Here I sit still; rapidly breathing shallow; my life balances in their hands. I glance up from a dishonored bowed head only to see a juror flash me a cold smirk. An eerie calm engulfs the courtroom as I await my fate.
“Have you come to a verdict?” the honorable Judge Eisler asks.
“We have your honor”, a thin female juror responds.
“What say have you?” Judge Eisler asks.
“We the jury find the defendant Deon Franklin Brown guilty of first degree murder on both counts”, she responds with unwavering conviction.
I give my state defense attorney a sharp, spiteful stare and frantically whisper…
“I thought you told me all evidence was circumstantial…you told me the worse case scenario would be man slaughter!”
“You should have taken the plea bargain when you had the chance and now my hands are tied”, the attorney remarks with a cold attitude.
“I would never plea guilty to something I didn’t do!” I cry.
My attorney has the chilling nerve to signal me to hush as the sentencing commences.
“Have you come to a decision for sentencing?” Judge Eisler asks with an insulting yawn like my case is preventing him from his tee off time.
“Yes we have your honor”, the juror answers proudly.
“Please proceed”, Judge Eisler nods.
“We the jury sentence Deon Franklin Brown to death by lethal injection”, the juror replies without remorse.
This racist town simmering in the Deep South wants to make an example out of me. It’s swift mindless justice with the cost of my blood to ensure future safety of their tight knit community. They want to send out a clear message that if a black man courts any of their white women there will be hell to pay.
Little do they know they are murdering an innocent man; a harmless neighbor who would have taken his shirt off his back for any one of them.
A thousand thoughts weigh heavy on my mind right now, but not one of them about me.
Who will take care of my mama and drive her to dialysis three times a week? Who will help mentor my nephews whose fathers were nothing more than sperm donors? Where will my friend Dante crash when he has another nasty fall out with his wife? Who will help fix the glitches in the mechanical components at work?
The dark curtain closes on my once promising life and now I’m sitting alone on a stage of uncertainty and fear.
Two towering deputies transport me out of the court with their warped gift of shackles. This can’t be happening as I find myself in a place I will call home until my execution…a small mouse hole cell snuggled on death row in a ruthless Penitentiary.
It all started about eighteen months ago. I lived on the outskirts of Slyville, a smaller rural southern town. I was minding my own business one day driving home from work when I saw a woman stranded on the side of a dirt road with a flat tire.
She introduced herself as Connie and we had a normal small talk as I helped her change her tire.
Connie insisted on treating me to dinner as a thank you for helping her. After her undying persistence, I finally agreed to a cheap meal at a fried chicken shack.
Neither of us were expecting a spark to happen, nor was it the right time.
I recently parted ways with my gold digging fiancé and she with her abusive boyfriend. We became victims of circumstance and had a blind folded collision into a passionate love affair .
Everything felt right until the day she told me she was pregnant.
I can honestly say this did not sit well with me. I felt trapped, betrayed and to say the least furious. I made it crystal clear to Connie that I did not want to be a father. I still remember leaving her there crying with the positive pregnancy test clenched in her fist.
I didn’t see her for a few weeks, but once the anger left me I couldn’t take it anymore…I missed her.
Connie rejected me a few times, but ultimately settled down enough for me to take a crack at an apology. I poured my heart out to her to convince her I wasn’t going anywhere. To seal the deal I even volunteered to meet her folks.
Rather then feeling delightful about it, she was scared to pieces. She proceeded to tell me her family, to put it mildly, were a little on the racist side. I assured her that nothing they could say would break me. My agenda was to be respectful no matter how they treated me and refused to get into any kind of altercation.
One scorching hot summer afternoon we met her parents at their house for supper. They were humble and gracious from the moment I stepped on their door mat, I felt like part of the family. Her mother Gertrude was a very soft spoken woman and even offered me a second helping of her peach cobbler. Her father, Horace, was strongly opinionated yet a tolerable brut. I didn’t know there was a problem until I drove Connie home.
“When you went outside to use your cell my father told me I will never live to see the day when my “abomination” is born. He also said that he couldn’t guarantee my safety in the event his “clan” would find out about everything”, Connie sniffled.
“What!”, I sounded.
“He laughed and told me you’re a dead man walking”, Connie added bursting into tears.
“Connie…calm down…everything is going to be okay…I don’t think he meant those awful comments he made”, I comforted.
“You don’t know him like I do. Deon… I think we should cool it for a while just until I get to chance to talk to my daddy”, Connie said.
“If you really think it will be safer for us that way…I’ll do it, but remember I’m not leaving you or my child”, I spoke with giving her a peck on her forehead.
