A Mother’s Story


The following words were written by the mother of of Richard Cartwright after his execution. It is truly a story about a mothers love for her son and the deep pain that she felt after losing him far to early. It is made worse that she lost her son due to poor work done by his lawyers. Having the ability to properly defend against the prosecution truly is a matter of life and death.

In memoriam of
Richard Michael Cartwright
Better known as Chi-Town



My son, Richard Cartwright, was a very special person. He was beautiful in both mind and soul. He loved his family, especially his 8 year old daughter, Ricki, and very much wanted to be here for her as much as he possibly could. Richard was not guilty of the crime he died for. I believe this with my whole heart, not because he is my son, but because of the evidence, or lack there of. But nonetheless, Richard was executed by the State of Texas on May 19, 2005.

The lack of evidence was astounding, and Rich was convicted on the testimony of his co-defendants, both of which received a “deal” for testifying against Richard at his trial. Yet when one of the co-defendants, Kelly Overstreet, changed his testimony and admitted he lied right before Rich was executed, the prosecutor stated that Kelly Overstreet’s testimony was “inherently unreliable.” Yet it was this same man’s testimony that sent Richard to his death.

Further, there was no physical evidence to link Richard to the crime scene. Footprints of both co-defendants and the victim were found, but none of Rich’s was found. The gun was never recovered and there was no blood or other evidence found to link Richard to the actual murder. He admitted being there, driving the truck, but always maintained that he was away from the victim and the two co-defendants when the murder occurred. He took off in the truck when he heard gun shots, and both co-defendants told him they would get even with him for leaving them behind. I guess that part of their plan really worked.

But that is not what this is about. This is about the execution of my son. At 6:16 p.m., on May 19

th, he was pronounced dead. The world lost a courageous fighter, the men on Death Row lost a true and loyal friend, his daughter lost her wonderful Daddy, I lost the best son a mother could ever want, his sister lost her only brother, his Dad lost his only son, and his special friends lost his love and friendship. He was always there for us, guiding, chiding, and loving us through every step of our lives. Until the end, he was strong in his faith and in his love for God, his friends and family, and of life. He never quit.

Rich did not take the easy path, and certainly not the path of least resistance. On death row, he learned that the rules are subject to interpretation and that some guards that work there twist and bend them in a way that is very cruel. He was not willing to be silent and endure or to watch his friends and fellow inmates be tortured and abused without speaking out. He, along with his spiritual brother Paul Colella, wrote many articles about the cruel and inhumane treatment of the men on death row.

I firmly believe that the final petition filed on his behalf by the Innocence Project out of the University of Houston was denied partially because the people in charge like Governor Rick Perry wanted to silence him because they considered him a trouble maker. They wanted to continue to impose the death penalty and use it as a political campaign position to be re-elected. This is because statistics show that approximately 80% of Texans support the death penalty. In writing this account of the last week in the life of my son, Richard Cartwright, I want all Texans, an indeed all Americans, to know what they are supporting when they support the death penalty. If anyone still supports the death penalty after reading this, at least you will support it from a position of full understanding. It is my personal belief that when you do understand how it works, you will be appalled and horrified.

I want to add something else here. I am not a legal person. When my son came into this judicial nightmare, I somewhat supported the death penalty myself. I also strongly believed that the justice system in our country was above reproach, that if a man or woman was convicted, there had to be a good reason because that wouldn’t happen to an innocent person, and that everyone involved in the process always had the truth as their ultimate goal and guiding principle. I am not ignorant anymore, I understand most of what happened to my son, and I will always be sorry that I didn’t know how the legal system worked at the beginning of our walk through it. Everything I write here is from my heart, and if anything I say is inaccurate, it is not on purpose. I am going to give you the truth as I know it, with no holds barred. Fasten your seat belts, sit up, and listen. Otherwise, my story could some day be your story. Your son or daughter could one day lie on a gurney with needles in both arms, and gasp their last breath right before your eyes.

My last truly private visit with my son takes place on Saturday, May 14th. I am allowed to visit with him from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. I fly down from Chicago in the morning, then drive from the airport to Livingston, Texas, where death row inmates are housed on Polunsky Unit.

I go into the main building at Polunsky Unit and provide my photo ID to the guard on duty. The guard checks to ensure I am on my son’s approved visitation list. Once that is done, the guard retains my ID and gives me a bright yellow badge with DR and a number on it to pin on my shirt. “DR” stands for death row. I feel a little like the Jews must have felt when they were “branded” by the Nazis. With my badge in place, I walk through a metal detector, and pass through two controlled doors, and a controlled gate. In doing so, I move through two sets of high chain link fencing, topped with coiled razor barbed wire. I am once again outside.

It is a long walk from the guard building to the main building, the evening is warm and sultry, and the walkway is lined with beautiful, very old, rose bushes and moss roses. Tonight I think once again how strange to have such beauty in the midst of a death camp. Finally I am inside the main building. Next, I am buzzed through two more controlled doors, and finally I am in the visitation room. I hand the blue slip of paper to the guard at the table, and I am assigned a window where I can visit with my son.

Each window has a metal shelf in front of the glass, and is about 3 feet wide. There are two phone receivers, on hanging on each side of the window. They are used to speak with the inmate. A plastic stackable chair is where the visitor sits. The inmate on the other side of the glass has a similar shelf, but sits on a metal stool. The inmate is enclosed in a metal cage with solid sides, and a door in the back. The top of the door has a metal grate, and the bottom is solid.

Arriving at the assigned cubicle, my son is already waiting for me. This only happens on Saturday visitation. Other times, a visitor often waits 1 to 2 hours before the inmate is brought to the visitation room. Rich is behind the glass, smiling, and immediately reaches for the phone. You see, on death row, an inmate can never touch their visitor. There is thick glass between us, and we each press one hand to the glass, as though we are holding hands, but in reality our connection is through our hearts, not our touch on the cold glass. We first talk about who will be coming to visit next week, his final week of life.

