The Effects of Executions on Huntsville as a Community
Huntsville's Reputation Internationally
Interacting with Correctional Officers During Executions
Performance of "I Shall Be Released" by Bob Dylan
Longmire's Grandson and the Vigils
The Media and Executions
Murder Victim Family Groups Against the Death Penalty
Bud Welch and the Execution of Timothy McVeigh
Interacting with a Death Penalty Supporter
Experiences with his Grandson's Cancer
RAYMOND: —to yourself or whether you recite the lyrics as a form of prayer.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: All that I do at the corner, except the tour guide type of activity and talking with media is silent. So all of my prayers are
silent and all of my songs are silent. Yes, I sing the song.
I'm not ready for public TV yet. [gestures to Victoria Rossi] You had a question or two?
ROSSI: Yeah. Well, I guess I was just wondering what effect do you see as having had on Huntsville, just as a community?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: That's a good question and it's not an infrequent question. In fact, that's what this
National Geographicthing is about. Look there, and there has been at least a dozen interviews I've done by documentary film crews that are doing just that story.
There's a book that's been written; I don't know if you've talked to the Owens,
Living next door to the Death House. So there have been several. It's a common fascination that outsiders have with Huntsville.
Interestingly, and the answer to the question is that Huntsville is relatively ignorant of the death penalty, about it.
It's not an issue. If there is anything that has a major presence in Huntsville that has an influence on the culture of Huntsville it's the prison system,
and the death penalty is really not part of the prison system. It's part of the court system.
When I teach about the death penalty in my classes, we talk about the death penalty when we talk about the judiciary, when we talk about prosecutorial
The fact that the prison system is the ones who actually carry out the sentence is coincidental.
And in fact, when people are housed on Death Row, they are county residents who are being held by the state pending execution of sentence.
Their presence in the prison system is not that of an inmate who is under the authority of the prison.
They are simply there being held and detained until their sentence can be executed.
Their sentence isn't five years, ten, fifteen, or twenty. Their sentence is until you are executed you will be held by the state to be executed, and so
theoretically, Texas could say, Okay, if Harris County wants to sentence people to death, you hold them and you keep them until the date of the execution and then by virtue of a law made in
1936 you drive them up here and we'll execute them.
And we could do that. I would argue that we should do that because that's the community that's most directly responsible for it, not us.
So, first of all, the death penalty isn't a huge issue, except people get irritated because outsiders are always coming up to them and saying, "What's it
like to live in a place where we execute?"
And you could go tomorrow; there's an execution tomorrow, I'd bet you money and I'm not a bettor, you go to the Café Texan, which is a local little
restaurant on the courthouse square and pick any table at random and walk up to the table and ask them, "What do you think about the execution that's going to happen today?"
They will say, "What execution? You mean we're doing another one? " They don't pay any attention to it. It's in the
There have been times during the history since I've been here when it wasn't in the
Huntsville Item. There have been times when it's been front-page news.
The current editor of the
Huntsville Itemhas chosen to make the
Huntsville Itemmore of a community newspaper, and so if there is discussion of the death penalty or the executions like today's, it's like three or four pages in,
and it's, again, it's usually not about the death penalty, it's not about the execution, it's about the murder and the crime, and oh, yeah, we killed a guy;
yeah, he's the seventeenth this year.
So the death penalty really isn't a huge issue.
Prisons are, and I think there's a story in and of itself on life in the community where the prison industry is the largest employer in Texas, second to,
then the university.
So the state is a huge employer. We've got a pretty good economy because of state employees that are relatively recession, until recently, free kind of
So there isn't that much of an effect, until there's a widely publicized one and then it's all over the world.
Not infrequently, people will come back and I'll hear them talk about this. They'll come back from a trip they took to Wisconsin or France and they'll say,
"Every time I told them I was from Huntsville, Texas, the first thing they said was, ‘Isn't that where they do all the executions?'"
One time I was talking to a person; I had some kind of problem with my credit card, and I was talking to someone who I was pretty sure was in India, managing
my credit account, and he said, "Now where is this?"And I said, "Huntsville, Texas." And she said, "Isn't that where—?" And I was like, My God, it's even in India, and India executes people
too, so we're kind of in the center of that energy, so it's certainly a presence here,
but like Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the people in those communities didn't know what was going on in those camps.
They pretended not to, at least, and that's what we do. When it's brought to our attention by an outsider who asks, there's kind of a sigh, and a like oh,
Well why don't you ask about the Huntsville museum or whatever. So it's there, but not very visible, not very well known.
This one, and I looked at the machine because there's a widely known, a widely broadcast film and I can never remember who produced it, but about five years
ago, maybe six years ago, a film crew came to town, and they spent months here, a month, maybe longer, doing all kinds of filming about Huntsville and about the death penalty.
They ended up producing a film. They produced two versions of it, or they released two versions of it. I got a copy of the first release, which was the
international release, and it went out.
And then I made a copy of the release that was broadcast on television.
And in the international release there's about a three or four minute, maybe not even that long, maybe two or three minute segment that takes place in high
school, and there's a high school teacher who's teaching his students in class, and they're probably sophomore or junior level.
I don't think they looked like seniors but they're high school students and they start talking about the prison system and the death penalty. And the
students are so rabidly pro-death penalty that they think we just ought to shoot them all, whether they're murderers or not, we ought to just execute everybody because after all, "they're
criminals" type of attitude,
which I think is a lot more prevalent. The issue of the death penalty is so much supported, in this particular community, as it is anti-prisoners,
anti-criminals at large.Interestingly, that segment did not broadcast on the broadcast that was broadcast in the United States.
I don't know if they ran into problems with permissions because they were kids or if the producer said no, we're not gonna show that, because it does put
Huntsville in a very, very negative light when you look at young kids making that kind of— young kids are like that. I'm sure in Bastrop, too, but Huntsville is pro-prison.A lot of people I
speculate that if we did this public opinion survey in Walker County was sufficiently represented, that Walker County's presence would be disproportionately pro-death penalty because of all the
prisons, and it's a capital crime for an offender to kill a prison worker, anybody working in prison, or another inmate in prison;
it can be, depending on the nature of that. But the people here believe the death penalty protects their wife, husband, son, daughter from being murdered by
a prisoner because otherwise they'd kill them all.
VICTORIA ROSSI: When you're out protesting, what is your interaction like with the correctional officers? Are you just standing on the other side of the
yellow line, or is there any kind of interaction?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Eye contact, only. On very, very, very rare occasions I will walk over and ask them a question.
If there's been a long, long, long wait, I'll ask them if they've heard anything and they never know.
They never know anything more than I know. I bought an I-phone recently only because I want to be able to be more in contact when I'm on the corner about
what's happening because the case where we ended up going all the way until eleven thirty and then the system said we can't execute this guy yet; that was a horrible, horrible time because
there were family members. His family members were there, people didn't know what was happening, we had no communication.
So having a cell phone where I could at least do the news Google and know what if anything is changing would have been helpful.
But that's the interaction. There are a couple of people who work with the prison system, and some of them at very, very high levels in the prison system who
long ago have talked to me and told me how much they respect what I do. More importantly, how much they respect how I do it and that I don't confront them and I don't blame them, and on
occasion one of them will be leaving after the execution and one of the people is there for virtually all of them, and he will come over and acknowledge me.
We go to the same church; he'll shake my hand. On occasion he'll come out and tell me there's been a stay; we just learned there's been a stay, even though
nobody else knows.
So those kind of acquaintances are always valued and I respect those people greatly, but generally my interaction— I don't have very much interaction, any
interaction with the people on the other side.There's two groups of people who are there:
correctional officers, the one, I don't know if there's only one. The ones in the grey shirt are correctional officers and that's their duty station and the ones in the towers
are correctional officers,
and then there's a group of people that work for the Office of the Inspector General, O.I.G. They're the ones who are wearing the polo shirts and had the
guns who were— they're the police security for the perimeter outside of the prison system. So the O.I.G. are the ones who are doing the investigations about how cell phones got in. That's not
part of the correctional officer community. That's a separate community. So the O.I.G., the Office of the Inspector General, are kind of outside the prison relationship.
