Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Witness to an Execution

by investigative reporter Kathy Cruz

On the December night that I witnessed the execution of Bobby Wayne Woods, I asked that I be allowed to be in the witness room designated for his family members, rather than in the room reserved for the family of the young girl he had sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. I had been with a couple of other reporters in the office of the prison system's public information officer when the phone rang with word that last minute appeals had been denied, and the execution would be carried out immediately. As we followed briskly behind the PIO to the building that houses the execution chamber, I felt as if I might hyperventilate from the gravity of watching a man being put to death. Though I felt he had earned his fate, I felt sad for the choices he had made, and compassion for his family. It was that compassion that made me want to report on how they were affected by the execution of a man many considered a monster because of what he had done. The other reporters chose the other witness room.

Watching Woods die was a surreal experience, but what happened next was perhaps stranger. To my surprise, I felt fine. In fact, I felt hungry. I wrote a story about the execution on my laptop computer over a patty melt at the Huntsville Denny's. After filing the story and speaking by phone to my editor, I slept fine.

Go figure.

But after Darlie Routier popped into my head one Sunday afternoon in April 2012, I did not sleep well. For whatever reason, the case grabbed me by the throat and only let me go when, two Aprils later, I turned over a rough draft of a book manuscript to TCU Press. While the manuscript was under review, I continued working, adding several more chapters. The following April - three years after my initial random thought about Darlie Routier - the paperback edition of Dateline:Purgatory was in my hands and tears were in my eyes.

Dateline: Purgatory is not a book about the evils of the death penalty, but rather the dark side of our justice system. I am able to sleep just fine when someone who is guilty is held accountable. It's when their guilt is not so clear that I toss and turn.

Praise for Dateline: Purgatory

"Everybody knows the Texas criminal justice system doesn’t work, but few know why and how. Kathy Cruz does, and Dateline: Purgatory proves it. This richly detailed and well-narrated book affords a view of the Texas system rarely seen by the outside world. It shows how ambitious prosecutors, compliant judges, and na├»ve jurors can make for a lethal combination. It also shows the terrible human cost involved when justice becomes what it is in Texas: a team sport in a rigged game. Anyone who wants to understand the true nature of Texas injustice should read this book. Ms. Cruz has done the world a favor by writing it."
~Jeff Blackburn, founder and chief counsel, 
Innocence Project of Texas

"Dateline: Purgatory will make you feel. Then, it will make you think. And hopefully, after that, you will want to act. I did, because once an execution is carried out, there’s no correcting it."
~Michael Morton, author of Getting Life: 
An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace