Herein is my account of the murder of Amos Lee King by the State of Florida, on February twenty sixth, two thousand three, at six forty three PM EST. This homicide was perpetrated in the name of the people of the State of Florida.
My involvement with Amos stretches back a number of years but only entered an intense phase some few months ago. It was after his brush with the executioner’s syringe on December second, 2002 that he requested my presence as I have described elsewhere.
On returning home on January 29th 2003, from my first visit to Amos on Florida’s death row, I knew that Amos and I had cemented a deep bond of brotherhood and friendship between us. He told me during our visits that he was relieved to have his perceptions about my activism confirmed and very much wanted me to serve in the role of spiritual advisor. He was delighted to discover the gift of the revolutionary spirit residing in the body of a white man, he knew of my involvement with Mumia Abu Jamal’s case, he had read what Mumia had written about me. He was pleased to no end to find all of this packed into a Rinzai Zen priest to boot! I took it as an obligation to be of service to him to the best of my ability and work tirelessly in that direction.
I joined an e-mail list that was operating in support of Amos and offered some small assistance with their efforts. I had trouble with some of the directions the group was taking, difficulty with the moderator’s authoritarian style and felt dismayed with many of their efforts that appeared to me as simply “wheel spinning” rather than substantive activism. My participation was limited but I did receive a considerable level of support from individual members of the group.
I made efforts to garner support from a number of people including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Thich Nhat Hanh and other religious leaders. I also worked on contacts in the Black community. I was saddened to learn from His Holiness’ Secretary that he was in retreat and incommunicado at the time. All in all, my efforts at rallying support were quite dismal and very disappointing.
Since I had been registered as Amos’ official spiritual advisor of record, I was able to receive phone calls from him that meant that we had a more direct means of contact. Amos kept me informed of his legal actions that were his primary concern as they were his only avenue for remaining alive. He did not have the luxury of “free time” for practice without taking from his time on case work, so in essence, his case work became his practice.
I had sent him my personal copy of “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” by Chögyam Trungpa and he did spend some time each day reading it. He was really enthusiastic about the book because it presented aspects of Buddhist psychology and a clear presentation of some of the mechanisms involved in approaching the teachings that he had not hitherto encountered.
Sunday Feb. 23rd
I left our apartment in New Jersey at 7 AM Sunday morning. My oldest son Sean drove me to Newark Airport in our rusty old Volvo and wished me well as he dropped me off at the Continental Airlines departure platform. Peter Malvasi, a friend here in my town, generously donated “frequent flier miles” that paid for the flights. I was fortunate to have been given a new book to read sent to me by a friend and supporter I have never met face to face. So many people had come forward to offer their support with donations and expressions of empathy - I feel incredibly blessed to have so many friends caring for me and assisting in my ministry with Amos.
The flight was uneventful, I read and managed to get some fitful sleep. I had not slept well the night before, perhaps three hours at best. I was met at the Jacksonville airport by John X. Linnehan- a former Catholic priest, a friend, a long time social activist warrior, a fellow abolitionist and generous supporter of Amos King. John drove me to the Florida State Prison, some 50 miles distant, stopping along the way for a much needed breakfast. We chatted in the car and John told me of his experience as the spiritual advisor to a young black man executed in the Florida electric chair in 1958 . His story was quite moving; I was reminded of my own experiences with Jusan Frankie Parker in Arkansas some six years ago. John was talking about standing a couple of feet in front of an electric chair as a man was literally fried in front of him - it dawned on me that at the time I had been eight years old.
We got to the prison early, so much so that I asked John if he would be willing to drive me into Starke so that I could say hello to Hanna Floyd . I had never met Hanna but had email correspondence with her concerning Amos’ case. Hanna is a woman from Denmark who was married to a prisoner on Florida’s death row . I met with Hanna and she was delighted that I had dropped in on her, she understood my involvement with Amos would be consuming and she told me she would take part in the protest demonstration across the highway from the prison the evening of the scheduled execution.
We arrived at Florida State Prison on time for my visit, the sun was out and it felt good to feel its warmth on my face as I walked to the sally port gate. Our weather in New Jersey had been cold and snowy; when I left that morning it was in a cold penetrating rain.
Florida State Prison (FSP) is the bottom of the barrel in Florida, it is the prison where the worst of the worst and increasingly, more and more severely disturbed prisoners are warehoused. My earlier visits to FSP revealed to me a startling phenomenon, that being the unusually large number of “steroid-pumped” guards on the staff. This situation is so glaringly apparent from simply observing the shift change in the prison. There are just too many guards in too “good” shape to be natural. The frightening implication hidden in that steroid use ultimately leads to psychological changes and brain physiological activity causing decreased tolerance to stress and violent behavior sometimes referred to as “‘roid rage .” The physical condition of many of the guards is far beyond that of guards employed in other prisons around the country and glaringly apparent to even a casual observer. I can only speculate that the prison administration is aware of the problem and apparently not addressing the illegal use of these drugs by their employees. They must think that people trained in seeing reality from a big picture perspective can not see and describe the phenomenon.... well here it is -- there is a serious steroid abuse problem at FSP.
I was ushered into the prison and allowed to leave my travel luggage consisting of my “traveling zendo” detail bag and a small suitcase with my sitting cushions in the control room. I passed through the metal detector and was frisked by a guard. I was wearing a bright red octagonal button on the front of my robe that said “STOP EXECUTIONS” I was not questioned about my button and allowed to wear it into the prison.
There is a visitor’s canteen just beyond the barred entry gate and I was able to get a coke from the machine to take into the visiting area with me. I was disappointed to find that I was again going to be visiting Amos from behind glass. I approached the last visit booth in the room, that being the “choice” location since it was furthest from the noise of the hallways and traffic in the control room area. There was Amos, a big smile on his face, his palms held together in the gesture of Gassho, what most people would call a prayerful manner.
Our ritual involved first bowing to each other with hands in gassho and then touching our hands together in fists to the glass as a symbol of solidarity and resistance. We had never shaken hands, nor made any normal human contact. It was always through wire-reinforced glass, straining to hear each other through a small talking port heavily reinforced with security screening. Being slightly hard of hearing, or so I am told by significant others, I had to sit there often with my hand cupped over my ear to be able to hear Amos clearly.
Amos filled me in on his legal situation and as always his commentary was detailed. I spoke to him about various topics of Buddhist doctrine and we shared some conversation over the disposal of his remains if required. This was a difficult topic for both of us. I felt conflicted in a way over the conversation due to the uncertainty of the outcome and the notion that perhaps he might prevail in his legal maneuvers. He understood where I was coming from and recognized my obligation to insure that things had been taken care of in any eventuality. He assured me that burial plans were in place and that he had arranged for the disposal of his property. Amos was concerned that I not be burdened with any of these details.
He told me several times how glad he was to see me and expressed his concern about my getting rest and recuperating from my trip and the sleepless night before I left. He asked about my sons and seemed delighted to hear me tell of Ian and Sean. I told him that I was looking forward to seeing Amy Jo Smith and that she was picking me up from the visit and taking me to her home in Gainesville.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our visit was to be until 5:30 PM, a half hour longer than I had expected. Our visit seemed to zip by; before I knew it the guards were telling us it was time to go. We said farewell, bowing with hands palm to palm in Gassho followed by touching our clenched fists together on the glass in expression of solidarity and resistance. I loved his smile, he was beaming and in that expression I noted a strong element of humility and appreciation.
I want to say here that all of my conversations with Amos were confidential in nature and that he was aware that I planned on writing this narrative. Having said that, I trust the reader understands that my descriptions of our personal interaction are general in nature. I never pressured Amos concerning the crimes he was convicted of nor did I perceive it proper to do so. My position is not that of judging him or pressuring him to reveal anything one way or another. I was there for him and willing to listen without judgment to whatever he wanted to share with me. I never questioned him about him maintaining innocence nor did I question him over any matter of guilt. I relied on fundamental openness to present whatever avenues it would for our conversations to proceed. Amos never made any “confession” of guilt or indicated in any way any hesitation in maintaining his innocence. I left it at that and allowed him to lead in revealing what he chose to share.