They're outsiders. But they're also present, and they are there to provide security.
So they're the ones who would be called upon, if something were to happen, if somebody were to begin assaulting me, or if I were to begin assaulting someone,
they would come over and do what they could until the Huntsville police got there, which they would then arrest me.
So, okay? Good? Let me get my guitar.[Stands up to get guitar, begins to strum.] I also, I almost always, it's not true but most of the songs that I do are
songs because anybody can sing better than Bob, and I don't genuinely mean that.
I love the way he sings. In fact, I can't do it publicly, but when it's just me and Lin, I can take off on Bob. I can just do his nasal.
RAYMOND: What else are your favorite Bob Dylan songs?
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Oh, let me think.[Tunes guitar]
I always wonder if somebody's been in here goofing with this thing.
I don't know. I'll think. There's one, but I don't know every, all of the names of them. Oh, "Threw it all away," "I threw it all away."
Now he does that in an electric version. All of mine are acoustic and I don't claim that I know the actual chord structure of any of them.
This is my vigil song:
"I shall be released."They say everything can be replaced,but every distance is not near.
So I remember every face,of every man who put me here.
I see my light come shining,from the west down to the east.
Any day now, any day now,I shall be released.
They say every man needs protection,that every man must fall.
I swear I see my reflection,somewhere so high above that wall.
I see my light come shining,from the west down to the east.
Any day now, any day now,I shall be released.
Standing next to me in this lonely crowd,is a man who swears he's not to blame.
And all day long I hear him crying out,calling out that he was framed.
I see my light come shining,from the west down to the east.
Any day now, any day now,I shall be released.
Any day now, any day now,I shall be released.
Thank you. That's it.
SOLIS: Thank you very much Dr. Longmire. It's been a learning experience for me, and I think I speak or all of us.
PROFESSOR DENNIS LONGMIRE: Well, I'm glad. I hope I helped. I definitely, definitely, think what you guys are doing is profound, and I hope it's all an
that sometime my grandson, when he's older, he can look back and say, "I remember when we used to do that."
We talked about the danger issue, the violence issue.
I've been doing the vigil since I came here and we got Phoenix just when he was under a year old and I've been going to executions forever in his life and
when he got to be six or seven or so he wanted to come with me. Kids want to go with their fathers and do whatever it is they do, so he would constantly pester me, constantly pester me, "Poppy,
you're going to an execution. Can I go? Can I go?"Lin has always been very, very protective, and she said, "No, no, no. You're too young."
And I tell her that sometimes there are kids there who are five or six years old. They're with family members, etcetera. Whether they should be there or not
I don't know, but they're there, it's no problem.
So she just said, "No, absolutely he can't go."So finally Phoenix one day, when he was, I don't know how old he was, he said, "Poppy, how old do I have to be
before Linda will say I can go? How old do I have to be?"
I said, "Ten." I made it up. I made the rule. I didn't ask Lin because she would say never. She would never want him to go.
So coming close to his tenth birthday, he said, "Poppy, I'm getting ready to be ten. When is the next execution?"
So I had to tell Lin that I had first of all opened the door, and she was just beside herself. She still thinks he's too young at ten. But sure enough, he
was ten in July and there was an execution coming up not long after his tenth birthday, and he was just— he just wanted to go to this execution.
So I couldn't figure out why. Unfortunately for Phoenix this was, he turned ten during the period after we started doing the executions at six and so it's
hot out on the corner in July from about five until six. And it's a very, very hot day. Anyway, after Phoenix's birthday, the first execution that we have Phoenix is ready to go and so I'm
going to take him to the execution and I remember it because one of my doctoral students happened to be there.
Frank Wilson was his name, and Frank normally doesn't come to these things but he was there and it turned out he served a valuable service because we got
there at five o'clock as normal and I light my candle and I start doing my silent prayers and about three, four, five minutes later, Phoenix starts to say, "What are we gonna do? When are we
gonna go in?"
