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