Getting out of FSP always went faster than getting in so before I knew it I was standing outside the razor-ribbon festooned fences in the bright Florida sunshine. With my two bags in hand I walked into the parking lot and found Amy Jo. We embraced, it was good to see my dear friend. I was tired for sure and glad to be seated in her car traveling the long route to her home. I was looking forward to seeing and playing with her wonderful dog “Little Sister” and just being able to relax and decompress for a while.
I filled Amy Jo in on my visit and my understanding of the situation at hand. I told her that I perceived that hoping for a reprieve was a long shot but that so long as there was a breath remaining there was a chance for life. I talked with her about my concern over what Assistant Warden of Programs Ron Barry had told me on the phone the prior Friday about my being taken away from Amos an hour before the execution was scheduled. The Assistant Warden had refused to tell me the reason for this rule and on questioning informed me that this was not a written rule or regulation. He referred me to Susan Maher the Department of Corrections Deputy General Council in Tallahassee for clarification on this issue. I was unable to reach her office on Friday due to the late hour of my conversation with Assistant Warden Barry. I planned to call her on Monday morning to appeal this rule. As a priest and spiritual advisor I recognize that being with a condemned person for as long as possible is the most supportive and ethical thing to do. It is during the close proximity to execution that the person needs support the most; it is at that time that a person may wish to confide in a pastor more than any other.
The week before Amy Jo had given me the number of Father Fred Ruse, a Catholic priest who had served as the spiritual advisor to Rigoberto Sanchez executed by the State of Florida on October 2, 2002 by Lethal Injection. I had called Fr. Ruse and spoke with him at length on Saturday, February 22nd. He told me that he had been removed from Mr. Sanchez’s presence an hour and a half before the execution. He expressed his disdain for the practice and as a Catholic priest was concerned over the issue of the potential for “death-bed” confession. Fr. Fred and I talked for quite some time and he told me that he would be at the execution protest and that he would pray for Amos and me. I told him I looked forward to meeting with him when I arrived in Florida.
On arriving at Amy Jo’s house we were greeted by Little Sister’s tail-wagging antics. Amy Jo made a simple dinner. I relaxed and went to sleep.
Monday Feb. 24th
After a restful night’s sleep at Amy Jo’s I felt fairly decent on Monday morning although somewhat reluctant about my reasons for being in Florida. It was nice to be able to step out on her back porch in a Tee shirt in the sunshine. Little Sister as always, was a complete delight and her therapeutic ministrations greatly appreciated. Amy Jo was sympathetic with my anxiety and the most generous and gracious host. She devoted her time, space in her home, and drove me to and from the prison each day. Her contribution was profoundly appreciated - I can not express in words what her kindness and support meant to me during my time with Amos. I told Amos about Amy Jo and he told me to express his gratitude to her for all she had done on his behalf by assisting and taking care of me.
Abe Bonowitz of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty put me in touch with Mike McCarron, Ph.D. Executive Director of The Florida Catholic Conference . I contacted him and explained my concern over being taken away from Amos an hour before the scheduled execution. My intention was to contact the Florida Bishops in hope that they could somehow influence the Governor to intervene with the prison to have this unwritten “rule” changed. Mike said he would talk with some people and see what he could do.
On Monday morning I was scheduled to meet with Assistant Warden Ron Barry at 1:00 PM, and to visit with Amos from 1:30 to 3:30 PM. Amy Jo dropped me at the entrance to the administration building on time for my meeting and I waited for a short time in the lobby for the Assistant Warden to return from lunch. Mr. Barry was a large man with a somewhat gruff persona. I was taken to a conference room and seated at a large conference table. Mr. Barry initiated our meeting by pointing out my “STOP EXECUTIONS” button and commenting that it was not a tenant of my religion. I quoted the first precept to him that he seemed to grasp but responded by asking if there was a specific doctrine covering execution. I realized that this discussion was going nowhere and took off the button to put it in my sleeve pocket. I told him I would not wear it in the prison even though I had been allowed to wear it on my visit on the previous day. He told me that it was not sufficient for me to simply remove the button but that I had to take it out to the parking lot and place it in the car I arrived in.
I thought this was a wonderful start to our discussions. He explained the schedule for the next two days and I again expressed my distress about having to leave Amos alone for an hour before the scheduled execution. I was again referred to Susan Maher the Department of Corrections Deputy General Council in Tallahassee for clarification. I had tried several times earlier in the day to reach her but she was on the phone for over an hour. I asked Mr. Barry if it would be possible for us to take a photograph of Amos and me together that I could place on my altar and share with supporters. Mr. Barry said he would take the issue up with the Warden and get back to me.
Our meeting concluded, I walked out to Amy Jo’s car and gave her my button to hold for me. I entered the prison and was taken to the visiting area where Amos was waiting. We went through our greeting ritual and he told me how much better I looked. We chatted for quite some time, he mentioned that some motions were being filed and that he was hopeful. I told him about my meeting with Mr. Barry and we laughed over the button issue.
I had gone through a discussion the week before with the Assistant Warden over my position in the witness room. In Arkansas I stood at the side of the window and chanted out loud throughout the entire murderous procedure. I felt that sitting down for me was disrespectful, sitting down is too much like sitting in a movie theater waiting for the curtain to open and the film to begin. It smacked too much of waiting for the popcorn to come down the row. I explained my perceptions to Assistant Warden Barry and he said that I might be able to stand but only if I stood in the back where it would be hard for Amos to see me. Later when I told this to Amos he thought it was funny that I was standing up to the Assistant Warden and he said he appreciated my tenacity.
He was in good spirits. I showed him the piece I had written on Saturday the 22nd by holding the paper up to the glass for him to read. He had the same issue as I and used reading glasses, two old guys I guess. Here is the document:
Choreography of death
I am fully aware of the nature of the dance I may very well have to endure with Amos in the next four days. I have been through this before and know from direct personal experience that it is the ultimate exercise of premeditated murder ever conceived by mankind. Each and every event, each step, the placement of each of the individuals taking part in this choreographed dance of death has been predetermined. A judicial execution is the most cold blooded of premeditated murder possible.
My place in this deadly dance has been carefully crafted to maintain absolute control over my actions during the murderous process. I will be coerced into playing a role completely dictated by the deadly bureaucratic will of the Department of Corrections. It is foremost in my mind that every prison employee I come in contact with this next week will have the intention of killing Amos King. I am coerced into my role of remaining silent and cooperating with their rules and orders while I am with Amos out of fear of being bodily removed from his presence at this most critical time. In one sense, I am as much a part of this choreographed murder as those who strap him down to the gurney and those who pump poison into his veins.
Unless I physically try to stop their inevitable dance, I am cooperating in murder. Every witness to an execution who does not stand up in protest joins me in cooperating with this abomination. I fully accept this position and I am willing to stand in public with blood on my hands. The stains on my hands are the same for every citizen in the State of Florida. What has been ordered by Governor Jeb Bush is in the name of all of the people... each and every one of us bear responsibility for judicial homicide. If Governor Bush is unwilling to take full responsibility and be present at the execution he has ordered, then I will stand up in his place as a murderer.
He liked the piece and asked if it had been released to the press and I told him it had but I doubted if any would pick it up since it was too powerful and blunt for the corporate media. We talked for some length about Zen Buddhism, returning to the rebirth / reincarnation distinction, talking about anatta, karma, vipaka and intention. I went on for a while about refuge and we examined some of the implications of taking refuge, in preparation for his refuge ceremony on Wednesday. I had gained permission for all of the items to make for a nice ceremony. Amos would be allowed to receive a refuge sash and wear it for the remainder of his life, now measured in hours.