And I said, Phoenix, what do you mean? And he said, "When do we go to the execution?"And I said, This is where we go.He said, "You mean they do it out
And I said, No, no, no Phoenix, they do the execution- And I explained to him where it was and I showed him, and I said, I stand here and I pray. And he
said, "You mean we don't get to go in?"And I said, No.
He said, "Oh, man." And he waited around a little bit and then about three or four minutes later he had to use the bathroom and wanted to go home or he
needed something to eat.
Frank Wilson, who was there, I got him to take Phoenix to go use the bathroom. There is no public rest place, so he took him up to the university and brought
him back down, but Phoenix desperately wanted to go to an execution.
He thought he wanted to go to an execution. So when I brought him to one, he was like, "Oh, man, there's nothing to this."
He's actually— he's come with me to others. He's grown a little bit, he's grown a lot, in fact, but one, there was one film, video that was done, it was
being done by C.N.N. Prior to September eleventh, C.N.N. was about ready to launch a documentary about executing juveniles, and there was a juvenile scheduled to be executed in Texas named
Napoleon Beazley. It's gotten a lot of attention, so what C.N.N. decided to do was focus on the day of the execution,
and they picked several people and I was one of the people they focused on, so Christian Annanpour was going to be doing me for that execution, and I was in
correspondence with Bianca Jagger, and it was a big, big deal at the moment.
So the day of Napoleon's Beazley's scheduled execution, Christian was with Napoleon's family, and they had me, they had a camera crew with me, and all they
were going to do was film my day, and cut or whatever it was, this is what happens to the protestor kind of thing. So we're sitting at the house across the street, sitting around waiting for
five o'clock, and Phoenix was home at the time, I don't know if it was the summer or what it was, but he was home at the time. So they just wanted to kill some time so they asked if they could
I said I don't mind, Phoenix, do you mind? "Oh no, I don't mind." So they interviewed Phoenix and asked him a bunch of questions about me and what not.
And then they asked him, Well, what is your opinion about the death penalty?
And Phoenix stopped, and he gave it really, really good thought, and he thought and thought and he said, "I think it's probably a pretty good idea. I think
that some people should be killed."
And so of course I didn't respond, but I thought to myself, my God, that's just like a kid, to take the oppositional position on anything.
And so they filmed it and of course later I kidded Phoenix and I said, Do you realize what you said?He was like, "Well, I shouldn't have said that, should I?
And I said, No, no, no, you should have said what you thought, but I'm out here against the death penalty and you're out here supporting it, and what's that
gonna look like on film?
As it happens, that particular execution was stayed and Napoleon was not executed on that evening.
Later he was, but I got a call from Bianca Jagger on my cell phone and I had that call on my cell phone for a long time. I've since gone up to I-phone and I
can't figure out how to transfer it.
No, I lost it long before that.But it was really an interesting moment and in part because sometimes there's a huge amount of celebrity associated with these
events. Ninety nine percent of the time they go on like the one last night. I don't know if there was any of the media there.
That's the norm, like I said, and most of the time when the media is there they're up where we cross the street and they very, very, very rarely come down to
the corner.If they come down to the corner and if they ask any questions the questions are almost always, "This person that we're executing tonight raped and brutally murdered a seven-year-old
child and then stuffed her in the attic for two days. What if that were your child? Would you support the death penalty?"That kind of thing, so. They never really ask about the issues
surrounding the death penalty.
I can't remember a documentary that's been done that focuses on the death penalty. Most of them are more oriented toward the question of the victims and what
if any role the victims should play. I hope that you all are tied into the—there are two groups in, kind of like the Texas Coalition.
The original group, the Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation has splintered off and now there's a Murder Victims Families for Justice, I think, or
something, but that group of people, people whose loved ones have been murdered and brutally murdered in many instances who take it upon themselves to travel around and talk to small groups to
protest and to try to convince legislators to abandon the death penalty— a profound group of people.
They've got a huge, huge role they can play in this abolition movement, because what can I say other than my usual response to that question is, I would want
to grab this person who did that and kill them in the instant that I saw them,
but I also know that I've surrounded myself by people who love me and know who I really am and I would hope that they would hold me until I work through that
level of anger and grief so that something else could be done.
