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Witnessing Execution a Matter of Duty, Choice

Many Virginia residents  --  all volunteers  --  have visited the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt to witness executions.
Many Virginia residents -- all volunteers -- have visited the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt to witness executions. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

The inmate's body, he explained, forms a circuit. Small sponges dipped in briny water affixed to the inmate's shaved right leg and head help ensure that the electricity flows. After the condemned man's last words, the warden inserts a key to activate the system.

"It's like turning the ignition key in your car," Bass said.

'The Worst Part'

The witness room looked like a black box theater. Inside, a dozen white plastic chairs were neatly arranged on battleship-gray risers. Couch grabbed a front-row seat next to Rosson with a perfect view of the electric chair. Corbally settled into the row behind them.

A microphone in the witness room crackled to life as prison officials approached Hedrick with a hand-held tape recorder. He clenched his fists tighter until his knuckles turned white. He fixed his look hard on the people who had come to watch him die. Then his muffled voice sputtered and echoed in the tiny witness room.

"I pray for the people who believe in Jesus Christ in heaven, and I pray for the unsaved, for they know not what they do," Hedrick said. "I'm ready to go now and be free."

The brown leather hood came down over his eyes and nose. There was a dull thud as the first wave of electricity passed through his body, then another. Then came the interminable five-minute wait before a doctor verified that Hedrick was dead.

"That was the worst part," Rosson said. "We all have to sit here waiting five minutes so the man can finish dying. You think of dying as something personal, and it was just a really horrible, public and invasive way to die. I would not want to see that again."

No one in the witness room said a word as they stood to exit. The guard at the door thanked them for coming and bid them goodnight. One by one, the witnesses climbed back into the van.

Rosson heard someone in the van sobbing as it pulled away. Someone in the front asked Bass if inmates are given sedatives before the execution. Yes, he said, but it's not something corrections officials like to publicize. A man in the back, one of the death house regulars, piped up. That's not fair, he said. After all, he said, Hedrick hadn't given his victim a sedative before he shot her in the face.

Everyone fell silent.


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