Interview with Ms. Lee Greenwood

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  •  Featured Segment: The effect of Joseph's incarceration on his family 
  •  Joseph's Execution and Injustice 
  •  Abolition Movement 
  •  Joseph's Daughter 
  •  Effect of Joseph's Incarceration on His Family 
  •  The Execution and Funeral 
  •  Problems with the Criminal Justice System 
  •  Staying Strong 
  •  Closing Remarks 
  •  Watch Video 1of "Interview with Ms. Lee Greenwood." 
People and Organizations 
  •  Nichols, Joseph 
  •  Williams, Willie Ray 
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  •  CRAFTS: Okay, so I'm sorry. Can we go back before I started coughing and talk about, you're in the Hospitality House and he calls, and you were talking to him on the phone? That's where we were. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: His concern was that everyone be okay, and that everyone know that whichever manner, it happens everyone has to travel that same road and to be assured that, as he says, "I got this." 
  •  GREENWOOD: No, he would rather have lived. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He had once said if they had offered him a life sentence, he was of the mind that he did not want that. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Already he had done two life sentences as far as the prison system was concerned, and had begun a third. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He assured me he was okay and wanted to be sure that I was going to be okay and that his sister and his brothers were going to be okay, and his daughter, and just how everybody was going to be and to let them know that as he always told me, "Stand on your faith and be at peace because I got this." 
  •  GREENWOOD: And just let him be a part of the abolishment of the death penalty. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And I think that this is happening without any—really without a lot of effort of mine because periodically his case comes up in the most I guess unexpected way. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Out of all the cases that have been mishandled and all of the injustice that has gone on, his case keeps coming to the forefront. So, I've been pleased about that. 
  •  GREENWOOD: It's kind of hard on the heart, because when you get in a place that you can kind of deal with it, it comes up again. 
  •  GREENWOOD: So, that's his wish is kind of going on without a lot of effort on my part and I believe that's because it was such a gross miscarriage of justice. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And it's not hidden. It's plain to be seen. If you just read of a few lines of the case, you know, "What happened here?" 
  •  GREENWOOD: I mean you have a question mark in your mind, on your face, and I know a lot of people that have said to me, "After reading your son's case, I became a fighter for the abolishment of the death penalty." And that's as he wanted it. 
  •  CRAFTS: Can you talk about some of the efforts or some of the things you have done in terms of participating in the abolition movement? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Well of course you attend meetings. There are two abolition groups here in town and I attend both their meetings from time to time. I go to the conferences. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I learn more, and it's just support and it's just speaking out against it. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And you come to realize that there are so many people that think that they're exempt but that really don't realize it can happen to you at any time. You really don't have to, as you think, be in harm's way, but you can. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I remember talking to a young woman. I think we were in Jena, Louisiana when they had the big protest there for the young men that were in jail there, in Jena, Louisiana. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And we were talking about the death penalty and she was saying, "You know, they just should take them all out and kill them." 
  •  GREENWOOD: I said, "You know, is that your son walking along there with you?" 
  •  GREENWOOD: "Oh, yeah." 
  •  GREENWOOD: I said, "Do you know, he could be in that very same position." 
  •  GREENWOOD: "Oh, no he can't." 
  •  GREENWOOD: "Oh, yes he can." 
  •  GREENWOOD: "He doesn't do anything. He's at home." 
  •  GREENWOOD: He doesn't have to be. He doesn't have to be, and I think that's when the populace realizes that, that no one is exempt from it, I think it—we'll get on a faster road to abolishment of it. Until that time, it's going to still be on the books and as I said, I believe Texas will be the hardest state to die. 
  •  CRAFTS: Can you talk about why? Just explain why. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: It's the mentality of the residents. It's a southern state. It's an old slave state. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Slavery is not always defined by color. As long as you are below or just above the poverty line, you're at risk. 
  •  GREENWOOD: You don't go to death row and see any rich man's son on death row. They don't even go to trial and a lot of them have done horrendous things. 
  •  GREENWOOD: It is swept so far under the rug and paid off so much until it's—it's a good old boys' system and it remains as such. 