We discuss his appeal, and how much he appreciates the work of Morris Moon in the Texas Defender’s Office and Jared Tyler with the Innocence Project at the University of Houston. Rich tells me that Jared Tyler came to visit him in person on Thursday of the preceding week.

Jared let Richard know that it was likely that their petition on his behalf would be denied. There is this thing called “procedural barring” that stands in the way in the State of Texas. Translated (at least this is my interpretation of procedural barring), it means eliminate all possible grounds for appeals to the State of Texas so they can dispose of the men and women on death row in an expedited manner. It prevents evidence from being introduced, no matter how relevant it is..

Rich is simply grateful and amazed that Jared took the time to visit him in person. This is not a common occurrence for him. His attorneys haven’t visited him death row. Instead, more often than not, they send a short letter. There are exceptions to this, and there are some wonderful attorneys that give their heart and soul to these cases and these inmates, but to this point, Richard has not been blessed with that kind of caring legal assistance. Rich tells me he really likes Jared Tyler and his honest, straight forward approach. I tell Rich that Tina Church, the private investigator working on his case that brought both Morris Moon and Jared Tyler into it, is continuing to work hard as well, desperately looking for something that can get his case back into court, or at least postpone his execution. He tells me, “Mom, I am at peace with whatever happens. I don’t want to die, but I hate living like this. And I don’t want a 30 day stay. I would never, never want to put you through this again. I know how hard it is on you, on all of you. If they are going to kill me, it is better done now.” I have trouble not crying. Rich continues to be more concerned with those around him then himself, right to the end of his life.

One more word about Rich’s attorneys. When Richard was given an execution date, his attorney, Michael Gross, did not call or visit him. He did not call me, either. Instead, he sent me a copy of the “Death Warrant” with a one sentence cover letter. Rich received the same letter with a copy of the death warrant in the same manner. I cannot think of a more devastating way to learn your son or daughter has had an execution date set, can you?

Tonight we talk about Jack Wilcox, Rich’s spiritual advisor. Jack is 80 years old, but comes to the prison each day, along with his wife Irene, and they minister to death row prisoners. In reality, it is who they are. Jack and Irene are committed to the spiritual growth of these men, and are so very faithful in their work.

They call out between 2 and 4 inmates each day, giving them a brief respite from their cage and loneliness, buy them some food, and simply talk with them, not just about God, but about their wants, needs and hopes. When the time is done, the inmate knows that someone cares about them very much.

Jack just had hip replacement surgery and Rich tells me that Jack came to visit him earlier in the week. Rich was Jack’s first visit to anyone back on the row since his surgery. Jack wanted Rich to know that no matter what, he will be there for him on the 19th, if it comes to pass. Jack wasn’t up to other visits that day, so he left after that. With that visit, a weight was lifted from Rich’s shoulders, he tells me. Jack will be there to see him through. Jack will comfort and guide him, then be there for Rich’s family on execution day. Rich is happy about this, but I am sad, thinking more why Jack will be there, than about the comfort he will surely bring to us all.

Rich also proudly tells me that he was baptized this past week. He says that he knows he was baptized as a baby, but that was my choice. This time, doing it as an adult, it is his choice. He has me laughing as he tells me how he almost drowned and got killed during the process. He says that they took one of the carts that they push around to collect laundry that has canvas bags in it, and they put in a plastic liner and filled it up with water. Then they had him climb in, but he was handcuffed. Somehow they were then pushing him down the run, things were hitting him in the head, he couldn’t stand up, fell under the water, came up sputtering, and was not quite sure he would live through it as it was happening.

But in the end, he was baptized and he feels terrific about that. I smile, thinking of him sputtering and surfacing, not quite sure what is going on, but determined to finish what he started, just like everything else he does.

Rich is also concerned tonight about his property. You see, if an inmate has something for someone that is visiting with them, the inmate can send this property out to the visitor ahead of time.

Rich and Jack Wilcox visiting on the morning of Thursday, May 19, 2005.


Rich is sitting on the ledge on his side of
the glass in the visitation cubicle in this picture,
taken the morning of May 19, 2005.


Jack just had hip replacement surgery and Rich tells me that Jack came to visit him earlier in the week. Rich was Jack’s first visit to anyone back on the row since his surgery. Jack wanted Rich to know that no matter what, he will be there for him on the 19th, if it comes to pass. Jack wasn’t up to other visits that day, so he left after that. With that visit, a weight was lifted from Rich’s shoulders, he tells me. Jack will be there to see him through. Jack will comfort and guide him, then be there for Rich’s family on execution day. Rich is happy about this, but I am sad, thinking more why Jack will be there, than about the comfort he will surely bring to us all.

Rich also proudly tells me that he was baptized this past week. He says that he knows he was baptized as a baby, but that was my choice. This time, doing it as an adult, it is his choice. He has me laughing as he tells me how he almost drowned and got killed during the process. He says that they took one of the carts that they push around to collect laundry that has canvas bags in it, and they put in a plastic liner and filled it up with water. Then they had him climb in, but he was handcuffed. Somehow they were then pushing him down the run, things were hitting him in the head, he couldn’t stand up, fell under the water, came up sputtering, and was not quite sure he would live through it as it was happening.

But in the end, he was baptized and he feels terrific about that. I smile, thinking of him sputtering and surfacing, not quite sure what is going on, but determined to finish what he started, just like everything else he does.

Rich is also concerned tonight about his property. You see, if an inmate has something for someone that is visiting with them, the inmate can send this property out to the visitor ahead of time.

He has two pictures for me in his property, actually one for me and one for Ricki, his beautiful 8 year old daughter. The guard keeps saying later. But finally it comes. He is so happy that I have them. Rich tells me to be careful because they are chalk, and could smear so easily. The envelope is taped, so I have to wait until later to look at them. He is peaceful, knowing that I have received his final gift to me and to his daughter.

