I had a chance to do something this week that I've never done before, in a journalism career that spans 32 years: Witness the execution of a prisoner at Parchman Penitentiary.
Benny Joe Stevens was put to death by lethal injection at 6:22pm on Tuesday, May 10. He was convicted of shooting four people to death in the Foxworth community of Marion County in 1998. Two of the victims were young boys. He was also convicted of shooting his 16-year-old daughter in the back. She survived the attack.
As I entered the death chamber, eight family members of the victims followed me inside. I was wondering what was going through their minds, but respecting their privacy was most important.
Stevens was strapped on the gurney, dressed in a red prison jumpsuit and white tennis shoes. He was given a chance to say his last words. He asked for forgiveness from God and the family members, and said he was sorry.
Then the chemicals were injected into his veins. He mouthed a few more words, but I could not hear because the microphone had been turned off. He breathed for about a minute more, then his chest stood still. Eight minutes later, he was pronounced dead. Those eight minutes felt like an eternity.
The daughter he shot wept quietly, and another family member was shaking slightly. But the room was quiet, very quiet. No sounds at all, expect for the weeping.
I did not know how I would react to seeing another human being die. Surprisingly, the scene, while surreal, was anti-climactic and somewhat antiseptic. Benny Joe Stevens simply went to sleep, and then died. I would call it a peaceful death.
I couldn't help but think about the deaths of the four people he killed. How painful did they die, riddled with bullets, gunned down in the prime of their lives. Anything but peaceful.
After the execution, some family members spoke. You could see the pain in their faces. While justice had finally been done after a 12 year wait, they knew their loved ones were never coming back.
As a journalist, I was honored to cover a unique and powerful story. As a human being, I was sad to see another life wasted and the painful remnants of shattered lives left behind by Benny Joe Stevens.
It would be nice of me to say at this point, may he rest in peace, but that's not how I feel. And that is sad.
Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.
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