  •  GREENWOOD: It may have a little chocolate syrup poured on top to make it palatable for the citizens, but it's still there and I believe it will always be there. 
  •  GREENWOOD: But I believe that it will be dealt with. I would rather it be sooner than later. I would rather it have been before it took Joseph, but that wasn't so. 
  •  GREENWOOD: It wasn't to be. I think that everyone is predestined for certain things and no matter how we get there, I think whatever our predestined path is, that's what's going to happen. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I do believe in God. I do believe that He has, as Joseph said, the last say. We don't always feel happy about what the last say is, but if you truly believe, you don't want to question that. As Joseph say, you deal with it, and that's what we've had to do. 
  •  CRAFTS: What religion are you? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Christian. 
  •  CRAFTS: Christina, okay. Was Joseph religious at all? 
  •  CRAFTS: And you're writing a book now? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: No, I'm not writing a book. It's Joseph's writings. He wanted me to write part of it and I said, No. I can't write a book, but I'll do as he asked. And I will put some things in there but it is things that he had compiled and I will put it in book form and as I said, my target date to get it out is March of 2010. That will be three years after he was gone. 
  •  CRAFTS: Can you talk about what some of those writings involve that he had? Was it writings he did while in prison? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Yes they were, and that's all I choose to say about that. You have to read the book. 
  •  CRAFTS: Okay, I will. And Joseph's daughter, can you talk about her and what this has been like for her, and how she is, how she is been able to handle it? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: I don't know how she has been able to handle it because she doesn't talk about it. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I can say that the days prior to the execution that she visited him she said that she found that they had a lot of same habits, sayings that they had were the same, and that he taught her and gave her information in those last few hours that she visited with him that will help her govern the rest of her life. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And that he gave her everything she needed to have a successful life. 
  •  GREENWOOD: She is married and she is about to have her first child, which will be born, the delivery is scheduled for September, which is Joseph's birthday month and she happens to have been born on my birthday, which is next month also. 
  •  GREENWOOD: So we were talking at the baby shower a few weeks ago and said, "Wouldn't it be ironic if the baby was born on his birthday," which is September eighth. That would be something. 
  •  GREENWOOD: But she teaches school and last year she was "Teacher of the Year" in her school district. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And other than that, I can't tell you how she's dealt with it because she's pretty quiet about it. So I think she kept a lot of things locked up. 
  •  GREENWOOD: As a little girl, she would get very excited when we would carry her to visit him. She would spend—she would recognize the terrain when we'd get close to the prison, she would start brushing her hair—she had very long hair, she would start brushing it. She says, "I am my dad's princess and I'm going to visit him in a little bit." 
  •  GREENWOOD: And then as she got older, she kind of drew within herself some, and would not talk to us. She would talk to him and he was very well satisfied with whatever they talked about. I never asked. If we visited him, I would leave them alone. 
  •  CRAFTS: I know that you said that Joseph and his wife and daughter lived with you. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Mmm-hmm. 
  •  CRAFTS: Did his daughter continue to live with you? I know that her mom left. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Oh, no. No, no, no. No, no no. Her mom raised her. 
  •  CRAFTS: Oh her mom raised her. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Uh huh. 
  •  CRAFTS: Okay. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: I'm a firm believer in children being with their parents. 
  •  CRAFTS: It also sounds like he was fairly close with his siblings. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Oh yes. 
  •  CRAFTS: Can you talk about how this affected them—the trial and the execution affected them? How they've been able to handle it? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Well, they all kind of handle it in their own way. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He has three brothers and one sister. He has a half brother and a couple of half sisters. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I don't know how they deal with it—my daughter, his sister, dealt with it poorly—the whole scene. She kind of got caught up in the drug scene because of his situation and kind of spiraled out of control there for many years. So he was quite concerned about her and what the execution would do to her. 
  •  GREENWOOD: His oldest brother would, when he would go and visit him, for two or three days afterwards, he would be violently ill to the point where he would be nauseous all the way home, throwing up, couldn't eat for several days. It was just terrible for them to have to leave him there, because they were so close. 