During the visit, I buy food for my son from the vending machines in the visitation room. I wait my turn, since only one person at a time can buy food. The way it works, the guard has to accompany you to the machines, you put the coins in and make the selection, but you are not allowed to touch any of the food, or the inmate can’t have it. He requests two sandwiches, since meat is very rare in their meals. He also requests 7 packages of teriyaki sticks, which are little sausages. To go along with that, he wants a vanilla Coke, a Dr. Pepper, a honey bun, a bag of barbecue potato chips, a piece of cheesecake, and a cup of peaches. Real fruit is also rare in a prisoner’s diet.

Buying food is a special treat for me, because I am not allowed to buy many things for him. I can send him books through a third party like Amazon (I cannot send him books I have at home, though.), and I can send him paper and envelopes through a third party like Office Depot. Nothing can be sent directly to him. Twice I was able to buy him eye glasses, and you have absolutely no idea how difficult that was. My best estimate is that it took more than 40 phone calls and a great deal of pleading. One would think the State of Texas would be happy to have someone pick up the tab, but that is not the case.

Anyway, once I purchase the food, I go back and talk once more with my son. Soon someone is behind his visitation cage with his bags of food. They drop down the bean slot, a little drop down door, somewhat like a mail shoot, and pass the lunch sized food bags to him. When he has a visit, normally he will skip his meal tray all day, starting with the breakfast tray that is served every day at 3 a.m. Today is no exception. He wants to savor this good vending machine food. He pulls out each piece, then slowly eats it all. I smile, watching him eat, and the he licks his plastic fork after the cheesecake slice is gone.

Next, we talk about God. Richard’s walk with God is very strong, and he tells me that he cannot believe how calm he is as he approaches his death. He says that Jack told him he has “the peace that passes all understanding.” I see it, but don’t quite know if it is real or not. I think to myself, the next few days will tell us for sure. But he is calm, cheerful, his usual zany, lovable self. I enjoy the visit, in spite of my feelings of sadness.

Rich tells me that he has put the Purpose Drive Life book aside, preferring to stay directly in his Bible now. It is his third time through the Purpose Drive Life, and we were actually reading it together. We had set up a calendar with the dates we would read each chapter, and then we were mailing our thoughts back and forth to each other every day. It has been a way of sharing for us, just like we always look at each sunrise and sunset, and think of each other. I say I understand, and I really do. Nothing gives me peace or a feeling of contentment quite like reading my Bible. I am glad to know the same is true for Rich.

Rich tells me that there is a guard at Polunsky Unit that cannot seem to find the Purpose Driven Life book. His name is Sergeant Thompson. Rich asks me if I would give Sgt. Thompson his Purpose Drive Life book if he is executed. He wants the book to continue to bless people. I ask Sgt. Thompson’s first name, but Rich doesn’t know. He says just send it to 3rd shift Sgt. Thompson. I tell him I will.

At 9:50 p.m., the guard walks behind me and says “10 more minutes.” I cringe, knowing I have to leave my son here. It is so very, very hard to do. We spend the last few minutes joking about great escape plans, swooping down with a helicopter, and such. Sadly, we both know it is idle chatter.

Finally, time is up. I press my hand to the glass again, and he does the same. The tears are so close to the surface for me now, and there is a huge, uncomfortable knot deep in my throat. I feel it again as I write this for you. I have learned to live with it. We say good bye, and he asks me to try and bring his daughter for a visit. I promise to do so.

As I leave, all the inmates are still sitting inside their cages. I pass to the other side of the visitation room, and I can see Rich from the back side. He turns to face me, and waves through the wire grate as I once again pass through the controlled doors. I continue to wave as I go down the long glass corridor towards the entrance of the building, until I can no longer see my son. Now I let the tears roll down my cheeks. As my son would say, four more days and a wake up call until he is snatched from me forever.

I head back to where I am staying; taking the two pictures he drew with me. When I get inside, I open the pictures. Rich told me at visitation that even if he gets a stay, he doesn’t think he will draw again because he couldn’t draw anything that would come close to these two pictures. He is right, they are wonderful. For me, he has drawn the head of Christ, complete with a thorny crown. It is all in charcoals, and beautifully done. The expression on Christ’s face is pained and peaceful at the same time. The picture for Ricki is of Ricki.

He copied a photograph I sent him of Ricki from last summer, sitting at my kitchen table, drinking a Dairy Queen Blizzard with a big smile on her face. He captured her image and personality beautifully. I not only have a wonderful, gentle, kind, strong son, but a very, very talented one as well.

Rich’s drawing of Christ for his mother.

Below, Rich’s drawing of Ricki, sketched from the photograph on the right.

Sunday there is no visitation. Normally an inmate can have one regular or one special visit each week, providing they are on level one, a level for prisoners that have not gotten into trouble. At each visit up to two people can be there, provided they are on the prisoner’s approved visitation list. A regular visit is two hours in length. A special visit consists of two, four hours visits on contiguous days. Special visits are only available to visitors that travel more than 350 miles for the visit. Inmates are only allowed one special visit per month.

During the week the execution is scheduled, and inmate can have two full days of visits, then four hours on the day of the execution. Anyone on the inmate’s approved visitation list (the prisoner’s list can contain up to 10 names) can come on those days. Rich was allowed to change his list just 9 days before, on May 5th. Normally, a prisoner can only change their list every 6 months, but since he is to be executed, he is able to change it two weeks before his execution. He was called into the office on the 5th of May to change his list, and to let them know what he wanted for his last meal. It was quite stressful, because he had to add some people that wanted to see him, and he was concerned that he would miss someone important. At his visit earlier, he told me he was so nervous, he forgot to ask for breaded pork chops with mushroom gravy, and instead had asked for a cheeseburger and fried chicken!