I led him in chanting, he had never been exposed to Rinzai Zen chanting before and he was enthralled with its power and vitality. He had been given a book of chants in Korean before but had no idea what the Korean syllables meant. I explained the entire morning service chants to him and gave him some idea of their origin. He was tremendously grateful and eager to learn as much as he could.
Amos loved Star Trek and he told me about a show that was on TV called “Andromeda” that I had never heard of. I liked Star Trek too and when I was younger I was an avid reader of science fiction. I felt somewhat inept talking about the shows, but his enthusiasm was delightful. I wished I had seen more of the episodes, he seemed to know them all and I had only glimpsed an odd one here and there in the recent years that the kids had shown me. Our time was short and before we knew it we were given a five minute warning and told our visit was almost over.
With warm smiles and down to earth gentleness we said our good-byes and I was escorted to the main gate. Amy Jo had been waiting in the parking lot reading. I felt drained from my time with Amos as I approached her car. We still had an hour of driving on the way back to Gainesville. Along the way we decided to have dinner at Bahn Thai, a Thai restaurant owned by Buddhist friends.
Pam Maneeratana and her husband own Bhan Thai and treated us to a delightful dinner on the house. The Maneeratanas are wonderful supporters and I am always treated like royalty in their establishment. They prepared Dan Hauser’s last meal when he was executed in August 2000 .
Amy Jo took a couple of photographs of the Maneeratanas and I after dinner. We had to leave early because Amy Jo had a meeting to attend. She dropped me off at her home and I spent the remainder of the evening sitting, reading and relaxing.
Tuesday Feb. 25th
On Tuesday morning I was able to get through to Susan Maher the Department of Corrections Deputy General Council in Tallahassee. I again asked to be allowed to remain with Amos for the hour prior to the scheduled execution and again I was firmly rebuffed. This time I was offered a reason for the refusal. I was informed that I was being taken out of the area to prevent me from identifying the people taking part in the execution she told me that “the identities of the participants are protected so that they can not be intimidated from participating in future executions.” I offered to sign a non-disclosure agreement but this was rejected. I asked about the documentation of this rule and was told that it was unwritten. I asked if it was in the execution protocol and was told that it was not. This was interesting because earlier I was told by Mr. Barry that there was no written execution protocol. I asked Ms. Maher for a copy of the protocol and she responded that she would give me a redacted copy. I asked about the nature of the redaction and she told me that the times would be blacked out. Since I was in a hurry and would be on the road to the prison I asked her if she could fax the document to the prison and I could pick it up there. She said she would comply.
Originally I had an appointment to meet with Amos from 1:30 to 3:30. Due to some scheduling issues, we were unable to leave on time but I was able to call the prison and inform them that I would be slightly delayed and would arrive at 2 PM. When we arrived at FSP I went in to see Mr. Barry to find out about taking the picture of Amos and me and he informed me that the Warden had disapproved it. I inquired about the fax from Susan Maher and was told it had not arrived. Mr. Barry said he would call her and arrange to receive the document while I was visiting Amos.
Amos was as usual delighted to see me. He filled me in on information regarding legal events. He admitted that he was not entirely optimistic and that we may very well have to accept that the execution would take place. We talked about being in a position of recognizing the inevitability of the killing and the approach to his death as a matter of graceful behavior while also bearing in mind the spirit of resistance to the death penalty.
Amos told me that he had a news conference and that there were a number of photographers, reporters and three TV crews. He said he felt pretty good about what he had been able to say and wondered out loud if it would have any impact on the situation. I told him I would watch the news later to see what they reported.
He told me he had prepared a final statement that he trusted would lead those witnessing his murder to question the execution and continue investigating his case. Never did Amos indicate that he was anything but innocent of the crime.
I told him about my conversations with the Assistant Warden and the Deputy General Council regarding the last hour before the scheduled time of 6 PM the following day. I expressed my frustration over the issue and promised that I would write about it afterwards. I also told him that taking a photograph of us together had been rejected. Amos was saddened over this because he knew how much such a picture would mean to me if he were to be killed. He promised he would appeal the decision to the warden and there might still be a chance that he would recognize the situation and express some compassion.
We went over some of the chants again. Amos had a copy of the Wildflower Zendo chanting brochure that covered all of the important chants for morning service. I had hoped to present him with a sutra book but was informed that they would remove the hard cover of the book before giving it to him. I didn’t want him to have a ragged book and there was no time to properly rebind the book with a soft cover.
I had asked Amos several times about his family and he seemed reluctant to speak of them. He told me that they would not come for the scheduled execution and that it was not a problem. I felt bad, I also felt touched that he had chosen me to be the person with him at this time and honored me as his only friend and family there for him during this horror. There is still something about this relationship that resonates deeply in me. He was a black man and all throughout his life had experienced racism from white people and yet he had elected to share his last days with a white man. I can not yet put words to the feelings and perceptions inside me over this matter. I know that he taught me a very profound and valuable lesson that is an on-going process in me. I bow deeply to my brother Amos.
We talked about my writing about our experiences together and he supported my being totally open about sharing our conversations and interactions. His attitude was that his and our story should be told for all the world to see.
Our time together was short, two hours a day for three days prior to Wednesday and five hours prior to the scheduled execution. These arbitrary rules and the visitation through glass felt really restrictive and disrespectful. I was continually faced with the efforts of the guards and particularly the prison officials to dehumanize Amos. This is very much a part of the execution process on a psychological level. There is some part of these people who implement this killing that recognizes the need to dehumanize the condemned person in order to be able to justify their actions in carrying out a legal homicide.
We were told again that our time was up and we looked at each other for quite some time. There was really not much to say, we both knew that in twenty six and a half hours he could be dead. Amos smiled at me and I was for a second startled at his facial expression of intense gratitude and graciousness toward me. We did our customary bows and I departed with the guard out of the visiting area.
As I was leaving the sally port gate I encountered a group of officers entering the prison. One of them had a carrier loaded with four cylinders of “OC” - Oleoresin capsicum- (pepper spray) an inflammatory agent that causes: intense burning sensation of the skin, tearing and involuntary closing of the eyes, nasal discharge, sneezing, disorientation and the sensation of respiratory distress. Over the years I have heard innumerable complaints over the use of this chemical agent on prisoners. The substance is banned for use in war by the Geneva Convention but is routinely used in prisons against prisoners who are violent and in some cases it is used arbitrarily for the express purpose of punishment -- essentially chemical torture. Seeing the guard bringing this chemical agent into the prison was sobering indeed.
I walked over to the administration building and was met by Assistant Warden Barry who presented me with a copy of the redacted protocol that he had denied existed in a phone call the previous Friday.
I went out into the parking lot and had a smoke while Amy Jo read the document and passed the pages to me. I was disconcerted that in the entire six page document there was not one single mention of the presence of a spiritual advisor, priest or minister. I was tired on leaving the prison and appreciated Amy Jo for being there and caring for me through all of this. I relaxed into the car seat and just spaced out watching the country side pass as she drove home. At some point thoughts of the protocol document arose and I considered what it represented. I have read protocols from other states and had experienced the execution of Jusan Frankie Parker some six years earlier. Florida was very different; that was immediately apparent.
On arriving at her house I relaxed for a while and Amy Jo prepared a dinner. I had contacted Carol Thomas, a friend of Dakota who lived in the area. Carol came over and the three of us had an lovely meal and conversation. I promised to send Carol some of the essays I had written on various subjects. Carol is a powerful revolutionary spirit and has been a social justice activist for many years. We talked about many aspects of the world we are facing and the precarious place we find ourselves on the eve of a terrible war and on the eve of the execution of a dear friend. We enjoyed our meal and I appreciated the company of these two fine women.
Carol departed; as I walked her out to her car she expressed her concern for Amos and wished me the strength to prevail through the horror of the coming day. Amy Jo and I watched a couple of segments on the TV news and saw a couple of “sound bites” at Amos’ news conference held prior to my visit.
There was little to say about the news, they did not go into Amos’ case in depth. It is apparent that news reporting of executions has been pre-packaged into predictable formats and reporting consists of nothing more than an exercise in painting in the picture by the numbers. I was tired; I had a sense of dread about the day to follow...
