Prayer Vigils Held At Prison, Churches, Governor's Mansion

Some 40 death penalty opponents prayed, sang hymns and lit candles here Wednesday evening as Tracy Alan Hansen was put to death by lethal injection a quarter-mile away in a secured state penitentiary.

"This is a sad moment as we participate in a premeditated murder,'' said Sister Donna Gunn of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, who led the vigil.

It started at 5 p.m., an hour before Hansen was put taken to the death chamber. He was executed for killing state Trooper Bruce Ladner in 1987.

Similar vigils were held at churches across the state. About 100 people held a somber gathering outside the Governor's Mansion in downtown Jackson. It wasn't clear whether Gov. Ronnie Musgrove -- who could have stopped the execution -- was in the mansion.

James Smith of Canton, who carried a hand-lettered sign that said "Thou Shalt Not Kill,'' said no state should carry out executions.

"The Lord said, 'Vengeance is mine,''' Smith said. "We should let him decide what's right and what's wrong.''

At Parchman, Gunn and others who support a moratorium on the death penalty gathered in a designated area near a building typically used to screen inmate visitors. Gunn visited Hansen late Wednesday afternoon and assured him that she and others would pray for him. She said he was resigned, remorseful and "very peaceful.'' Gunn's vigil also included prayers for Ladner's family.

"We can't appreciate the pain they're going through,'' she said. "Our prayers are against violence of all kinds.''

Joining Gunn was a group from Memphis called the "Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killings.'' Others held signs and wore T-shirts with slogans like "Execute Justice, Not People'' and "Redemption, Not Revenge.'' They read aloud portions of Psalms 25 and 130 and sang "Be Not Afraid,'' "Let There Be Peace on Earth'' and other religious hymns.

In a separate area across the parking lot, a few representatives of Survival Inc., a Tupelo-based victims' rights group, held a vigil. Survival Inc. founder Carolyn Clayton lit a candle and said a prayer for the Ladners as the execution was carried out. Clayton said death penalty opponents at times can turn the tables on victims' families and direct some of the negative spotlight toward them.

"We want to let the Ladner family know that this is not in any way their fault,'' Clayton said. "They should not be made to feel bad. (Hansen) did this to himself.''

Those outside the Governor's Mansion prayed silently as the hour for Hansen's execution approached. With church bells tolling at 6 p.m., they lit white candles. Moments later, the crowd quietly sang "Amazing Grace.''

Members of Ladner's family arrived at Parchman shortly before 4 p.m. in a chartered bus from the Gulf Coast. Prison officials set aside a secured area at the penitentiary for the family. The slain trooper's brother, Kirk Ladner, and sons Damon and Brandon Ladner were on hand to witness the execution.

Prison officials gave updates throughout the day on Hansen's state of mind, meals, visitors and phone calls. Corrections officials locked down the penitentiary on Tuesday. Access was limited to the main gate on U.S. 49 West where past prayer vigils had been allowed.

Former Parchman warden Don Cabana, who oversaw three executions in the 1980s, said the mood on death row is usually a somber one because "one of their own is going to die.''