Anyway, as I stated earlier, there is never any visitation on Sunday. So on Sunday, I went and picked up my granddaughter, Ricki, and we went to church with Jennie, one of Rich’s friends at the Church on the Rock in Livingston. Pastor John Wood is the youth pastor there, and I met him through radio station K-DOL in Livingston. You see, he does a Christian Rock show and has a SHOUTOUT program on Sunday night where you can call or email shoutouts in to the inmates. It is a very special program, allowing people like me to reach out and “touch” their loved one that is many miles away. I can then listen to the show on the internet from my home PC.

After leaving church and the warm, loving arms of the congregation, Ricki, Jennie, and I go to K-DOL to record a special message to Ricki’s Daddy. The folks at the station there are so warm and loving. They have prepared a wonderful meal for us, including ham, and all the fixings to go with it. There is even homemade banana cream pie. Next, after eating, we are able to record personal messages to Rich, and later they will be played, along with the songs we picked, during the Sunday afternoon SHOUTOUT show. Ricki, as always, picks the song Butterfly Kisses. It makes her Daddy happy and sad. Happy because it reminds him of her, and sad, because he can’t be with her. Bittersweet. Made sweeter hearing her say, “Butterfly kisses Daddy. I love you. This is Ricki.”

While we are talking, Ricki plays with a 12 week old puppy, and swings high on the swing set in the back yard. She is a typical little girl, unaware of the sadness and apprehension in the people around her. One of the personal messages for Rich this day will tell him how happy Ricki is as she swings with “her” puppy, Hannah. It is a beautiful day, and his little girl is happily playing with a puppy, picking flowers and passing them out, and enjoying herself immensely. Rich will tell me tomorrow how much that description of his daughter’s happiness brightened his evening.

All too soon it is time to take Ricki home to get ready for school on Monday, and then I head to the airport to pick up my niece flying in from Chicago. Finally, it is time for sleep, and to get ready for the longest, yet somehow shortest week in my life.

Monday we visit with Rich from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rich is upset when he comes out because they didn’t get him out until 8:55 a.m. He lost one precious hour of visitation, and he is not happy. The guards tell him they were busy with other things. We are here along with the family of Bryan Wolfe. Bryan’s date with the execution chamber is May 18th, the day before Rich. We are two families joined together in a way that we will never forget. The visitation room is freezing cold. I am always cold anyway, but this cold goes beyond that. I have on a shirt, sweatshirt, and jeans, but am still cold. My niece lends me a black fleece poncho, so I look a little like a caped crusader. I may look strange, but I am warm.

My niece Layne and I visit Rich, and later in the day we are joined by his friend Jennie from Michigan and his best friend, Missy Mouse, from Minnesota. We take turns at the window, because only two people at a time can talk. Rich is especially happy to see Missy. She has been a rock for him for many years now.

Missy brought a quilt with her to give to Ricki. Missy’s Mom back in Minnesota made it especially for Ricki, and on the back there is a letter written by Rich to Ricki, telling her how much he loves her.

It says:

January 17, 1997 was the happiest day in my life. Ricki, you have brought so much love into my life, into my heart. Princess I love you so very much, please never doubt that. I know I have not been there for you like a Daddy should be for his little girl, but know this, you have been my first thought every morning upon waking & in my prayers every night as I lay down to sleep. Princess I will be watching over you, please keep me in your heart as you are eternally in mine.


She had sent pictures to Rich last week, but he has not yet received them. She desperately wants him to see it, to share her mother’s beautiful work with him, and to let him know that his daughter will always know how much he loves her. She goes out to her car and tries to bring it inside, saying that it is cold in the visitation room (very true) and we want to keep warm. That request is denied, and it goes back in the trunk.

We buy food for Rich twice, the second time only allowed because it is an all day visit, and we spend our precious minutes talking about Rich, hear his funny and sad stories about life on death row, share our trials and triumphs, and try to burn the image of his laughter and his smile into our hearts and minds. It is hard to comprehend that this wonderful man could be taken from us in just a few short days. Then soon, much too soon, our visit is over.

Leaving is always so very hard, but harder now knowing that there are not many more goodbyes to be said.

We still have hope, however, because the Supreme Court has his case and has not turned down the petition that Jared Tyler of the Texas Innocence Project prepared. The longer the time, the more hope we have.

We think that it means they are really deliberating the issue that has been raised, considering its merits. So there is that little ray of sunshine, bouncing off the walls of darkness, that keep us going.

Monday night, and I go back to the airport to pick up Richard’s sister Diane, arriving from Chicago. She hasn’t seen her brother in over a year, and is very much looking forward to seeing him tomorrow, and dreading it at the same time, knowing the reason for this visit.

Tuesday, and we are once again up early. This time when we get into the visitation room, Rich is waiting. He has a big smile on his face. He lets us know immediately that he started making a commotion and calling for rank about 7:45 a.m., and Bryan Wolfe did the same. They didn’t want to miss important time with their family again today! It worked. They are out on time, with no time lost. He also lets us know that he received Missy’s letter, and has pictures of the quilt. Not the same as seeing it in person, but he is very pleased anyway. Ricki will be able to wrap herself, literally, in his love.

Today is a good visitation day. Rich has some private time with his sister, and they get to share some special thoughts and speak from the heart. All during their childhood, they had a love hate relationship. They fought like a cat and a dog, but always stood together against others that tried to fight with either one of them. They are today fiercely loyal to each other.

Rich’s friends on the row made plans to support Rich this week by being called out for visits and be in the visitation room with him and his family. As they leave to go back to their cell, they head down to the cubicle where Rich is. They stop, and stick their fingers through the metal grate on the door behind Rich. They say things like “Stand tall,” “I love you Bro,” “Never quit,” and touch his hands and fingers. Sometimes, when one of them is going back to their cell, you can hear them telling the guard they are going down by Rich, and the guards say no. Next, you hear “Watch me,” and down them come. One guy said “What are you going to do, gas all the visitors?” and down he came. There are at least 15 men that do this. It warms my heart to see the love and respect in which they hold Richard. I know he appreciates their show of support as well.