If I could turn back time I would have contacted the police, but I thought it was useless because they was no evidence I could use and Connie didn’t want the police involved in a family matter.
What happened next…I’ll regret until the day I die.
After putting in a twelve hour day, Connie called and begged me to come over and help assemble the crib. I wanted to say no for so many reasons…I had stayed away and the threats had stopped, but she strongly felt we were safe because her father had been more understanding lately.
I had gone over to help her but she wasn’t answering her door. I used the key she made for me, but the door was unlocked.
I called out to her, but she didn’t answer. I saw the crib parts, screwdriver and instruction manual scattered across the living room. I could smell she was brewing my favorite vanilla hazelnut coffee and she had freshly baked corn muffins on the breakfast bar.
Maybe she’s in the shower? Maybe she gave up on me and fell asleep?
I called out for her once more this time louder than any horn could alarm, but again nothing.
A sick feeling came over me as I approached her bedroom. I saw her tucked neatly in between the sheets on her side…there was no indication of anything wrong.
I gently shook her shoulder with her back towards me and whispered “Babe, sorry I’m late, but I’m here”.
She didn’t respond so I rolled her over only to find my life torn apart.
There was my angel who had been strangled.
“NO!!!”, I yelled.
Immediately after that the police came rushing in. They asked no questions and cuffed me. They hauled me outside with me barely able to stand…I just lost the love of my life and my unborn child. A little while later they slap me with murder and throw me in jail.
I never thought in a million years I would be where I am today. No wife, no baby, no job and no freedom. Everyday is the same. I wake up, eat, do laundry for cell block six, work out or read, defend myself, then shower for the next day’s grime. Gives the new meaning for a rat race…even though some inmates have done that to gamble.
I try to be proactive and appeal the jurors decision to have me slain on a plate, but was denied as my state defender was back packing in Europe with an arms dealer.
With only two weeks left on my life scale, my family and I make a plea for clemency to the Governor. I am swiftly and coldly denied.
I have lottery like odds now that my life will be spared. Someone out there knows who did it and I only wish they will come forward so I can stop walking this plank.
All I can do is plead my case to the Lord during this tribulation. Answers are hard to find when they are kept in mysterious ways under the father. I beg for mercy and ask him no to forsaken me. I can accept my fate if it is his will, but not for my family’s fate. I pray for my name to be cleared…even if it comes too late and my heart rests. I want my family name to have some dignity so they may sleep sound, walk down the street without judgment and just be at peace. This is all that I ask; fore he is truly the righteous judge.
Before I can take another shower, execution day is here. My last supper request far more demanding than Christ, but I’m a sucker for southern cooking. I asked for a charbroiled T-bone steak smothered in stewed tomatoes, but instead they give me a rubbery slab of London broil. I politely requested for some fluffy buttermilk cornbread cooked with lard in a cast iron skillet, but I’m tossed a hard Frisbee biscuit. I wanted a baked potato bigger than Idaho, but it never made its way on the plate. Since I preferred to have some sort of veggie to balance out the meal I wanted slow cooked collard or mustard greens cooked with a pork shank, but I am faced with stringy beans without flavor. Last, but not least I needed a dessert to top it off, Pecan Pie was my order, but I’m given a small slice of spice cake with plastic frosting and a few overcooked pecans for garnish.
I come to the conclusion that they could do what they wanted while preparing my meal, it’s not like I can send it back.
After dinner I meet the priest I called for. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to care and what he relays to me feels scripted and forced.
They rehearsed my execution three days this week, but this one is the final walk of shame. I keep my saturated eyes fixed on the concrete floor playing with the shadows of my shackles that will not constrict me much longer.
They take me to the doomsday chamber all tripped out like a hospital room. Panic fills me as I see the bed of death with taunting leather restraints thirsty to take on my soul. The gurney faces the plexiglass for their viewing pleasure; maybe they should insert quarters to see more of this show.
Against my advice…I see my mother and sister holding hands in the front row. I want to reach out to them and kiss their tears away, but I’m the accused, this is my funeral.
Reality is showing its most heart wrenching face when I am bound to the gurney. At this moment I meet doctor death.
For sure the doctor is comical. He really looks like the crazy cliché of doctors parading around in horror flicks. To put it lightly Wild Albert Einstein mated with Lurch and created sprouting hair, wide football forehead, protruding blood shot eyes, chalky mouth and spacey teeth. It is hard to believe such a character has the credentials to carry out my sentence. If this was God’s sense of humor I had to laugh a little.
The doctor adjusts the head rest to the upright position facing the plexiglass, then the deputy speaks.
“Any final words before your sentence is carried out?”