  •  GREENWOOD: It hasn't been easy for them. But they all kind of, I believe have put it in a place that they can handle it better. His dad didn't handle it very well. 
  •  GREENWOOD: As I said, most times mothers suck it up and have to be—you have to maintain a strong character and face for the rest of them because you soon recognize that if you falter, they will too. I never thought about it, but Joseph said in his last interview that the twenty-five years that he did, that he and I did them. Well I guess in sense that is right. He often said it would make me old, crazy, and fat. 
  •  GREENWOOD: The stress level was very high. Because you felt like your hands were tied. You felt like you had to be doing something, you need to be doing something, but you don't know what. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And as it got closer and closer and closer to the day, you felt so helpless, that you would have to sit back and allow it to happen, but there was nothing that you could do. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He did not want anyone to witness, but I maintain that it had been he and I in the delivery room and it was going to be he and I at the end. So, finally he consented and it was his dad, his three brothers and I. That was that. 
  •  CRAFTS: Do you want to talk about that at all? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: There's not much to say about that. He looked at us and he smiled, told us he loved us. Said what he said to the guard that had been so ugly and disrespectful to him, closed his eyes and went to sleep. 
  •  CRAFTS: I'm sorry. And the days following the execution, what were you doing then? What was happening then? How were you able to handle it? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Well, you do what you have to do. We made arrangements. The arrangements were made according to his wishes. He wanted to be buried. 
  •  GREENWOOD: His brothers and his dad are cowboys. They love horses. They have horses. They ride every weekend. They are outdoorsmen. He did not want to be dressed in a suit. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He did not want, as he said, some preacher that didn't even know about him trying to officiate over him. He wanted everyone to be casually dressed. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He at first told me, "You know, Mom, just cremate me and just scatter me out on the side and let me help the trees grow." I said, Well, you know that won't happen. 
  •  GREENWOOD: So he wanted to be buried in a pair of his brother Byron's jeans. He said, "I know you'll have to roll the cuffs up because Byron is the tallest of all." Joseph was average height, five-foot, nine [inches]. He wanted no shoes and no socks. He wanted a plain white t-shirt and those orders were followed except his t-shirt on the back said "Nichols' territory." 
  •  GREENWOOD: And that's what his brothers ride under. Their last name is Nichols, so the barn where all the horses and things are kept is Nichols' territory. 
  •  GREENWOOD: So that's what he had on, and before that day, I think Monday or Tuesday, he had his hair cut the way he wanted and he shaved, and that was it. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He did not want a long service. He did not want a lot of singing and going on. He wanted me to make sure that I gave the people that were there a message about the death penalty and about the things that they needed to be doing. 
  •  GREENWOOD: That I did, which was very hard. It was a very large funeral. The chapel held three-hundred people and it was too small. 
  •  GREENWOOD: He wanted his brothers to fashion his coffin. He wanted it to be wooden. So we told him, your brothers aren't going to build you a coffin. It will be wooden and it was. He wanted it simple. That it was. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Everything that he wanted was done. His two favorite books, we used excerpts from that. His most favorite book was, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." And after that it was "The Prophet." 
  •  GREENWOOD: As I said, he read an awful lot, and that was before going to prison, and afterwards. That was it. He was most concerned about the younger people left in the family, and how they would view his case and his actions, and so forth. 
  •  GREENWOOD: So we made sure, as they get old enough, they read for themselves, and as they got old enough during that time he was in prison, they were carried to visit him and he talked to them, and they were allowed to ask any questions. And that was it. 
  •  CRAFTS: Okay, I'm trying to think. I mean I think that's pretty much all the questions that I have. Do you have any? 
  •  KIMBERLY BACON: Yeah, I had a few that I wanted to ask. I wanted to ask you to kind of go back to the initial trial. In talking about all the issues that came up that made this such a contentious case, who, in your opinion, from your experience, is accountable for what happened? For this—obviously having someone else be executed for a crime and then having that same issue brought up in your son's trial. It just seems like it doesn't— 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: The judicial system, and ultimately you would have to hold the judge accountable, unless I'm awfully off base, the judge did not have to allow such goings on. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I also think that the district attorney would have a part in that because he did not have to allow Joseph to be retried. 