Wednesday Feb. 26th -- The Last Day
I awoke, still with the sense of dread. I was clear in my intention and carefully shaved, showered and dressed for the day. I cooked up three eggs and made a plain egg sandwich with coffee. I was not concerned much over eating and my stomach was somewhat shaky.
We left Amy Jo’s house at 9:45 AM. I made sure I had all of the items I would need for the Refuge Ceremony for Amos and I made sure my sitting cushions were packed and ready to go. I was pensive on the ride to the prison, a lot of memories from Jusan’s execution came up as we drove along. It is about fifty miles from Amy Jo’s house in Gainesville to Starke where Florida State Prison is. The trip takes about an hour over the back roads that are all two-lane highways.
Amy Jo dropped me off at the gate and I gave her my “STOP EXECUTIONS” button to hold for me. I planned on picking up the button from her when the execution was over or if Amos received a stay. I wanted to make sure I wore the button when I spoke to the press at the press tent set up adjacent to the Prison across the highway. Amy Jo was scheduled to drive back to Gainesville and meet with the Gainesville Citizens for Alternatives to the Death Penalty . The group planned to be at the designated site across from the prison to protest the execution.
I carried my sitting cushions along with my monk’s bag through the sally port and entered the prison building. I presented my ID to the control station and signed in the visitor’s book. My ID was held there and I was given a badge with a large green number “1” on it and had to wear it throughout my visit. I clipped it onto one of my Rakusu tabs since there really wasn’t any place to put it on my formal robes.
I was met at the security check point by Chaplain Wright and a guard who was assigned to search me. I had sent a list to the prison earlier covering the items I was bringing in. I presented the guard with my sitting cushions that were looked at and put on a side table. I removed my watch, gave the guard my monks bag and walked through the metal detector. I was “clean” and the guard attended to looking through the contents of my bag. He went through it item by item and I offered to dump out the entire contents for him to make the examination easier. He had a green sheet of paper listing the allowed items. In my bag was a little disposable camera that I purchased at a convenience store in case the warden decided to allow us to take a picture. The camera was put aside as it did not appear on the list.
I had brought a box of incense with me that was given to me by Shodo Harada Roshi on our visit to death row in Arkansas in August 2000. The green sheet listed 2 or 3 sticks of incense so I had to remove three sticks from the box and make sure they were carefully carried down to the death watch cell. The box was put with the camera and the remainder of my bag was gone through. I had a few Engaged Zen Foundation brochures that were also removed. I had informed the prison that I required two medications and they were allowed in. All of the objectionable items were placed in a plastic bag and held for me at the control room.
A lieutenant was there at the check point and got a verbal OK for me to bring in a pain killer that I brought in case my arthritic knees gave me trouble while sitting in zazen posture for five hours. I was allowed to hold onto my nitroglycerin but the officer took custody of the pain killer and held it for me if I needed to take one later.
Once all the material was checked and I was cleared, Chaplain Wright, the officer and I were allowed into the main hall of the prison. The facility was certainly one of the cleaner prisons I had been in. There were prisoners cleaning and polishing the solid brass fixtures on doors. They were paying a lot of attention to detail and even polishing the brass lock cylinders on the doors. The floors were polished to a high sheen and in general the place sparkled.
I was certainly the center of attention as we walked along. Many of the prisoners had never seen a Rinzai Zen Monk in formal robes and it is a sight to behold in a prison environment. Dress is important in prison, the guards and officers have designated uniforms as do the prisoners administrators and civilian employees wear street clothing and make up a smaller subset. It is a way of identifying the class structure of the social order. However, my attire is totally out of the picture that everyone is used to, it attracts attention and also sends a message. Those prisoners who can not figure out who I am will soon find out through the grapevine. Everyone in the prison was aware of the execution. All of the guards and officers were in formal uniforms for the day. Nowhere were there the daily uniforms of tight Tee shirts, military trousers and black combat boots.
When I am in prisons I always make eye contact with as many prisoners as I can. There is an unwritten rule in prison not to make eye contact and this custom is universal. In my position as an anomaly to the social hierarchy I am able to make that fleeting eye contact sometimes accompanied with a nod or a slight bow to indicate solidarity. This morning in FSP I was under intense scrutiny and I made sure I acknowledged the presence of as many men as possible. Do not misunderstand that my expression of solidarity indicates naiveté, I am well aware of the danger inside the walls and Florida State Prison is definitely a dangerous place.
I was very conscious of the fact that all the prisoners I saw around working were from the minimum security prison across the street. As we walked along I noticed the doors to the various “wings” of the facility marked alphabetically. One of the doors was open and I was able to walk over for a second and look into the wing. It consisted of three tiers and the cell doors were solid, no bars, just an observation window and food slot. The wing I saw was clean although somewhat dark. Each wing had doors on the first level that allowed prisoners out into “recreation areas” surrounding the wings. These consisted of cages made of cyclone fencing and appeared to be large “dog runs.” Inside each cage was a “monkey bar” structure built from steel pipe that had cross bars so that prisoners could work out on then doing chin ups and other exercises.
As we walked down this long main hall I asked the officer about the capacity of the facility and he told me that they held around a thousand prisoners and were not up to capacity. This struck me as unusual; most prisons I visit wind up being over capacity .
We arrived at the end of the hallway and entered a door marked with the letter “Q”. I looked for the infamous “X Wing” where death row prisoner Frank Valdez was beaten to death by guards in July 1999. Since that incident, the department of corrections has installed video cameras throughout “Q”wing, the disciplinary wing. The "R" and "S" wings are were death row wings and house some fifty odd death row prisoners; the other three hundred or so are housed in Union Correctional Institution adjacent to FSP about a mile down highway SR-16.
I was led down a flight of stairs to the right of the reception room of “Q” wing and at the bottom of the stairs we approached a standard household door equipped with a peep hole. This was an odd sight in a prison; the door was flimsy and could be destroyed in short order by a kick or two. It was there just for privacy; after passing through the portal I saw a wall of bars to my right with a standard barred door. There was an officer on duty in this area and he opened the bar door for us to enter. About fifteen feet inside this room were the two death watch cells.
Amos was in the first cell and after placing my cushions on the floor I immediately approached the bars of his cell and put my hand inside to shake hands with him. This was the first physical human contact we had. As we shook hands, I could not help but focus single-mindedly on our action.... a black hand shaking a white hand in solidarity, two friends, totally focused on simply feeling each other’s physical presence. It was intense...
I arranged my cushions as close to the bars as possible to the right side of the cell. Amos brought his sitting cushions to the other side of the bars so that we could sit face to face. I was very grateful that he had been allowed to have a set of sitting cushions, these props are vital in the Zen tradition for enabling a practitioner to sit comfortably in the yogic posture of zazen (seated introspective meditative practice.)
It took me a few moments to get oriented, to put my monk’s bag nearby where I could get to it and in a place that was comfortable for the guards present. Chaplain Wright had hand carried the incense sticks from the front gate and I carefully placed them on the top of the enclosure of one of the two air conditioners opposite the death watch cells. There were always at least two guards present on death watch and at times they were joined by white shirted officers. There was a small table set up in front of Amos’ cell and two chairs were placed so that the guards could sit at the table and record their notations in the death watch log.
Where I was sitting facing the cell, the death watch officers were behind my right shoulder. On the other side behind my left shoulder were two other chairs, one of which was occupied by one of the facility chaplains. When I entered the area I immediately saw three high-security ceiling-mount enclosures for video cameras installed in the ceiling of the area. I asked if we were being video taped and was informed by the officers that the cameras had been removed. I looked into one of the enclosures and noted that there was a loose coax cable hanging inside. I am not entirely sure these units were not operable nor was I sure we were not being audio monitored even after being reassured by the guards that there were no recording devices present.