I stare out tenderly to the eyes of my family, but they are crying so hard they cannot lift their heads up to even look. There are so many things I want to say, but now I know are pointless. I bow my head in defeat and just utter out a few words so they don’t haunt me in my passing.
“You are all executing the wrong man. I loved Connie and our unborn child with all my heart and never had any ill will towards them. My innocence is the only comfort I can take with me. I love you mama and sis…let the Lord carry you as I cannot”.
“Are you comfortable?” the doc asks.
“I’m about to die, what do you think?” I counter back, he is getting all the rage because I cannot allow left over anger to be an offering to the Lord.
The doc nods in understanding and dismisses my anger which I know he has probably seen before. He explains the procedure to me like I have heard before during the rehearsal and tells me what to expect.
“I expect my death to be the result, it’s not like I’m going to wake up with bigger boobs”, I think.
My faith is intact, holding hands with fear itself as the crafty cartoon doc swabs my arms with alcohol and inserts two IV’s, one in each arm. He inspects each syringe carefully. They are all neatly labeled sitting on a surgerical tray like the ones in a dentist office.
“Does dying have to be this suspenseful? Get on with it”, I think.
The doc pushes the first syringe into the IV and gently speaks “This is the saline just to make sure the line is clear”.
“Thank you for the education of my demise”, I think while still having the ability to think.
“The next one is Pentobarbital, an anesthetic that will drift you into unconsciousness. Then I will push a muscle relaxant called Pancuronium Bromide which will paralyze you thus you will stop breathing. Last will be the Potassium Chloride that will stop your heart and complete the sentence”, the Doc explains.
“Just do it, It will be okay”, I sigh
He gives me a nervous smile and pushes the Pentobarbital. Everything goes black as I ease into another life beyond this earth.
It felt like I had been asleep for years, but I don’t find myself at the pearly gates of heaven. I cannot open my eyes, but still feel the firmness of the gurney supporting my back. I do have the ability to hear what’s going on, but there is mostly silence. I know time still exist because the clock still ticks and I feel the IV’s still firmly implanted in my veins.
“What the h*ll is going on?” I yell to myself. I don’t feel the ability to talk or even move my stiff as a button lips.
A moment later I hear a loud…almost deafening ring sound. It is relentless almost as if it has a voice made just for me. I hear cartoon doc answer it.
“It’s too late….your three minutes too late”, the doctor cries.
He sounds compassionate and distraught. He sounds like putting me down is the pitfall of his career.
“Is it a stay of execution? Am I off the hook? Did someone come forward? I thought, yet I did not understand why they thought I’m dead.
The monitors sound flat lined, but I can hear my beating heart pumping blood inside my inner ear. I have the sensation of my light breath escaping my mouth and my chest with a fate rise and fall. My skin prickly with a thousand goose bumps in this over heated chamber. Nothing to do but just lie here and twiddle my thumbs, but I’m paralyzed and can’t even move one. A thought crosses my mind so I know my brain is working that I’m in coma and he hasn’t pushed the lethal stuff yet…even though it was explained to me that once unconscious I would be unable to wake. Its scares me. I feel like I’m buried alive and scratching at the coffin to let me out. Nothing to do, but listen. Maybe they’ll know, maybe I’ll snap out of it.
I hear the Doc hang up the phone and talk to the nurse.
“He was innocent…he was innocent… I have to try to revive him…I have to try or I’ll never get a good nights rest again”.
“I know you feel guilty…but there is nothing you can do…he is gone”, the nurse comforts.
“Watch me”, the doc urgently speaks.
I feel him lean against the gurney and push something into my veins; he then checks my carotid artery for a pulse.
“I’ve got a beat”, Doc proudly exclaims to the nurse.
Slowly I can feel myself coming back. I can wiggle one of my fingers; I can slightly open one eye and see Doc staring down at me in relief.
“You know they all say they are innocent, but this time it was true. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me”, Doc cries being reduced to his knees.
“You didn’t know. You were just doing your job…it is the justice system that failed me”, I manage to drool out.
“We have notify your family immediately. I’m just glad the counter serum worked”, the Doc smiles.
“Counter serum?” I ask choked up.
“Yeah…a cocktail of non FDA approved drugs to counter act the effects of the eternal sleep. Back in 1999 a man got a stay of execution one minute after I put him down. I was helpless and vowed to develop an antidote if you will, just in case it happened again. I’ll probably be stripped of practicing medicine, but I don’t care. It is time to retire”, the Doc explains.
“Are there any side effects?” I ask gratefully.
“Lets just say freedom has its cost”, the Doc whispers.