We notice that not many stop by Bryan Wolfe’s cubicle, and it saddens us. Everyone needs support at a time like this. We try and support his family as best we can. They do the same for us.

I have to leave at 1:50 p.m. for a very special reason. I am going to pick up his special girl, his daughter, Ricki. She gets out of school at 3 p.m., and I have to pick up her Mom so we can pick her up from school at 3 and then take her back to visit her Daddy. It is a special treat for both of them. Ricki feels so very special visiting her Daddy, and being the center of attention. Little does she know, but she is the center of his whole world! Rich cherishes her visits more than anything, as it is a chance to be a part of her life, to let her know how much she is loved, and to share in the little girl things that she loves.

We are back and it is now around 3:40 p.m. Pastor John, the youth Pastor at Church on the Rock and the announcer on of the SHOUTOUT show is there. I had previously asked Warden Hirsch if Pastor John could visit Rich. His radio ministry has touched Rich, and he welcomed the opportunity to meet him, especially when he found out that Pastor John has long hair and rides a motorcycle. When Pastor John sees me, he gets up and gives me a big hug. His support means a lot to all of us. He spent the last two hours visiting with Rich. Rich tells me later that Pastor John taught him about WWJD – What Would Jesus Do – and told Rich that this helps guide him in the right way to live his life. Rich really likes that.

Rich and Ricki, March 17, 1997, the only time he ever got to touch and hold his daughter.




As I greeted Pastor John, Ricki went front and center at the window. No one takes her spot. We all take turns visiting with her and Rich, but mostly we let her visit with her Dad. It is fun to watch and see the joy in both their faces. They smile, they laugh, they hold hands to the glass, they talk like there is no tomorrow…

Finally, the guard comes by and says, “10 more minutes.” This means our visitation time is almost up. Rich is suddenly stricken with the thought that he will most likely never see his lovely little girl again in this world. It is written starkly across his face. I have never before seen such a look of such sheer terror and pain on his face. He tells her how much he loves her and asks, “Do you love me Ricki?” “Yes, Daddy. I love you,” she answers with a big smile. He tells her to always be good and listen to her Mommy. She says, “Yes Daddy, I always do.” He asks her, “Will you always love me Ricki, always and forever?” She says again, “Yes Daddy. I love you, always and forever.” The tears are deep in his soul and now show in his eyes. He asks, “Will you always remember me Ricki, even if I am not here?” Ricki says, “Yes Daddy. You will be here, and I will always remember you.” She then announces she has to go to the bathroom, and does so.

We sit there, stunned. Too awful for words, too much pain, too much to comprehend.

Ricki returns, and the guard says “Time is up.” Ricki runs to the window, and I tell her to say good bye. The guard says again, time to leave. I put Ricki to the glass, and she gives her Daddy a kiss. She says, “Butterfly kisses Daddy. I love you.” She then blows him kisses. Now we really do have to leave.

As we are walking out, Ricki turns and continues to wave and blow kisses to her Daddy. As we wait for the doors to open, she continues to wave and blow kisses. All the way down the glass hallway, she blows and waves, blows and waves. The knot in my throat is huge. I can barely speak. Everyone else feels the same.

Only Ricki, in her innocence, is happily walking and talking, looking at the roses, and looking forward towards the next adventure in her young life. Innocence, with no idea that her life could change dramatically in the next two days.

We head out, and I take Ricki home to be with her Mommy, Stepfather, and her little brother. She is fine. I am not. Her mother is also not fine, and bursts into tears. We know that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Our sadness is almost overwhelming.

Wednesday we are permitted a special visit, my daughter, my niece and myself. It is not supposed to be, but Warden Hirsch and Major Nelson approved it. So we are fortunate to be here. The sad part of today is knowing that it is last day for Bryan Wolfe. It is his execution date. Our family has an incredible visit, mostly due to Rich and his wonderful, loving spirit and strength. He tells us funny stories, and reminds of good times we shared together. He and I talk about fights between him and his sister, fishing on Lake Michigan, and his beloved golden retriever Madison. We talk about my gardening, his favorite foods, and the joke he played when asked what he wanted for his last meal. He told them he wanted his Mom’s meatloaf. They apologized, telling him it was not possible and that they were sorry. He smiled, knowing that he would rather not eat than to have my meatloaf. He always hated it!

We also talk about Ricki today. It was so hard for him to say good bye yesterday. He says that he was going to ask me to see if she could come again today or on Thursday, but now does not want her to. He says that he could not say good bye to her again. It was too hard. I say that I understand. You see, I am facing the time when I have to say good bye forever to my child as well. He nods, because he knows how I feel.

All too soon, our four hours is almost over. On Wednesday, it is media day, so all visitation ends at Noon. For Bryan Wolfe, it is his last visitation with his family that is ending. The last hour, we watch as each member of Bryan’s family takes a turn at the window saying good bye, then leaves. Finally it is just his girlfriend, Marguerite. Each one leaves with tears freely flowing, and we watch silently, get up and hug them when they need it, give them tissues, share their pain and sorrow, knowing our day is tomorrow. So sad, so many victims.

Finally the Warden, Major Nelson, and several guards come for Bryan. His time at Polunsky is over. He is headed to the death van, and the trip to the Walls Unit. We watch it take place. It seems like slow motion. I know my heart beat slowed to almost nothing. I hold his girlfriend once he is gone. Everything around us keeps on happening with a terrible normalcy.

I want to shout, “Don’t you know what is happening? Can’t you see?” but I don’t. Everyone knows, it is just their way of dealing with it, pretending it is not happening. If it is not happening to Bryan, it can’t happen to anyone else either.

And finally it is our time to go. One good bye after this, and we will follow Bryan’s family to the Walls Unit, only 24 hours later. So needless. So sad. So awful.