I bowed, sat down and greeted Amos. He was happy to see me and glad for the contact visit even through bars, but here we were. His cell was huge by any standard, there was an integral bed on the wall towards the back left side , a small sink next to it and a commode. Directly behind where I sat were two cardboard boxes containing his possessions. These were kept out of his reach but he was allowed access to his materials on request but he had to return the materials to the officer when he was finished with them.
We made some small talk for a brief time when the telephone behind me by the guard station rang. Chaplain Wright was called to the phone and shortly thereafter he told me the call was for me. I stood up and took the receiver. The caller was Assistant Warden Barry and the first thing he said to me was that I had committed a “very serious offense” by attempting to bring in a camera when I was specifically told that no pictures would be allowed. His tone was aggressive and his manner intimidating. I pointed out to him that the day before I had indeed been told there would be no photographs but that I was aware that it was a “local” decision made by the Warden and that I was aware that he could possibly change his mind. I further pointed out that Amos had made an appeal to the Warden on this matter the afternoon before. I told him I had only brought the camera to the prison in case the prohibition had been lifted. I emphatically pointed out that I had presented the camera to the guard at the security check point in my open bag that I offered to dump out for complete inspection. I went on to mention that I had not secreted the camera in my robes, or up my sleeve or taped it to my leg or in any way tried to conceal it on my person. He seemed to consider what I said and apparently let the matter drop. I was somewhat nonplused and felt that his accusation was a lashing out from the pressure of the execution and the Department’s wariness of me as a well known abolitionist activist.
I sat down again and told Amos about the conversation, he had heard my end of it and said he appreciated my responses. This had sort of been an element of our bond: he had faith in me that I would be strong enough to stand up for him and for what is morally and ethically correct. I can only hope that I lived up to his expectations.
I decided that we could begin our time together by performing the refuge ceremony and I asked him if that would be OK. He was delighted and I began to get the materials for the ceremony set up by my cushions. I asked the guards if it would be possible to turn off the air conditioners during the ceremony since they were noisy. This was not a decision they could make and they had to consult a lieutenant. It seemed that there was another unwritten rule in place that the temperature in the death watch area could never go above 71º. I explained the situation to the lieutenant, that we had to do some chanting and that the environment needed to be as quiet as possible during the brief ceremony. He finally made the call and the noisy machines were turned off momentarily.
I sat down again and laid out my Sutra Book, incense and lighter, hand bell and Amos’ refuge sash. I sat in my best posture, offered Amos some instruction in sitting posture and lit the three sticks of incense representing the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. I had to place the three burning sticks on one of the horizontal flat members of the bars between us. I had entertained the idea of bringing in a traditional incense burned filled with white ash but thought better of the idea knowing how prison security personnel feel about people bringing in strange white powder into their facilities.
Our accouterments were minimal, we had talked about the nature of the ceremony before and I had presented the idea that the ceremony is an announcement of what already exists and that the essence of the activity resides in the heart of the practitioner and not in vestments, instruments or fancy material objects. Amos understood that his refuge took place in his heart and that was the most important thing. He had his sutra card and I told him that I would do the first chants and he was welcome to join in as he felt comfortable.
To me chanting is a powerful expression and I have been blessed with a big, deep, booming voice. I began by ringing the hand bell and placing it down on the floor in a very deliberate manner. The first chant was the Atta Dipa that is my favorite chant of all the Rinzai Zen liturgy. I let it out of me with all my might and I could feel it resonate from the hard walls of the chamber.... the guards all became very still and were startled by the mesmerizing power of the chant. Atta Dipa are the alleged last words of the dying Buddha urging us to:
“Be a light unto ourselves...”
I then rang the hand bell and chanted the Vandana an expression of homage to the Buddha who awakened for the sake of all beings. Then I did the Tisarana, the recitation of the three refuges in the traditional Pali. The English translation is as follows:
I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.
This was followed by the Purification verse:
All the karma accumulated by me since of old
On account of my beginningless greed, anger and folly
Born of my body, mouth and thought
I now renounce and purify them all.
We chanted the purification three times. I then rang the bell and we chanted the Tisarana three more times as I passed the folded refuge sash through the incense smoke to purify it. I them asked Amos to lean forward and I reached through the bars and placed the sash over his head. We then bowed to each other and I congratulated him.
I was about to put away the bell and my sutra book when Amos quietly asked what chanting was done in a Zen Buddhist memorial service. I felt a little stunned and I explained that we did something called Dai Segaki chanting that was in Japanese. He laughed and said he didn’t have time to learn what the Japanese meant. So I told him we also do a short chant in English called the Memorial Dedication. He said he would like me to do that for him.
I was really touched by his request and I chanted the dedication for him with the date and his name included in the text..... It seemed strange to me to do it this way, but it was certainly apropos since he only had four or so hours left to live.
Amos was grateful for my chanting, grateful for his refuge ceremony, grateful for our friendship and grateful for our solidarity. Our ceremony was complete and the guards were now able to turn on the air conditioners again. The temperature had never gone above that critical 71º mark.
I initiated a conversation with the Chaplain about a book he was reading entitled “Forgiveness”. We talked about the true nature of forgiveness, that being forgiveness without conditions, unconditional forgiveness. I told him how I had read about one of the relatives of the victim in Amos’ case stating that she would like to forgive him but could not [forgive him] until he made a confession. This seemed to point to the gist of the theme of his book.
The Chaplain asked me about the refuge sash I had given Amos and I explained that Refuge was sort of like “Baptism” in the Buddhist tradition and that the sash was symbolic of the Buddha’s robe. I told him about the history of the kesa leading to the rakusu. I also explained the significance of my robes and their evolution as Buddhism moved from India into China and on to Japan.
Amos and I talked a lot about various things he knew there was still a chance that the US Supreme Court could act and he also knew that there were other legal actions taking place in an effort to halt the execution. He was well aware that they were all long shots. He had deliberately left his wristwatch on his bed so as not to be watching the time but on occasion asked me what time it was.
He got a telephone call from Sissel and was able to talk to her for fifteen minutes. I moved away from the cell front to afford him some privacy. He had little of that with three people in front of his cell at all times. I glanced over at him for a second and saw him sitting on the floor leaning against the wall huddled up facing the back of the cell while talking to Sissel.
After his call we talked for quite some time. As the day wore on the number of people in the area increased. The death watch cells are directly adjacent to the death chamber and separated by a wide sliding steel door. The side of the door facing the cells has no handles, lock cylinders or other mechanisms on it. All access to the death chamber is through the people on the other side of the door. This door was opened a number of times and people were admitted to the room from time to time. I glanced up a number of times and caught glimpses of what lay on the other side. It was apparent that the execution chamber was smaller than I expected; definitely not as big as the Arkansas death chamber.
A number of the men who passed behind me and entered the chamber were dressed in suits; some were officers in white shirts. Some of the faces were vaguely familiar, I had seen then at times in the facility at some point or other. All of them took pains not to make eye contact with me and every one of them was concerned about focusing on the task of the legalized lynching they were planning.
Amos was very gracious toward me, he asked about my arthritis, he offered me a soda from his “stash” of commissary items that the guards held for him and he offered me snacks from one of his cardboard boxes. I was grateful for a soda and one of the guards handed me a coke from a small cooler they had with Amos’ drinks in it. With all the talking, the chanting and I suppose a fair amount of idle gossip I was definitely grateful to be able to wet my whistle!
Amos put together some legal documents for me that he wanted me to forward to other folks. They were power of attorney documents that he had hand written. He was not allowed to give me any documents but he was able to put them in an envelope to mail to me at The Engaged Zen Foundation. He asked about all of the people who had helped make my trips to Florida possible and I told him all of the names. He asked me to express his hearth felt gratitude to them all.
At one point, we were both just sitting there and without any planned action we both fell into zazen practice. We sat together for some forty minutes. I was totally unaware of the activity taking place behind us, I could feel the effect our sitting was having on those assigned to watch us. It was a delightful spontaneous experience. I had not gone in with any particular plan or agenda as to how we would spend the day. I simply felt that it was my job first and foremost to be his best friend and let him determine what we did together.
