~ Personal Testimony
August 4th, 1997: 1 was chained and seated at a long table in the windowless
conference room at San Quentin Prison's main visiting facility. Seated before me were
four women: my spiritual adviser, my love, my niece, and my sister. Four guards were
posted to restrict our movement in the room, which was close and hot, with no ventilation.
It was time to say good-bye. We were all exhausted from the overwhelming stress.
Twenty-four hours earlier the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had held that serious
constitutional errors had occurred at my 1983 trial, raising serious doubts about my guilt.
Yet, through an unprecedented string of clerical errors and miscommunication, my case
had fallen through the cracks. Now, to prevent this manifest injustice, the court corrected
its oversight, vacating the special circumstance and death sentence and questioning the
validity of the murder conviction. We had been granted a miracle. However, the attorney
general appealed, and now we awaited the decision of the U. S. Supreme Court whether I
would die at 12.01 a.m., a little over six hours away. It was surreal: San Quentin ignored
the reversal, and the execution process continued inexorably like a runaway train, with me
strapped to the tracks. No one applied the brakes to slow its momentum. This was no
longer about truth or justice, right or wrong, or even about law. This was about evil, in the
guise of politics. The beast was hungry, and.our leaders needed to kill somebody to
deliver on their political promises of vengeance. For sixteen long years I have
maintained my innocence, my faith, and petitioned our Lord in prayer. I have never
believed that God would allow me to be executed for crimes I never committed. Over the
years I have grown in my faith, learned to pray and remember God's promises of Love,
Compassion, Mercy, Forgiveness through our Lord, fuiding the Joy, Deliverance, and
God's plan for my life. There have been many tests, but for the past week I had been living
out the toughest test of all. Prison officials and some guards had made every effort to
dehumanize me. Psychologically and politically, they needed me to be a monster. To this
end, I am certain those who head an execution detail are carefully selected. For example,
one officer proclaimed himself an atheist. On the other hand, God's presence was made
known to me through a few officers who had let me know that they were praying for me.
These acts of kindness and faith seemed to bother the atheist guard, as did my own
expressions of faith. It had been a trying and difficult week. I had been told that at
6:00 p.m. all my visitors must leave. My spiritual advisor, the Reverend Peggy Harrell,
would be taken away and subjected to a strip search. This humiliation to her was hard for
me to deal with, but that she was willing to endure it was a measure of her devotion and
commitment. The prison wanted to eject her also at 6:00, and in California a prisoner has
no right to the spiritual advisor of his or her choice without a court order. But Peggy, with
the help of counsel, had fought for and won in court the right to stay with me longer. After
the search she would be allowed to return and stay with me until approximately II: 15 p.m.
Then she would also be forced to leave, and I would be left alone with the execution team.
Now it was 5:30 p.m. I gazed into the faces of my loved ones and told them how very
proud I was of each of them for keeping the faith. "Believe me, it's going to be all right," I
said. Peggy suggested a final prayer together. We wanted to join hands, but the manacles
and waist chain did not permit me to extend my arms across the table. For five
These drawings are part of a set by Tom's niece
Makayla, presented to Rita at Tom's memorial service