We leave and head over to Huntsville, to the Walls Unit. We know that there is always a small band of protestors for every execution and it is our intent to join them today and support Bryan’s family. We find the corner between the Administration Building and the Walls Unit where they stand. When we arrive there is only one person. This grows to a group of about 20, including us. We watch as Bryan’s family is lead from the Administration building, across the street to the Walls Unit. The veteran protestors explain to me that this means the execution is going to proceed. I am deeply saddened as I watch them march up the steep stairs to the execution chamber.

It is only about 20 minutes later, and they come back down the stairs. It is over. Bryan has left this world, and gone to another. Never again will his family hear his voice or be comforted by him. There is no longer any hope that he will ever come home again. His girlfriend Marguerite comes across the street to find her friend, and gives me a big hug. She is heartbroken. She tells me she will pray for me and my family tonight. I tell we will do the same for her and her family.

I ask the protestors how people can live so close to here and not go insane. They tell me that they don’t even see the unit, or recognize what goes on inside.

They go about their daily business, ignoring the protestors on the corner, and go home and make dinner and feed their families. I guess if you pretend something doesn’t exist, eventually it slips from your mind entirely.

Finally it is over, and everyone goes home. We go by KDOL, the radio station, and give another message to Rich. You see, those wonderful people at this station have been doing a special SHOUTOUT show just for Rick tonight while we were at the protest. It started at 4:30 p.m., and was supposed to go for an hour. However, because so many people are writing and calling in, it is still going on. We had recorded a message for him earlier, and those got played as well, including one from Ricki, his beloved daughter. When we stop by, they make a copy of the program that they have recorded so far to give us so we can play it back anytime. It is something I will always treasure.

Finally, it is time to sleep. My daughter, niece and I are sharing a room. We fall asleep listening to the SHOUTOUT show play on my laptop. I am glad that Rich has been comforted tonight by the love and support of literally hundreds of people, from all over the world. Their words and the music comfort us as well as we fall asleep.

At 1:20 a.m. a lovely lady from South Africa rings me on my cell phone. She just wants to tell me to be strong and that she is praying for us all. I tell her thank you, and to please continue to pray for us and to hold Rich up to God for comfort. She promises to do so.

Sleep eluded me from this point on. I can only lay here and silently cry out to God, begging him to spare my son, but telling Him that I know He has a plan that I can’t understand, and that I accept His will above my own prayer. I tell Him that I know He loves Rich even more that I, even though I don’t think anyone could possibly love Rich more than I do. So crying and praying, the night passes slowly to the dawn. As the black of night turns to gray, I find myself looking out the window at the sunrise, Rich’s last sunrise. My heart is breaking, but I need to be strong. Rich is waiting for us.

We once again go to Polunsky Unit. Today we are joined by two more friends, Suzanne and Paula. Paula is the wife of Rich’s dear friend, Paul. Rich and Paul were cell mates at Ellis unit. Paul’s death penalty sentence was set aside a couple of years ago.

Rich was so happy for Paul. Rich and Paul continue to have a strong, brotherly bond of love and respect. Rich wears two crosses, one he made himself, and one Paul made and has loaned to Rich.

Today Rich is out on time again. Rich is concerned with getting the phone numbers he needs to call people once he is at the Walls Unit. You see, when our visitation is ended at noon and they take him to the Walls Unit, we can’t see him again until the execution. However, we have been told that between 2 and 5 p.m. he will be allowed to call people and talk to them on the phone, including us. I have typed out the phone numbers, but they cannot give him the paper. He asks a guard to borrow his pen, then rips the lunch bag they gave him with the food we had purchased for him earlier in our visit. He writes down all the important numbers to call.

Rich shows Paula his crosses. He wears two, one he made, and one given to him by his friend and spiritual brother, Paul. Rich tells Paula that if he is executed, she has to take Paul’s cross back to him. It is something Rich and Paula agreed to a long time ago. Rich tells Paula about his own cross. The socks they sell in commissary are white, with a black top. It is made from threads gotten by unraveling his socks. It is on a long, black and white cord, and at the end is a black and white cross. It is painstaking work, and he is very proud of it.



His cousin and friend Missy speak to Warden Hirsch and try to arrange to get a phone call set up for him to speak with his friend Paul at the Durrington Unit. This request is made to the Warden through the Chaplain. In the end, Warden Briscoe at Polunsky agrees, and the Warden at Durrington Unit agrees, but Warden O’Reilly at the Walls Unit does not. Later I will call him and ask why, and he will tell me three times that the reason is, “Because I say so.”

One time he even added, “Don’t you understand English?” Isn’t that a great reason to deny a last request? Profound even, right?

His phone numbers in hand, Rich settles in and visits with us. He tells us not to get too much food, because he is planning on enjoying his last meal – fried chicken and a cheese burger. He really wanted smoked pork chops with mushroom gravy, but forgot to order it when asked. But he is still looking forward to what he ordered.

Besides that, he tells me that he packed up his property and that they will give it to me at the Walls Unit. Rich says that he gave his clothes and commissary stuff away, saving only personal things for me. He wants to share with everyone on the row that has always shared with him. The men take care of each other. When one has, and the other doesn’t, no one goes without.

He tells me that they didn’t mail his last letters, so I will get them as well. I have to mail them out for him. He talks about Ricki again today, asking me to please, please set up the trust fund as soon as possible. People have written and asked him what he needs and what they can do for him. He tells them that Tina Church is doing everything possible. He tells me that he wants to be sure Ricki is taken care of and gets a good education, because he won’t be there to provide for her. He hopes his supporters will help with Ricki’s trust fund in his memory. It is breaking my heart, but I listen and promise to make it happen. His cousin is a lawyer, and she has been working on it through a friend of hers.

We talk about his final resting place. I already know what he wants, but again he tells me that he wants to be cremated, then have his ashes spread on Lake Michigan. He says he never wants anyone to go to a garden of stones and mourn for him, but rather to go to the beautiful Lake Michigan, and celebrate his life and remember him there, looking at the power of the water and the beauty of the sun reflecting off of it. He continues to love the water, as he always has. Fishing with his Dad on Lake Michigan is one of his fondest memories.