At around three o’clock I asked Amos if I might be excused for a while so I could use the bathroom and perhaps go out for a smoke. I asked the guards and they referred me to a captain who was there and he said he would be glad to take me out for a bit so that he could also have a smoke. I used the little bathroom off the entry area for the death watch cells and joined the captain for a long walk through the main hall of the facility to a rear door. It felt good to be outside and I was grateful for the opportunity for a cigarette. A couple of other guards joined us, it seemed to be the “smoking lounge.”
The captain said he was surprised that a Buddhist monk would smoke. I told him it was like this: “You know all the meditation we do over the years makes us so holy that if we didn’t have just one vice we would float away...” He loved it! It broke the ice and the questions started coming. I told them about my prison work, about my abolitionist work and had a chance to relate with them on a level they could grasp. Probably all of them came away with an impression that a Buddhist monk was no slouch - nor a wall flower. They asked me about my robes and how I could walk around in then in penitentiaries. I told them it took a big set of balls to walk around in a maximum security prison in a black dress. They loved it.
I was anxious to get back to Amos and we walked down the hall with the Captain telling me that the facility was over forty years old and that over the past few years they had made serious improvements.
I was glad to get back to Amos and we again sat down together. We held hands together through the bars for a time. It felt good to have his hands in mine, I knew that he had been deprived of human contact for a long, long time. For him I was someone who posed no threat, something very rare on death row. Amos had been on the row for twenty five years; he rarely had contact with people other that prisoners and guards. I did my best to offer whatever warmth and compassion I could.
I started to have trouble with my knees toward the end of the afternoon and had to take a pain reliever. The knees have been a major problem for the past five years and long sitting periods can exacerbate the situation. There have been times I have been forced to sit zazen in a chair. As time went on Amos began asking more often about the time; he finally went to his bed, retrieved his watch and put it on.
We again fell into a spontaneous zazen space and sat for quite some time. The traffic in the area increased as men came in and out of the execution chamber. The tension was palpable toward the last hour we were to be together. I had not been watching the time so much only focusing on Amos when the Chaplain came over, leaned down and quietly told me that we only had a half hour left together.
I felt anxious and I knew Amos was feeling the tension. At one point a man in a white lab coat with a stethoscope hanging out of his pocket passed by behind us and went into the execution chamber. He actually had a sneer on his face when I caught him glancing at Amos. Amos said, “That’s the Russian Doctor.” I felt helpless... The Doctor was Dr. Victor Selyutin, a Russian-born gynecologist who came to this country nine years ago. Dr. Selyutin has taken part in a number of executions in the past including the murder of Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis the last execution by electric chair in Florida on July 8, 1999. I shuddered as he entered the execution chamber.
I had planned to give Amos a final blessing before being forced to leave him. Two of our incense sticks had burned down to two inch long stubs because of the way they leaned on the bars. I took them and lit them, placing the burning ends over the bars. Amos told me how much he enjoyed the incense and that he had never before smelled Japanese Buddhist temple incense and what a wonderful treat it was for him. I told him how special incense is because of how it affects the brain on such visceral and primitive levels and how it helps our zazen.
As I was talking with him a bald stocky man in a suit came into the entry area and was being let through the gate by the guard at that post. In a loud voice he said, “What’s that I smell?” and in a louder voice, “Is that incense?” and finally yelling “Put that out!!” The fury poured out of the guy, it was startling.
I remained seated, looked up at him as he approached and said, “Who are you?” He was furious, his face red with rage, he responded, “I’m Allen Clark Assistant Warden of Operations. I said, “Well warden, if you look at the green sheet of paper at the main gate you will see that we were permitted to bring in three sticks of incense that I did.” He stammered out, “Who approved that?” I said, “assistant Warden Ron Barry.” Without any further comment he simply turned and walked away into the execution chamber.
He was really upset that I would not be intimidated and that the incense was within the rules. Amos was upset but also pleased at watching my interaction with Clark. I was disappointed that this man had so crudely interrupted my blessing for Amos in such a malicious manner.
Shortly after that the Chaplain told me that we only had five minutes left. I felt conflicted -- I wanted to stay with Amos; I wanted to hold onto him and protect him from these men. All of the men that had been coming and going behind us carried themselves like thugs, their disdain for Amos was evident each time they passed by the cell.
I felt so helpless, there was still hope and I knew that Amos was quite clear that there was a chance of life right up to his last breath, we had talked about that several times. The men behind us were beginning to move around nervously, they moved the chairs and the little table away. Amos and I leaned closer together, we held each other’s hands and shook them in unison a gesture of human warmth and solidarity. Finally a voice said it’s time to go. I instinctively glanced at my watch, it was 4:55 PM. I stood up, moved forward to the bars and put my arms through. Amos did likewise, we hugged each other.... I told him I loved him and to be well, he said thank you brother. We broke our embrace and I had wedged my right arm through the bars and got my elbow caught between them. He gently helped me push my elbow through and we bowed to each other. I picked up my bag and cushions and was escorted out of the area by the chaplains.
I was escorted out by both of the prison Chaplains, we walked down the main hall of the prison and I thanked both of them for being there and expressed my appreciation for their support of me during this difficult day. It was a long walk back out to the main gate and I was feeling shaky and anxious about what was happening to Amos.
I never knew what happened about his “last meal” request, it crossed my mind to ask about it but for some reason I never brought it up with him. I had given Assistant Warden Barry a copy of the Bahn Thai menu the day before but never heard anything about it.
We got to the main gate and I was able to leave my cushions in the control room to pick up later. I was then escorted out of the perimeter fence through the sally port gate. I went to the administration building lobby. I saw a number of people in the lobby, a lot of beefy men with the look of cops about them with some women there sitting on the chairs on the left side of the lobby. I assumed that some of the women were relatives of the victim in Amos’ case.
I was given the address and telephone number of one of the women two weeks before. I was very concerned that any effort on my part to contact them would be intrusive and out of place. I certainly did not wish to add in any way to their suffering or stress.
I was asked by an official to sign a witness form and I did. I asked him if I could have a copy of the “press packet” on the execution handed out to the press courtesy of the Department, he told me they didn’t have any, that they had all been taken over to the press tent. I asked him if they would drop me off at the press area after the execution and he said I would only be brought back to the administration building. I asked if I could use a phone to call Amy Jo and ask her to pick me up from the Administration Building so I could take part in the press conference. I was taken to the other side of the room to a telephone sitting on a little table between two rows of chairs.
Next to the table was a man sitting in one of the chairs and looking intensely at a cell phone. He stood up and introduced himself, this was Amos’ lawyer, Peter Cannon. I was startled by his appearance; he looked so young and he was unshaven although dressed in a nice suit. He appeared disheveled and incredibly stressed. He told me that the motion in the State Court had been denied and that he was waiting for a call from the US Supreme Court as we spoke. He also said there were other filings taking place even at this late hour. I told him Amos was doing well considering the circumstances.
I made my call and was able to reach Amy Jo on her cell phone. She agreed to meet me shortly after six o’clock and take me across the highway to the protest demo and the press tent.
I sat with Peter for a while and we waited for his phone to ring. There was a woman in the lobby who seemed to be an official of some kind and I asked her if the other women were the victim’s relatives and she said yes they were. I told her that I would be willing to talk with them if they wished but that I did not in any way wish to intrude. As I looked into this woman’s face I realized that there was no way she was going to relay my overture to the relatives. She had a condescending look and I noticed that her eyebrows were somehow drawn on her face, she told me that the Department of Corrections could not convey my message. I felt her disdain and walked away.
I saw Warden Joseph E. Thompson, Secretary James Crosby's personal pick for his own old warden job at the prison in the lobby briefly. I did not see him after that; he was absent from the execution team present in the execution chamber.
