Frank J. Coppola told a U.S. District Court judge Monday that he had "to walk a mile in my shoes" before he could understand why Coppola had asked to be executed.
"No one can relate to death," Coppola told Judge D. Dortch Warriner in a hearing just before Warriner ruled Coppola was mentally competent to discontinue his appeals, "but people don't understand that I have been on death row for four years. I'm not geared for living."
The following is a partial transcript of Coppola's remarks:
Coppola: Your honor, this is the bottom line: I like myself as a person. I do. I like myself as a person. I have to be true to myself. The only thing I've tried to leave with my kids is, "Be honest with yourself," and I have to be true with myself. That emphasis that they put on Mecklenburg is no greater than the other particular reasons that I have for doing this.
Anyone that steps in and says, "He is going because of the dehumanizing conditions on death row" -- that's totally incorrect. That has no more input into my final decision than the fact of how it adversely affects my kids among their peers. That has no more effect than the fact that my human dignity is suffering. That has no more effect than the fact that I can't see any justification for being in prison.
I knew I owed it to myself to try to right what I considered was a wrong done to me and I gave it four years, four years. I lived under any conditions, all the adverse conditions. I haven't touched my kids for four years until this week. . . . . There is another reason.
So, no one particular part of the input is any greater than the other. You cannot remove one and say, "Well, he will change his mind." You cannot do that. No one can form an objective opinion about what I am doing except me, because I'm the only one that has the input from all of the aspects.
So, it is ludicrous for someone to say, "He is doing this because of Mecklenburg," or "He is ta-ta because of Mecklenburg." I don't think I am ta-ta or crazy -- I'll revert to the jargon of prison. I don't think I am.
But if someone else says that I am, then let him present me with the situation where I will have proof that I am. Is it because I'm drawing death?
No one can relate to death, but people don't understand that I have been on death row for four years. I'm not geared for living. I mean, there is hope there, but my whole world revolves around the fact that I'm not trying to stay living . . . . And I don't think that anyone, including you, Your Honor, could form an objective opinion about what I am doing with all the input and come out with any more rational or logical conclusion than to forgo the appeals. It's not like Gilmore when he said, you know, before his automatic review, "Wait a minute; you can't do this." He said, "I don't want an automatic appeal. I want to go."
No, I've been through the system twice. I've been totally through the system twice. I have heard Mr. [J. Gray] Lawrence and Mr. [Augustus] Anninos who represented Coppola until last April when he dismissed them say from jump, from day one, "You are going to beat this; you are going to beat this." I can understand how someone could enter the picture right now with death facing me, you know, and say, "But he said you are going to get out in eight or 10 months or a year or whatever." Well, that's fine, but that does nothing for me. I've been hearing it for four years. What effect is that supposed to have on me? Somebody else says, "You are going to die."
I don't look at death like that. I don't fear death. I mean, that's no macho image or anything; that's my own personal beliefs. Whatever anybody else feels, that's fine. The particular aspect of sitting in the electric chair and being electrocuted until I'm dead does not harbor any great fear for me. It does not. It is the means that justifies the end, and I think I'm entitled to that.
I have human dignity; I'm a person, and I like myself. I cannot see subjecting myself to all of these mitigating circumstances any longer and that's my decision to make.
Judge: By mitigating circumstances, you mean further appeals?
Coppola: No, by mitigating circumstances, I mean the different elements that have influenced me to make this decision. You have to walk a mile in my shoes before you can make the decision. Your Honor has one level; I have another.
You may decide, "Well, hell, I could put up with that for 10 years," and I decide I can't put up with it for 10 minutes. So it's not like, you know, I'm just jumping into something and doing it. I avoided that for four years. For four years I fought as much as was in my control; through my attorneys I fought.
But my family was suffering in the meantime and my human dignity was suffering in the meantime. So then I came to the conclusion when I logically concluded that with all the input, I said, "Wait a minute now; I can no longer subject myself to this and have any respect left for myself."
And if Your Honor will remember, I said from the first that I like myself as a person, so I owe it to myself.
. . . Judge: Thank you, Mr. Coppola.
Coppola: Thank you, judge.
Judge: Good luck to you.
Coppola: Same to you, sir.