Finally, the countdown begins. We are close to Noon. Each friend in turn takes their time at the window to say their final, face to face, goodbye. I am last. We sit there, my son and I, and smile at each other. There is great sadness, but complete understanding between us. We have said it all so often.

I know he loves me and Ricki more than anything in the world. He knows that I love him and his sister in exactly the same way. And that is what we say again, how much we love each other, and always will.

Then the Warden comes, along with Major Nelson and the guards. Our time is done. I want to scream and cry out, but instead, before he gives them his hands to cuff through the door, I stand at the window and put both my hands on the glass. He does the same. I kiss his lips, and he does the same. The glass between us seems to fade a little, but it is still cold. I so desperately want to hold his hand, touch his face, hug him and feel his warmth, but I am denied this. It is against the rules. We cannot touch until he is dead. How very, very sad.

I find it hard to walk and to talk. Rich’s friend and relatives surround me, and we leave. Others around us stay, continuing their visitation, seemingly unaware that a dear life is about to be snatched away from us. I am heartbroken. But I hold my head up high, and leave the building, tears held in. There is still a ray of hope, however dim.

I want to add here that Warden Alford, who is over population, Warden Hirsch, the new death row warden, and Major Nelson who works directly under Warden Hirsch, were all very accommodating and generous to us during our last week of visitation. They helped us in any way they could, and extended every courtesy possible, even when we most likely didn’t deserve it. What they could not do was let us touch Rich and say good bye to him. No final hug, no kiss, not even the ability to hold his hand. It broke our hearts, again.

We stop and have lunch on the way to Huntsville, even though no one is hungry. You see, our visitation at Polunsky Unit in Livingston TX on the final day is over at Noon, and we are not supposed to be at the Hospitality House in Huntsville until 3 p.m. That gives us 3 hours to make a 45 mile trip. Way too much time with nothing to do at a time like this. Seems to me that this would have been a little more time we could spend with Richard.

Anyway, we arrive at the Hospitality House a little before three. Soon, the other friends join us. The people at the Hospitality House are nice, showing us around, telling us there are drinks in the refrigerator, and soup on the stove, just for us, and a small chapel to be alone or to pray. They make us feel welcome, or at least as welcome as anyone can feel when they are waiting for a loved one to be executed. Chaplain Hart comes in and introduces himself. He tells us that he will gather the witnesses together shortly, to explain what will happen in the next three hours. He is just waiting for Chaplain Drum to join us.

Chaplain Drum is late because another inmate’s father died, and he had to deliver the sad news. Finally, he decides to tell us what is going to happen without the other Chaplain.

We go to one end of the room, and sit on comfortable couches as he explains. He tells us that they have given Rich his orientation, and that Rich is meeting with his spiritual advisor, Jack Wilcox. He says that Rich can call us or anyone he so chooses, up until 5 p.m. Then they have to get him ready for the execution. He says that Rich will also eat his last meal during that time up to 5 p.m.

He tells us that at 5 p.m., we will be taken to the Administration Building, across from the Walls Unit, and there we will wait until 6 p.m., when we will proceed together across the street to the Walls Unit execution chamber. He tells us that the press will be in the same room with us, behind us, viewing the execution. He tells us we will be protected from the press, unless we want to speak with them.

He tells us that we will see Rich through glass, but not to lean on the glass. He says that if the prisoner requests it, he will put his hand on the prisoners ankle to give him human contact as he is killed. Honestly, the Chaplain did not use the word “killed,” but it is my word. The other words are just nice ways of saying the same thing. It did not sound nice to me, and it certainly proved not to be nice as the event unfolded. But I am getting ahead of myself here. The Chaplain tells us they will then administer the three drugs, one at a time. The first one will put him to sleep, the second one will collapse his lungs, and the third will stop his heart.

He asks us if we have any questions. At this point, I don’t think any of us could have found our voice if we tried. So we shook our heads no. Even having been through it, from the other side, it is simply to hard to even comprehend. He then says that once the final drug is administered, it will be several minutes until they pronounce him dead. It will seem like a very long time, but will actually be less than 10 minutes. After that, he says, we will be led out of the room and back to the Administration Building.

We then go back to sit in our own areas, talking to one another, and just waiting. Rich finally calls. He tells me he is about to call everyone he has on his list. I remind him of the timing on two of the calls, one being the call to his daughter. She doesn’t get off the school bus until 4 p.m. He speaks to everyone, then hangs up to place his other calls, saying he will call back soon.

Later, Chaplain Drum arrived. I have to say that while Chaplain Hart was somewhat matter of fact (How could he not be?), he still conveyed concern and compassion for us and what we were going through. This was not the case with Chaplain Drum. He sits with us, and proceeds to talk about himself. Three times he referred to Richard by an incorrect name. He has not even done his homework in order to know the name of the person that was being executed.

Needless to say, this is very disconcerting to us as we were already emotionally charged. I, along with others in the party, leave the room a couple of times, and then try to avoid the area where he is sitting.

Chaplain Drum shares with us that there definitely would not be a phone call allowed to Paul Colella at the Durrington Unit. It is at this time that I call Warden O’Reilly from my cell phone, and he tells me three times that the reason the call cannot be made is “because I say so.” Very articulate, don’t you think? Compassionate too…

Jack Wilcox, Rich’s choice for his spiritual advisor, comes over around 4 p.m. He tells us that Rich is in good spirits, at peace, and doing well. He said Rich is making his phone calls and getting ready for his last meal. Rich’s only concern is for us, and he asked Jack to take good care of us. If you know Jack Wilcox, you know that with Jack and Irene, there should never be any doubt about that.

Jack prays with us, and asks God to grant strength to both Richard and to us. He then explains that when we go into the Walls Unit, once we are in the “viewing area” that we should immediately go up to the glass. All the guards, Jack, and the press will be behind us. He also cautions us to be careful, and not say anything that we don’t want to see in the papers the next day. The press will be taking notes. We share with him that we have been told the press will not be with our group on this day, and he says that is good.