Time passed and we were told that we were to proceed into the prison through the sally port and pass through a security check. I again presented my ID, passed through the metal detector and joined the group on the other side. I knew they would take Peter’s cell phone and I didn’t know if he had heard anything from the Supreme Court. We were walked through the prison and exited out of the door where I had gone for a smoke earlier in the day.
We descended a flight of stairs and there were two white vans waiting for us. I waited as people got into the vans and was directed into one van by a guard and sat in the seat directly behind the driver. Peter entered behind me and sat next to me. What happened then was absolutely astounding. The woman official with the painted on eyebrows got in the front seat and when the guard who was driving got in she began talking about the weather. The guard turned on the engine and immediately the radio came on. As the van started moving she continued chattering and the radio remained on. In a firm voice so all could hear I said, “Can you turn off that radio please?” I was flabbergasted that these people were behaving like it was just another day on the job as we were about to watch a human being murdered in front of us.
Wednesday Feb. 26th -- In the execution witness room
The vans traversed the length of the prison and rounded the corner to the outside of “Q” wing. There, by a small door, a guard was waiting for us. As we exited the vans and approached the open door, we heard the noise being made by the protesters over a quarter of a mile away across the highway. The guard called off names and each person entered the room in order. There was another guard inside directing people to sit down in four rows of chairs facing a large picture window with a brown curtain drawn across it on the far side. I was seated in the second to last seat of the front row. The painted woman sat next to me. I could see the people being seated behind me in the reflections in the window. Peter was behind me in the second row. After a few minutes another group of people entered the room and filled the last two rows of chairs. I could see some of them with note pads; they were press representatives.
After every one was seated, one of the guards locked the door from the inside. The front row was perhaps twenty inches from the glass and the bright fluorescent light in the execution chamber could be seen through the weave of the brown curtains in places. Nothing was said to us as we sat there waiting. I began chanting silently the refuges, over and over again, repeating what Amos and I had said together earlier in the day on the other side of the execution chamber.
The minutes passed by, at 6:10 PM there was a single telephone ring that came from the execution chamber, nothing happened. Fifteen, twenty minutes passed..... I began to wonder what was taking place. I thought that there might have been some kind of problem in setting the IV s and that they had to do a cut down procedure, cutting into his groin to locate the femoral artery. I though he was back there suffering as some inept technician or quack doctor cut into him.
The other people in the room were feeling the tension as it dragged on with no explanation forthcoming. I did zazen with great intensity.
Shortly before 6:30 there was some movement in the death chamber and figures could be made out in motion through the weave of the fabric behind the curtain. I was able to determine that they had wheeled the Stryker gurney into the chamber at that point. At 6:32 with no warning the brown curtain opened in front of us revealing the bright fluorescent lighted death chamber in its entirety.
Amos King was strapped to the modified gurney; the side rails (usually present to prevent the patient from falling off and that swivel down for transfer) had been removed and two arm boards had been attached to the gurney. Amos was covered with a crisp white sheet from his feet to his mid chest. The IV line feeding into his right arm was clearly visible on the diagonal board extending out from the modern Stryker hospital gurney. The pink locking hub of the peripheral vascular catheter, commonly called an angiocath, was held in place with a single piece of surgical tape. The pink color indicated that it was either a twenty gauge or an eighteen gauge angiocath (depending on the manufacturer). A large digital LED clock with bright red numerals hung high on the wall behind Amos’ head.
His right arm was held down with two heavy duty restraint straps and his hand had been twisted around and completely taped over with heavy surgical tape to prevent him from rolling his arm to avoid the placement of the catheter. I could not see his left arm but I assume it was prepared and restrained in the same manner. A clear tygon tube extended from the hub in Amos’ arm and ran under the table to a small rectangular opening in the wall directly behind the gurney. The opening was to the right of a large one-way mirror mounted at an angle protruding from the back wall. Behind this mirror, supposedly sat an unidentified person with eight syringes who was paid one hundred and fifty dollars cash by the Department for the task of sequentially injecting eight syringes filled with lethal doses of drugs and physiological saline line clearing solution into Amos.
One of the nieces of Tillie Brady started to sob at the sight. I could not help but think how witnessing the traumatic event of a highly premeditated murder would offer anything other than more stress to these women and their family. For over twenty five years they had no sense of finality in the sentencing of the person they perceived as the perpetrator in the ghastly torture and murder of their elderly aunt Tillie.
As soon as the curtain opened Amos leaned up and craned his head to see into the witness room. He looked around, saw me in the front seat closest to his head. He nodded to me that I took to be a bow and I made a seated bow to him. The week before I had asked if I would be allowed to stand up briefly and bow to him once, but that was rejected. I finally capitulated to being seated, but I did manage to bow so far forward as to touch my forehead on the glass of the window.
He continued looking around the room at the witnesses, straining to lean his head and shoulder up from the restraining straps on the gurney. They had one large strap coming over his left shoulder and diagonally across his chest that terminated to the gurney frame just above his waist level.
Behind the gurney, dressed in formal white shirt stood Colonel Lamar Griffis; directly to my left, standing behind Amos’ head was another senior officer, a large very dark complexioned Black man. Directly in front of the gurney at my right stood Assistant Warden Allen Clark, an ivory colored telephone handset with a long cord attached to a wall phone in his hand, the ear piece held to his ear. Next to him was Department of Corrections Secretary James V. Crosby, himself the former Warden of Florida State Prison and an experienced professional executioner. Next to him was a very tall man in a dark suit followed by another man in a suit and two officers in white shirts were to the rear of the chamber by the inside of the sliding steel door.
Amos made his statement... He thanked some supporters by name and continued for four minutes. Here are some reported quotes:
``I would like the governor and the family to know I am an innocent man and the state had evidence to that effect, I'm sorry for the victim's family, for all the things we have gone through.''
``I should have had a new trial. We could have been much more closer to the truth,''
"We got close to the truth, we got it out there even though it was to no benefit."
He asked and looked around for James McDonough, the prison guard he had fought with on the night of the crime. But McDonough, who said he wanted to watch Amos die, was not in the witness room.
"I'm sorry I can't offer relief to the family, look at the evidence. Then if you want to hate me..." and he trailed off.
He finished by looking directly at me and with a little nod said “Reverend Kobutsu, thank you for everything you have done for me” Then he said “That’s it.” It was 6:36 PM and the microphone was shut off.
Some seconds later he said some things that we could not hear. I was stunned and spontaneously said out loud, “We can’t hear him. What is he saying?” The painted lady next to me whispered “Shhhsh!” and a guard said, “No talking” and moved closer to me at the side of the window.
A minute later his chest stopped moving, several minutes passed and at 6:42 a man in a lab coat came out from behind the curtain at the rear of the chamber. The man checked Amos’ heart beat with a stethoscope, then he returned behind the curtain. Then Dr. Victor Selyutin the second man also dressed in a white medical lab coat came out, checked Amos for a heart beat with a stethoscope and then checked his eyes. Dr. Selyutin then looked toward Assistant Warden Allen Clark and nodded.
The Florida State Execution Protocol specifically states that:
“Once the condemned inmate is pronounced dead by the physician, the member of the Execution Team designated by the Warden shall record the time death is pronounced.”
The ethical rules of the American Medical Association specifically forbid member physicians from pronouncing death as this involves direct examination of the body and should the physician determine the condemned person is not dead it would lead to further application of poison to bring about death. There is a big difference between pronouncing death and certifying death.
What any physician, nurse or medical technician would be doing in an execution chamber is a real question in view of the primary intent of medicine being that of first doing no harm. I could not help but wonder it Dr. Selyutin had made himself an extra hundred and fifty bucks for the day by administering the poisons himself.
At that point the curtain was quickly drawn over the observation window and we were told to leave the witness area, official State witnesses first.