I know that if I woke up a day after an execution that I was part of, that I was party to, that was partially done because I was victimized by some tragedy
like that, I would be horrified, and I know that it's the wrong thing to do.
Bud Welch's story. Do you know Bud Welch? Bud Welch was the father of one Timothy McVeigh's killings, and so if you talk to the two attorneys who both
represented Timothy McVeigh you might want to ask them if— I don't think they ran into Bud. Bud Welch was the father of one of the victims and she worked in the courthouse in the area where the
bombing took place
and not infrequently she would taunt her father about his support for the death penalty and her strong, strong, strong opposition.I don't know the full story
but the way I recall the story, after the bombing, Bud Welch was just absolutely tormented,
not only with the loss of his daughter, but with the anticipation that Timothy McVeigh would be subject to the death penalty and he would be ultimately
And he was struggling with what he could or should do, because he could still visually hear, audibly hear his daughter's protestations about how she didn't
and in fact had apparently at some point in time told him, "If I'm ever murdered, don't you ever, don't ever let them—."
So he was torn, torn with this. And I don't remember what the moment was, but I have a recollection of him being in the car where he often had these
conversations with his daughter, and hearing a song that she valued,
and I don't remember what the song was, but somehow in that moment he realized he needed to do something but he didn't know what. So he decided he would try
to find Timothy McVeigh's father,
and go and talk to Timothy McVeigh's father and try and find out how this monster could have been created.
So he did. He ended up locating Tim McVeigh's father and knocked on the door and Timothy McVeigh's father came to the door and he said, "I'm me and you're
you and your son murdered my daughter and I don't know what to do."
And Timothy McVeigh's father brought him into the kitchen and they had a cup of coffee or more and started talking, and it was an opportunity for Bud Welch.
I think Bud and Bill.
Bill must be Timothy's— Bill McVeigh and Bud Welch learned that Tim McVeigh wasn't a monster.
He learned that Tim was a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout, he played Little League; he was a wonderful child. He had committed himself to an active military service
and gone over and served his troops in the first Iraq— the first incursion over in Desert Storm or whatever we called it and then come back a horribly changed young man.So Bud Welch was able to
convert in that experience from his support of the death penalty to opposition.
Bud Welch is one of the most commonly called upon speakers who is a member of this Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.
He was one of the few people who stood in opposition of the execution of Timothy McVeigh the night, the day of the execution. Those voices: when people who
are so rabidly in support of the death penalty hear those kind of stories,
I don't know how they can't just simply stop in their tracks and say, "I wish I could get a dose of whatever Bud Welch has because he's come to a closure, a
kind of peace if there's such a possible moment with the loss of someone you love,"
that some of these pro-death penalty people I hear, and some of them are totally unrelated to it, but some of them have a marginal representation. This woman
who spit in my face has a daughter who was murdered.
Pardon me, she has a daughter who was killed by an accidental, what was ruled an accidental homicide having to do with some handgun problem.
Somebody, I don't remember the story in particular, supposedly her daughter was killed by somebody playing with a gun he had gotten from his father's bed
stand or something, and it couldn't have been a capital crime even if they had prosecuted it as a crime at all. But this woman is just so rabidly pro-death penalty.
I don't know why she's not anti-gun, why she's not pro-gun control, but it's a burden I pray to God I don't ever have to worry through.
But the moments when Phoenix was diagnosed with cancer we were in those— there was a moment he may have died, we're not really sure. He asked me one time
long after he was, this all happened when he was two, so he was pre-verbal, he wasn't talking at the time. But when he was maybe four or five at one time we were talking and he said "Poppy, why
did you let me go?"
And I asked him, I said, What do you mean Phoenix? He said, "You remember that time, that time when I was sick, why did you let them take me, why did you let
And I didn't know what he was talking about because I was by his side through everything, except his surgery, but I was by his side every other moment of
that and I said, Phoenix I don't know what you mean.
