Witnessing the execution of David Clayton Hill.

 

Background information.

David Clayton Hill was born on June 9, 1964 and was raised in Georgetown, South Carolina.On Friday, March 3, 2004, he was put to death in that state for the murder of Police Maj. Spencer Guerry on March 7, 1994.Spencer Guerry was shot in the face during a roadside vehicle stop and David Hillís driverís documents were found at the scene.He had apparently stopped Hill for driving a car with out of date Colorado tags.Spencer Guerry died two days later without regaining consciousness. David Hill was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death in October 1995.Click here for a photo of him.

 

Earlier on the day of his execution, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to vacate a stay Hill had received two weeks previously and let the execution proceed. Hill's lawyers had argued South Carolina doesn't sedate inmates enough to render them unconscious before administering chemicals to paralyze muscles, stop respiration and still the heart, therefore, the prisoner could be conscious and in agony during the execution process.The state attorney general's office appealed to the Supreme Court to lift the stay.

 

Your author has been fortunate to be contacted by David Hillís spiritual adviser and be allowed to publish his first hand experiences of the execution.

 

Father Andrew has been involved in ministry to death row families for many years, but David Hill was the first condemned inmate he had actually worked with.He was David's spiritual advisor for 7 months and baptized him and brought him into the Catholic Faith in February 2004.

His recollections of Davidís death, in his own words written the morning after the execution as a letter to Davidís friends, are as follows :

 

Father Andrewís letter.
ĒI was one of his two appointed witnesses and was with him throughout the preparation process of the last day of his life. I was also present throughout the execution preparation.

I should mention to you that David's lawyers tried to stop his execution due to the fact that the autopsies of all of the other men in South Carolina who had been executed by lethal injection showed that at least 60% of them were conscious when the drug that stops breathing was induced, leaving them to basically suffocate.

These records were hidden by the State but obtained by David's lawyers.

Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court overturned David's stay at the very last minute on the last day of his life (
March 19, 2004 at 3:00 p.m.). David was executed 3 hours later at 6:00 p.m.
It took 18 minutes for his heart to stop and for death to be declared. I pray that he was not conscious or aware of pain during that long interval.

I just wanted to let you know how this past Friday went with David Hill at the Broad River Capital Punishment Facility.

I am pretty much devastated right now. I have cried so much. Itís getting a bit better but I still have horrid memories of the whole procedure.

I spent the entire day with David except for about an hour (
1 to 2 p.m.) while he took a nap. I was in the cell with him.

I had given him Holy Communion/Viaticum in the morning before the Supreme Court ruled in the event that things did go bad.

When the warrant for death was issued at
3 p.m., I was not allowed to go into the cell anymore, but prayed with him through the bars. I gave him the Apostolic Pardon at the Hour of Death and we prayed for him spontaneously for courage and strength. He amazingly prayed for me and his attorney that we could endure the process and for his brother who was a witness.

As they took him from the one room cell to the 'tie down' room where the stretcher was, I read the psalms. As they tied him down, I placed my hand on his shoulder and read the 23rd Psalm and the reading from the Old Testament that there would be "no more pain, no more sadness, no more death." They then moved him to the execution chamber and I was able to hold my hand on his face and stroke it as they were putting the two needles in each arm which took forever.
I told David to look at me when the execution began and that when he looked at me and closed his eyes the next time he would open them would be to see Jesus face to face in heaven.I then had to go around the window since no one except the warden could be in the room while the actual drugs went into the arms.

I had to run down a hall and around to get to the witness room. I was supposed to be in the front row middle seat so he could see me according to the Human Rights Officer at the prison. But one of the victim's family members took my seat instead so I was struggling to find a place that David could see me and ended up in the middle row.
David looked at me and smiled several times while I prayed the Lord's prayer with him,he said the prayer through the glass and after about 5 minutes lost consciousness. It took 18 minutes for them to put all the drugs into him. I hope he had no pain or turmoil from the lack of medications. (
South Carolina doesn't use enough sedative to adequately sedate the inmate).

It was one of the most profound moments in my 15 years as a priest, next to baptizing him several weeks ago.

The whole process was horrific. All day long they had 4 people (guards) watching David. Every thing he (and I) did was written down. Some of the guards were very nice and were visibly moved when they found out the execution would be carried out.

The execution team itself were 3 young men who were medical technologists and they seemed as cold as stone as were the "tie down" team (the official name) of the men who manhandled David on his way to the gurney.

The Protestant Chaplain was wonderful to me. He was on the staff so he got me to have close contact with David while they were doing the procedures.He placed me right next to David and told me it was OK to comfort me. In actuality, David was trying to reach out to me and Jerome ďJĒ Nickerson, his attorney, and his brother Jeff, and comfort us.

J, was also there a lot during the day and was absolutely fantastic. He read David's final statement which simply said: "Read Philippians 1: 9-23" which David and I had picked as an appropriate passage.David hoped that if people who were angry or vengeful went to the their bibles to look that up, they would begin to read more and through the Word of God come to find everlasting life and peace.

After the warrant was issued, they allowed him to shower and change. When the time came to move him to the gurney, 5 enormous men came and grabbed him by the back of the neck and carried him like a mad dog to the table, even though he was willing to walk. It was horrible to see the way they manhandled him. I prayed out loud during that time.It was absolutely terrifying.

All day long they were bringing all sorts of food for the guards.
When David went to take a nap, I asked if I could have something to eat. One large man (350 lbs.) (a guard) who was shovelling food into his mouth told me I could find "your own damn food." (quote). I had to go to a vending machine in another building to get some crackers, as I waited for David to wake from his nap, they made me wait in the room that the execution is viewed in. At that time, we did not know he would be executed. After 3 p.m. everything changed and it was a very hard time.

I am glad that I was able to be there with him. I told David that I had come to see Christ in Him during the time that I had gotten to know him and as he came to Faith. As they began to execute him, he smiled at me and said "God Bless you."

I am so very traumatized by all of this. I cry quite a lot and feel numb all over. We are planning a special funeral service for David soon but we are afraid of protests or supporters of the death penalty showing up and disrupting the funeral.So we are not making the time known publicly out of respect for David's family.

Different newspapers tell different accounts, but the execution did take 18 minutes because I timed it.Ē

 

In conclusion.

I have published this article not to be pro or anti death penalty but because Father Andrew has made available to us a moving first hand account of what actually went on and of the real human emotions involved in an execution.It is the job of the spiritual adviser to look after the condemned prisoner irrespective of guilt or innocence and to support him as best he can through this extremely difficult time. One imagines it must have been an emotional roller coaster for David and for his friends and supporters over the final few weeks.It is very easy to dismiss the few sanitised paragraphs reporting an execution in the press as ďno big dealĒ but each execution is a very real human drama being played out.

I make no comment as to David Hillís guilt or innocence or as to whether he deserved the death penalty.

 

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