  •  GREENWOOD: The jury. The jury was supposedly made up of intelligent, thinking beings, and how could they—but later we learned, unless they were living under a rock somewhere, they had to have read about the case and had to have known he had been tried before. And he had, and that trial had been a mistrial. 
  •  GREENWOOD: So I don't understand. In the first place, and you'll have to do research on this, the first jury I believe came form the—I want to say the Pasadena area. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Historically the Pasadena area was very prejudiced. There was a time when Blacks did not even go through Pasadena at night. It was very known for its Ku Klux Klan headquarters there. And I believe it was the second trial jury that came from the Conroe area, which had the same reputation. 
  •  GREENWOOD: But there was two people on the first jury that hung the jury up, an elderly white guy and a young Black man. 
  •  GREENWOOD: On the second jury, there was not an African American on the jury. There was an alternate, an African American woman, who seemingly dozed throughout the trial. I don't know whether she was on medication or what the deal was, but she was not alert and so that tells you what odds he had. 
  •  GREENWOOD: But these were supposedly intelligent, thinking people. But apparently they could not interpret the law very well, or the facts of the case. 
  •  GREENWOOD: It was said later that the jury did not know what had happened in the first trial. Again, I say, where were they living? You know, were they not exposed to the news media in any fashion? Because it wasn't hidden on the back pages of the newspaper. In the last days, I know three days Joseph's case was front page of the Houston Chronicleabout the inadequacies and the injustice of the case. 
  •  BACON: How did you—what was your coping mechanism? How did you deal with all this personally? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Being the kind of person that I am—as I said, you pray a lot. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I had to think about, at the time my parents were living, they've since deceased. My father died in 2006, and Mom died a year ago this month, last Saturday. I had to think about them. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I had to think about my other children. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I had to think about my grandchildren, and they see me as, I guess the strong one. And if I faltered, they would have—if Joseph thought that I was not going to be okay, he couldn't stay up to do what he needed to do. 
  •  GREENWOOD: So, it was my responsibility, as a mother and as a grandmother, and as a daughter to my parents to appear invincible, I guess, but that's not so. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Many nights when I closed the door and was by myself, I would have a three-minute nervous breakdown and have to get it together and be ready to face them the next day. It's not easy. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I believe one of the hardest things in the world is to watch one of your children die before you, whether it's an accident or illness, it's a different scenario. 
  •  GREENWOOD: But when a corrupt system takes your child, and say this is the day and the time I'm going to kill him, and they do that, you will have to sometimes, as I put it, think to be sane. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I'm not so sure I'm saying this right. I tell him all the time, You sure you want a piece of this? You sure you want to be a part of this? It'll be a little weird sometimes, and sometimes he can tell me I get very quiet. 
  •  GREENWOOD: There are things that you can't do anything about and you have to deal with it. There's not a thing you can do about it. If you could, you would. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And I think it's a responsibility of many mothers to be sure that her children are okay as much as she can—and that goes for my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, my parents, my sister, I only have a sister. There are no brothers, just my sister and I. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And you do what you have to do—like today it took me a long time to say yes, but I had no choice. I had to. If I was going to keep Joseph's promise that I made to him, I had to do the interview. 
  •  BACON: We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Thank you for being interested enough in his case to do it. 
  •  BACON: I want to—those are just the few points that I had thought of, but because this is for historical purposes and for community education, for bringing about dialogue, and getting as many people as possible aware of these things that are going on, is there anything we haven't covered that you think is important and needs to be stated, that you want other people to know, to be clear for the record? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: I think people need to open their eyes and do their research, and I hate this cliché but think out of the box and look at your surroundings. We get comfortable and complacent in our everyday worlds and really don't realize what can happen to us in a minute. You can be a law-abiding citizen and there are too many examples of good law abiding citizens that were not doing a thing and ended up in prison. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I also often think about a man, I can't remember his name now but he was in Dallas and he was coming home from work one night and he was arrested and sent to Death Row, and I think spent ten years on Death Row. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And all the time the people that he worked with testified that he was at work at the time that a crime supposedly was committed, and it took him ten years to get off Death Row, Texas. Ten years. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I believe he was an engineer or some sort. Somewhere up around Dallas, I believe. But he was accused of capital murder, sent to Death Row, and it took him ten years. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Some people never are free. 
