Wednesday July 20th , 2011- Execution Day (Part 1)

I  am  inching my way  to write about  Mark Stroman’s last day and his execution.  It has taken me time to gather my thoughts and put my impressions on paper. It probably was the most intense day of my life.  I had other intense days of  course but nothing that resembles this day  full of fears,  emotions concerns about the  other witnesses to the execution, worries about Mark and his final  hours , the execution  and than the private viewing of his body. The  day that started for me  at  9.30 am  with my  last visit  with Mark  who  was full of humour and  as usual  some keen observations:  “There is so much love pumped into me  it does not leave any room for  hate” . It   ended at 11 pm at night  with a cold body on  a stretcher…. but all of that will come later.

Today I wanted to share with you Rais and Mark first ever conversation.  It was also the last. We, the 5 witnesses to the execution, were in the “Hospitality suite” two blocks from the prison. It is a guesthouse run by private donations and the Baptist church. It is a place where families of prisoners can stay or wait for the execution of their loved ones. Between 3pm-5pm Mark was allowed to talk to anyone he wished. In between phone calls to friends and relatives he kept calling us. Mark was in the “Death House” cells, which were only few feet from the Execution chamber and 2 blocks from where we were.  Mark was eating his last meal and smoking his first cigarettes in 10 years:“This can kill you “ he joked.   Yes I answered they are not good for your health”.

The people here”, Mark said, “are not that concerned about my health now”. He ate so much he said , “they will have to wake me up to kill me “

It was tense time for him as he had 2 hours to say  farewell to all his relatives and friends from around the world

Hundreds of Miles away Rais was struggling in various State and Federal courts in Austin to get Mark a stay of execution. He was using a novel legal tactic: suing the State of Texas because it had violated his rights as a victim under the Texas law. The State refused Rais’s s request even to see Mark.

The time was 4.35 and Rais legal suit was rejected by the District Court in Austin and by the Federal 5th circuit Court.  It was now before the Supreme Court. Execution was scheduled to 6pm. Rais was in the Court House in Austin when he received my text message. I texted him  the prison phone number and he texted me back that he was trying , but the phone was busy.

Around 4.40pm he called me on my cell phone to let me know that the Prison authorities will not let him speak to Mark. He was upset and did not understand why he could not talk to Mark in his last hours.  Mark was at that very moment on a speakerphone with all of us. I put the cell phone on speaker and put it near the house phone, which was on a speaker too. Below is the transcribed conversation that followed and recorded by us. It reflects the confusion , the urgency of Mark last minutes before his phone was cut off as well as the uniqueness of the moment.

Mark: Whom am I talking now?  I have two people on the Line

Ilan& Connie :  Mark say Hello to Rais

Mark I think there is cross connection

Connie: Mark, Rais is on speaker right now …talk to him!

Mark: So is Linny  (a friend from England) she is on the phone too I think

Connie: Mark, talk to Rais… ok?

Mark: Rais …how you are doing Rais?

Rais: Hey Mark how are you buddy?

Mark: How are you doing man? …Hey man thank you for everything you have been trying to do for me … you are inspiring. Thank you from my heart dude.

Rais: Mark you should know that I am praying for God the most compassionate and gracious… I forgive you and I do not hate you!  I never hated you!

Mark: You are inspired Rais!

Rais: …and this is from the bottom of my heart…

Mark: You are a remarkable person thank you from my heart! I love you bro!

I love you with whole my heart… thank you for being such an awesome person…I mean it

Rais:  You will always be there…

Mark: You touched my heart… I would have never expected this.

Rais: You touched mine too.

Mark: Hey Rais they are telling me to hang up now I will try to call in a minute.

He never did. Ten minutes later at 5pm his phone was cut and we moved to the administrative building to wait for the 6pm execution.

The execution ultimately took place at around 8.40 pm. Rais ‘s law suit was denied by the Supreme Court and traveled back to the State where it was dismissed.

At 8.53 Mark Stroman was pronounced dead. This conversation was the first and the last one he had with Rais.

More on this amazing day in my next  blog

17 Days

“Some of you only thought of death row as something that happens to the worst of the worst. To the other person. I once thought that, too, until I woke up in this place on April 6th 2002, then reality sunk in. The insanity of my new home and existence took control of me and I fight daily to stay as much a human being as possible. But most call us animals, not to have any type of feelings or compassion. Well that’s wrong and I’ll show that in these blogs.”

This was what Mark Stroman’s wrote on August 1st 2008, almost 3 years before his scheduled execution on July 20, 2011. And this is what he wrote on June 19th, 2011 a month before his scheduled execution:

Waiting patiently, looking deep within myself… I’m honored and this ride of death has truly changed me and I believe its part of the Master’s plan. Thank you all”.

As someone who was instrumental in initiating Mark ‘s blog, has been requested by him to witness his execution and plans to complete a film that features Mark and his victims, this  “death ride “ has been intensely personal for me too.  My journey did not begin with Mark’s first blog but with the first time I interviewed Mark’s victims and then Mark himself in  early 2004, more than 9 years before his scheduled execution.

As Mark’s execution is getting closer, I decided to begin my own blog, trying to recall for myself as well as for others the past nine years.  I am writing this blog on July 3 st  , seventeen days  before Mark’s scheduled execution.

Nothing in the past nine years prepared me for the campaign that Rais, Mark’s only surviving victim, began, in early June, to try to save Mark’s life.  I might have hoped for , but never anticipated the depth of the changes that Mark has undergone. I am still stunned by the efforts of so many people I never knew who work tirelessly to try to fight for Mark’s life.  Finally, I never imagined the diversity of the group of friends who are converging on Livingstone, Texas to be with Mark in his last days and to witness his execution.

I never succeeded to explain to myself and to others why I committed myself, and so full heartedly, more than nine years ago, to accompany Mark in his journey -“ the ride of death”, as he calls it. But I do know that all those who are trying to save Mark’s life or console him in his last days must have felt a similar pull from this tragedy.

In the coming blogs and through interviewing many of the people who are accompanying Mark in what could become the last leg of his journey, I hope to gain an insight into these forces that I can not fully explain or understand.