Wednesday Feb. 26th -- The aftermath
As I walked out of the building I noticed how dark it had become. There were people still exiting from the witness room behind me as I walked toward Peter Cannon, Amos’ attorney standing at the edge of the tarmac sobbing. I walked close to him and said, “Give me a hug Peter..” we embraced and he quietly said, “I did my best and it just wasn’t good enough...” I knew full well that this young man had done the best he possibly could for Amos and I also knew how the odds were stacked against his efforts. There was little I could say in consolation. I glanced up over his left shoulder and saw that while the sun had gone down it was still illuminating the upper atmosphere and there was a light azure background revealing a dark and foreboding looking thunder cloud in the foreground.
I said to him, “Peter, look up there...” pointing to thunder clouds in the sky, “Amos is there Peter...” We walked to the waiting van. I have no idea why I said that to him, but I was surprised to learn the next day Governor Jeb Bush’s airplane had been struck by lightning. No one was hurt but it seemed somehow apropos.
The van we were directed to had only one passenger, an older man who sat behind us. Peter and I sat in the foremost bench seat and the van proceeded to the vehicle exit where it was checked by security and allowed to exit the fence perimeter. A couple of hundred yards later we were at the front of the Administration building. I asked Peter if he would join me at the protest site and talk with the press. He was very upset and declined. I assured him I would be in touch.
Amy Jo drove her car up behind the van and I walked over to her. I told her I would be right there after I retrieved my cushions and things from the front gate. I entered the sally port and approached the prison entrance. Just inside the entryway there is a barred gate leading into the control room lobby and I stood at this gate with my hands on my hips waiting for the control officer to recognize me and open the gate. As I stood there I noticed that the execution team, Crosby, Clark and the others were approaching the lobby from the inside of the prison. They appeared as well dressed, manicured thugs... people who thrived on domination and control.
They were startled to see a Rinzai Zen Priest in full formal robes blocking their exit route. I was very careful to look at each one of them, directly in the eyes.... One of the effects of formal Zen training for over three decades is an ability to perceive things about individuals by their presence that most lay people can not fathom. The men I was looking at were deeply ashamed and all of them tried to look away from me and avert their eyes. Secretary Crosby decided to be aggressive with me and he approached me face to face with the bars between us. In an intimidating and threatening tone said, “Is there something we can do for you?” The guard manning the area intervened and said, “He’s only here to pick up his things.” As he said that, the gate slid open and he handed my sitting cushions and the plastic bag of my property that had been kept at the gate. I thanked him, turned, and walked out.
On leaving the security sally port I headed for Amy Jo’s car and put my sitting cushions in the back seat. It was 6:48, she handed me my contraband “STOP EXECUTIONS” button that I put on my rakusu. as we pulled out of the parking lot.
We crossed the highway and turned into the media parking area next to the media tent and the satellite TV news trucks parked there. A guard was there and stopped us. He asked if we had a media pass and Amy Jo said that we didn’t but that I was Amos King’s spiritual advisor. He looked in the car and saw me in my robes, he hesitated for a second, and said he still could not let us park there. He directed us to drive all they way around the other side of the area to park. I said to Amy Jo that I would get out there and walk to the media tent while she parked the car. The guard said that would not be permitted either.
We turned right onto highway 16 and headed to the next entrance. We were on a public highway and just before the media tent that was right off the roadway I asked Amy Jo to stop and I got out. She continued to park the car and I simply walked to the media tent arriving right behind the podium as the Department of Corrections spokesman was finishing up his presentation.
My old friend Abe Bonowitz came up to me and I asked him if he would introduce me to the media and he agreed to do that. Abe stepped up to the podium and introduced himself, he pointed out Bill Pelke and Sue Zann Bosler -- two murder victim family members who were there to protest, evidently in response to something the prison spokesman, Sterling Ivey, had said. Abe then introduced me, spelling out my name for the assembled press, photographers and TV cameras.
My first statement was, “I have just witnessed the ultimate expression of state control: the murder of a citizen by the state.” I continued on; the media people quoted some of my main points:
“Twenty-six years after the event, they are still trying to make the determination (of his guilt). What is wrong with this picture?''
“..the murder of a citizen in the most cold-blooded premeditated, planned circumstance.''
"Every man, woman and child in Florida has blood on their hands,"
“There was lingering doubt, even in the mind of the Governor [Jeb Bush] himself....”
“This is inhumane, cruel and barbaric. What happened here tonight will bring no closure.”
I took questions, and after a few minutes, a white Department of Corrections van pulled into the media parking lot. This van carried the family members who had also witnessed the execution. Instead of waiting for them to come to the tent, the media all went and ambushed them in the media parking lot. It was unfortunate that the prison officials had allowed them to be accosted in that way, I wondered why they had told me that I would not be brought to the media tent in the van.
I stepped away from the podium after answering all the questions and was greeted by the people who had taken part in the protest demonstration. I was exhausted, drained and felt slightly on edge about still being on State Prison property. I talked with many people there and was congratulated on my presentation to the media. Finally, a group of us decided to go to Pam’s Bhan Thai restaurant for dinner. As shaky as I was, I knew I needed to eat something since I had only had an egg sandwich that morning.
Just as we had finalized our plans some guards came over in a pickup truck and told us we had to leave the area. I went with Amy Jo in her car and the others followed us for the fifty mile drive back to Gainesville.
I was relieved to be in the car and sitting in a comfortable seat. I confided in Amy Jo some of the events of the day. I talked so much that my throat hurt and I heard my voice faltering. The miles passed by and we finally arrived at Bahn Thai. Someone in the party had called ahead and told Pam we were arriving with a party of ten. When I walked in the door I saw Pam’s face and knew that she had been told about Amos.
Our group consisted of; Susan Cary, Shanti Vani, Abe Bonowitz, Carolyn Grey, Bill Pelke, Sue Zann Bosler and Amy Jo Smith. Pam and her husband were delighted to see us. They cooked a special dish for me that was exquisite. The other guests ordered from the menu and some chose the extensive buffet.
At dinner, I told the group that the noise from could be heard at the prison. I emphasized that these demonstrations were not religious services but political outcries. I told them how important it was for the prisoners within the prison to hear the protest and how that conveyed a sense of solidarity to them. I encouraged them all to make as much noise and commotion as possible at future execution protest demonstrations. I reflected on one nagging aspect of the demonstration -- the absence of Black people in the group. This was really troubling for me.
After dinner I felt much better, although I was still exhausted. Abe took some photographs of us at the door of the restaurant. Pam invited me to stay at her house that is on a lake and a very peaceful setting. I was really touched by her offer but I declined because it would have involved having to go back to Amy Jo’s house to get my things and move to a new setting after such a stressful day. I promised Pam I would come and stay with her the next time I came to Gainesville.
Thursday Feb. 27th -- Picking up the pieces
Thursday morning Amy Jo took me to a restaurant called “43rd Street Deli” for breakfast. In the afternoon she drove me to Penny Farms, half way between Jacksonville and Gainesville, where we met with John X. Linnehan. I was saddened to say good bye to Amy Jo; she had offered me so much love and support in throughout the past few days. I gave her a hug as we parted. John and I drove off, I was to spend the night with John and Martina at their house and John would take me to my flight home in the morning.
I did not sleep well that night..... I awoke from a nightmare around 2 AM. I felt I was being autopsied, I could see a scalpel cutting through my muscle tissue, there was no blood at all.... I had the ominous sensation that the wounds were not going to heal....ever. I got up and went downstairs and sat at the table with my yellow note pad and began writing out notes about the events of the week. I wrote for three hours.....
After a nap John took me out to the Famous Amos restaurant near his house, we walked there, it was nice to be outside walking. We had a hearty breakfast and afterwards I stepped outside for a smoke. While I was standing there a car pulled up and two Black ladies and a child got out. One of the ladies looked at me in my robes and read my “STOP EXECUTIONS” button; just then John came out of the restaurant. The lady reached into her purse and withdrew a bank envelope full of bills. To my surprise she began to withdraw a five dollar bill.... I told her that I was not begging and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry....” John and I walked away, both of us chuckling.
He then took me to the airport; I was grateful to be going home...
In dynamic peace,