  •  GREENWOOD: You hear about all the exonerations now. In those cases there's D.N.A.—there are so many cases where there's no D.N.A. 
  •  GREENWOOD: In Joseph's case, there would not have been D.N.A. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I don't remember in reading the case that they ever did a ballistics report. Mr. Shaffer was shot with one gun, the gun that Willie Ray Williams had. He was shot with one bullet, but yet two men pay the ultimate price for it, so. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Unless you're a multimillionaire and you get in trouble, you're going to prison, and there are a lot of people in prison that are innocent. 
  •  GREENWOOD: You see that from the exonerations, but like I said, there are so many cases where D.N.A. is not pertinent. There is no D.N.A. in the case. So it just goes on. 
  •  GREENWOOD: It's perpetual—it goes on and on and on and on. We're waiting to see how this new D.A. in Houston is going to handle a lot of things. She's said a lot. One of the abolition groups in Houston met with her and I think she promised some things. I'm waiting to see. 
  •  BACON: What would you like to see happen, I mean in the ideal world, or— 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Not the ideal world, but just, say again please? 
  •  BACON: What kind of things could we do to start bringing about these changes that need to happen? 
  •  LEE GREENWOOD: Well, first off I think there needs to be education. I think the citizens of this country or any state that has the death penalty on its books need to open their eyes and just take a look around, you know, go down and sit in court one day, see things that go on. 
  •  GREENWOOD: Realize that—do your homework on the people that are being tried. See what kind of life they had. Yeah, some of them have been in and out of prison a lot, some of them have not—some of them have been just everyday citizens. But we say as a society that our citizens have no redeeming qualities. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I believe education is the key to everything. 
  •  GREENWOOD: I believe that there needs to be a watchful eye on the so-called justice system and the people that carry out the so-called laws. A lot of laws need to be changed. I think the death penalty should never have been a law because of the corrupt justice system and because of the fact that you can't give a life, so why—men should not have that much authority, they just should not. 
  •  GREENWOOD: And with the way things are, when I say the way things are, the corrupt things that go on in the system, how on earth could you have such a law? [END OF TAPE] 
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Title:Interview with Ms. Lee Greenwood
Abstract:Lee Greenwood is the mother of Joseph Nichols, who was executed on March 7th, 2007, for a murder committed on October 13th, 1980. In Video 1, Greenwood recounts their life together, her son's activities as he was growing up, and her surprise upon hearing of his conviction. She then reflects on how she feels his trial was "grossly mishandled" and how he was found guilty under the "law of parties," although the punishment phase ended as a mistrial. She speaks about her regrets, what she would have done had she known certain laws, and then goes on to describe what she witnessed throughout his trials, and how she felt they were unfair. She then talks about Joseph's attitudes in jail, how he continued to be kind and giving while on Death Row, and what she learned from the letters he sent, including Joseph's relationship with Kenneth Foster and pen pals in Europe. Greenwood shifts to the night of the incident and describes her interaction with her son that night. Continuing with the trial, we hear about Nichols' family's reactions to the court proceedings, a detailed account of those proceedings, and the mistakes she felt were made. Greenwood concludes with a description of her son's execution day and her peceptions of the criminal justice system. This interview took place on August 27, 2009 at the Walter Branch neighborhood library in Houston, Harris County, Texas.
Sequence:2 of 2
  • Lee GreenwoodRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Lydia CastroRole: Interviewer
  • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Videographer
  • Nancy Semin LingoRole: Transcriber
  • Lydia CraftsRole: Proofreader
  • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Proofreader
Date Created:2009/08/27
Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:Moving image
    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.

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