can spend days there without ever knowing that the city has a camera of executions. But there is one person who is quite aware: Michelly Lyons.

For 12 years - first as a newspaper reporter and then as a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) - part of her job was to attend every execution carried out by the state. Between 2000 and 2012, Lyons witnessed about 300 men and women die on the stretcher. Her first execution was when she was 22 years old. After seeing Javier Cruz died, she wrote in her diary: "I felt completely good about it, am I supposed to feel bad?"

The British media echoes that Lyons thought it best to keep her feelings of solidarity for more valuable causes, such as the two old men Cruz had beaten to death with a hammer. "Witnessing executions was simply part of my job," says Lyons, who recently published his memoirs "Death Row: The Final Minutes". "I was in favor of the death penalty, I thought it was the most appropriate punishment for certain types of crimes, and because I was young and daring, everything for me was black or white." Lyons said that if she had started to explore how executions made her feel when she witnessed them, that if she had reflected on the emotions at stake, she could not have returned to that room, every month, every year.

"When I look at my notes on the executions, I can see the things that bothered me, but any doubt I had, I kept it in a bag in my head and pushed it into a corner, it was insensibility that allowed me to continue”. And here is the human part of experiencing those terrible events, no matter the punishment deserved. Having looked at death so closely, in the end, takes something from you. One of her phrases explicitly describes it: "Standing in the witness room, I thought: 'There are no winners here, everyone is screwed.' The executions are just bad, and I have to witness this sadness again and again."