James A. Ardaiz, a former Deputy District Attorney turned judge in California, writes here about witnessing the execution of a man he tried for murder 25 years earlier:
On Monday, January 16, 2006, I went to a San Francisco hotel, where I spent the afternoon waiting and looking at the clock. Across the bay in San Quentin State Prison I imagined that another man was also looking at the clock. Both of us had the same reason to watch the hands of the clock move forward. At 12:01 a.m. the man across the bay would be executed. And I was going to witness his execution.
It was especially personal for Judge Ardaiz because he had prosecuted the inmate twice: once for killing a woman, and later for arranging the killing of a witness, in anticipation of a hoped-for retrial of the first case.
One of the things prosecutors always tell witnesses and families of victims and witnesses in cases like this one is that they do not need to be afraid. The killer is in jail, and he can’t do any more harm to them. Retaliation like that happens only with organized crime or on television or in the movies. It isn’t part of real life. That’s what I told the family of Bryon Schletewitz. That is what I told Bryon. That is what I believed. I was wrong.
On September 5, 1980, I was Fresno County’s chief deputy district attorney in charge of homicide. My investigator, Bill Martin, and I received a call from the sheriff’s office. There was a triple homicide at Fran’s Market. Bill and I rode out to the country store. On the way, we passed the former home of Clarence Allen. Neither of us gave it any more than a passing thought.
When we arrived at Fran’s Market, the police tape was already up and the news crews were arriving. We walked in and moved around the bodies of three young people. Each had been executed by a blast from a shotgun. It looked like they had been killed while they stood there. Near the door was the body of Josephine Rocha, age 17. Near her was the body of Douglas White, age 18. On the floor in the corner was the body of Bryon Schletewitz, age 27. He had been horribly disfigured by the shotgun blast, but I could still identify him. His parents, Ray and Fran, were outside waiting. I went out to tell them that Bryon was dead. I will never forget the look on their faces. It was like watching the life drain out of a person—they aged right before my eyes.
Within 24 hours, we knew that Clarence Allen was involved.
I have been reading Big Media accounts of executions for years, and have noticed how the accounts always focus on the plight of the person being executed, while failing to sufficiently discuss the perspective of the victim’s family and law enforcement.
I have long believed that an execution ceremony should focus on the reasons the accused is being executed. I have also thought that there should be a published account of an execution written by someone sympathetic to the death penalty, who is familiar with the facts of the crime, and can convey to readers the horrific nature of the crime, and the facts showing the defendant’s guilt.
I even contemplated doing this myself — to the point of seeking out press credentials to gain access. But I’m not interested in the project any more. It’s been done, and done well, in this piece.
Read it all.