He said, "Remember, it was when there was that bright light," he mentions the bright light, "There was that bright light and I was going to the bright light,
but I didn't want to go, I didn't want to go, why did you let me go?"And I thought he must have been— the way Phoenix's diagnosis ultimately came about, he had a huge, huge tumor growing on his
stomach and we were in Austin at the time. Phoenix's dad was living there and we had brought Phoenix to visit with his dad, which we often did and my wife Lin had seen Texas Children's
Phoenix had been having this stomach problem for a week, more than a week, a month or so. And so we weren't sure what it was and our pediatrician was
treating it as a blocked, some kind of impacted bowels or something, and so we weren't getting much there.
And so Lin said, "You know, if Phoenix is in much pain tonight we're gonna take him to the Texas Children's Hospital and just see what we can find out."So we
ended up doing that and this was on a Saturday night, early Sunday morning when we went to the Texas Children's Hospital
and immediately they did a bunch of x-rays and they tried to do everything they could to do any kind of impacted bowel movement and that was a horrible
experience in and of itself.But they ended up coming back and they said, "Look, he's got this grapefruit size," classic, "grapefruit size thing growing in his stomach and we don't know what it
is but it's got to come out and unfortunately right now he's in such precarious condition because he's so undernourished,"—
because for weeks he had been doing nothing, eating very, very little—"we don't know, we don't want to go into this, it's going to be a very, very delicate
surgery and so the surgeon said I want to wait until Monday, when my team is here, the traditional—
my top notch team is here. I don't want to go in with the weekend surgical team; I want to have the major surgical team here.
We're going to stabilize him and keep him painless, pain free and stabilized until whatever time it was Monday morning."
Sunday evening or very, very early Monday morning before the surgery was scheduled his tumor burst. So his stomach just disappeared, his blood pressure
stopped, the catheter fell out of his arm, so they thought they had lost him because they didn't know if they were ever going to get the catheter back in and they couldn't have done the surgery
without being able to anesthetize him, and so rushed him back and they said, "You wait here, we'll get it back in."I said, No I'm coming. So I was with him but that might have been that moment
when he died.
They were able to get the catheter back in him and they were able to get him back and did the surgery. God thankful he survived the surgery, he had chemo, he
had radiation, he had surgery,
survived it all and now he's fifteen years old trying to go the executions,
but what brought me to it was that I realized at that moment that that bond that exists between a parent and a child is real, and I mean Phoenix is not my
biological grandson, he's my wife's oldest son, but I mean I've had him since he came out.
We had to go through extra, extraordinary efforts to prevent him from being adopted. His mother, whom I've already talked with you about, wanted to do the
magnanimous thing and have him adopted out to a loving family somewhere so he would be raised by—[Tape ran out. End transcript]
Video 5of "Interview with Professor Dennis Longmire."
Dennis Longmire is an anti-death penalty activist and a professor of sociology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In Video 1, Longmire discusses his background, his residence in Huntsville, his interest in the death penalty as a topic of research and activism, his first silent vigil outside the Walls Unit and his role in the case of Eric Nenno, including his experience witnessing Nenno's execution on October 28, 2008. In Video 2, Longmire expands on his role in Eric Nenno's case, and discusses the role of religion in his intellectual and activist commitments. In Video 3, Longmire discusses Eric Nenno's trial in more detail, expands on the history of the prison system and executions in Texas, and compares the hospice movement with standing vigil outside the Walls Unit. In Video 4, Longmire discusses his prayer vigils and witnessing in the context of other activist strategies, and talks about the role of the Hospitality House in Huntsville. In Video 5, Longmire elaborates on his experiences standing on the corner outside the Walls Unit during executions, and considers trends in attitudes towards both the death penalty and abolition of the death penalty in Texas. In Video 6, Longmire discusses the wider communal effects of the death penalty on the town of Huntsville, media coverage of executions, and the interactions between families of the executed and families of murder victims. This interview took place on October 29, 2008 in Huntsville, Walker County, Texas.
6 of 6
Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Interviewer
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Videographer
Jorge Antonio RenaudRole: Transcriber
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Proofreader
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:
This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.