Rich, over in the Walls Unit, is having his last meal and getting ready to make his phones calls. He calls the Hospitality House to speak with us, and let us know he is doing okay. He lets us know that he is going to start making his phone calls. His two calls from out of the country have been set up that they can call in, because they don’t allow him to make calls outside the country.

Rich starts by calling his investigator, Tina Church, and thanks her for all her hard work and efforts on his behalf. He also asks her to continue to help the guys on the row, and to tell them no clowning. I asked her what this means, because I didn’t know that term. She explains that he wants them to stand tall, and not act out when he is executed. I cry.

Rich also received calls from two wonderful ladies, one from Canada and one from Australia, that have been staunch supporters. They have both been there to make him laugh, cry with him, and support him. He calls the Hospitality House again and tells me his wonderful Australian friend made him laugh so hard he almost cried, and that it was a fantastic call. His Canadian call was a little harder, but she too shared her love and support with him.

He is deeply saddened that he is unable to contact his Father. There was no answer on his Dad’s home or cell phone, and Rich was not allowed to leave a message. He wants to tell his Dad that he loves him, and that he should not feel responsible or guilty in any way. He wants his Dad to know, as we all do, that he is truly at peace and going to a much better place. He has told us all week that he is not giving up and he wants to live, but that he is tired of fighting and living like he has for the past 8 years. He also wants to be sure that there is no 30 day stay, and then we all have to go through this drill again. His Dad never got to hear those words from Rich, but hopefully he will read this and know how much Rich loved and cared for him.

Finally, Rich makes two more calls to two special ladies in his life. He calls his daughter Ricki as she is getting off the school bus at 4 p.m. He tells me in a call back that she is a trip, bubbling over about everything that happened in school, and telling him that she loves him. He said the happiness and love she shared brightened his spirits, and put him even more at peace.

He also speaks with a childhood friend from Las Vegas that had a special visit with him on May 6th & 7th. She was his first love, and remains a true and special friend. They are able to smile and joke, and truly love and support each other.

Rich makes his last phone call to the Hospitality House and speaks to all his friends and family there. He thanks each one for their love and support, and tells them he is ready to go, at peace, and for them to be strong. Finally, it is my turn. Rich tells me he loves me, to take care of Ricki, and to always look to God. He tells me to remember him every time I looked at Lake Michigan, or see a beautiful sunrise or sunset.

I tell him that I love him more than anything, and that he is a very, very special gift from God to me. And then he tells me he has to go, that they are ready for him.

At this point in time, we still do not know the status of his appeal. Tina Church calls my cell phone and tells me it is still pending, and that if she hears anything, she will call me immediately. But now it is time for us to go to the Administration Building.

The five witnesses, Rich’s sister Diane, his cousin Layne, his friends Missy and Suzanne, and me, place our personal things in the trunk of the car, all except our cell phones. We want to know when his petition at the Supreme Court is ruled on. We are waiting and clinging to the hope that Tina will call and tell us that they are going to hear his cause.

Paul Colella’s wife, Paula, drives us to the Administration Building, that is located only about two or three blocks from the Hospitality House. We go inside, and are led into the office lunchroom. This is to be our “holding room” for the next hour. It is filled with TDCJ literature, work regulations, several vending machines, round tables with chairs around them, a magazine rack with People magazine and others, and a plastic couch. There are no cell phones allowed here, we are told. So Missy calls another supporter to come to the door of the building so we can give her our cell phones.

Finally, we are all searched. They take us into the Ladies Washroom, and they run a portable metal detector all over us, and then the guard pats us down. This all happens in a public washroom in the Administration building. After we are searched, we are taken back across the hallway to the lunchroom.

There are a couple of officers in street clothes sitting with us. I can’t remember their exact position titles, but they are some type of liaison officer. One of them has a tie on with a TABASCO sauce logo across it. I find it extremely disrespectful, but say nothing. They chat about work and their personal lives, as we struggle to retain our composure. I pace. I cannot sit quietly. Being in this lunchroom is not what we had expected, and that, along with the situation, causes our tensions to run high and our composure to run low.

At one point, as I wait, I am fighting with all my might to hold back my panic and my tears. I say out loud, “I don’t want to cry, and if I hold my breath, it helps.” The man with the Tobasco sauce tie says, “Well, breathing is kind of important.” Rich’s sister says, “Well, apparently they don’t believe that’s true in Texas!” She didn’t says it to be funny, as she was really furious at this point, but we all, every one of us, kind of laughed hysterically, then cried.

It is strange how that happens to us in the most inappropriate times, isn’t it? Diane just couldn’t believe that he would respond that way, but most likely, he simply wasn’t thinking.

My niece Layne is trying with all her might to be our advocate. She goes to the guard at the door and questions her about Rich’s petition with the Supreme Court.

We want to know what is happening and if there has been a ruling. We still cling to that hope that we will all be told to go home, that nothing is going to take place here today. Finally, as my niece appeals to the guard’s compassion and her motherhood, the guard states, “I wouldn’t be here if it was not going to go ahead.” My niece says, “So you’re saying that they denied the petition? Is that what you are telling me?” The guard says, “I cannot say. All I can tell you is that I would not be here if it was not going to go forward.”

My niece is panicky, and says, through her tears, “Thank you for your compassion. I know it is not you. But we needed to know.” There is no one that doesn’t take notice, and the tears are in everyone’s eyes. We now know that they are definitely going to execute my Richard. It is a done deal. We are devastated.

I find out later, that at 5:45 p.m., Tina called my cell phone to deliver this terrible news as well. I also find out that they delivered this news to Rich at 5:30 p.m. We never had the chance to talk to him after that. I am sure it was a very bitter piece of news for him, as it was for us. We were together, but he was all alone.

Finally, we are told once again that since there are no victim witnesses, the press will not be in the same room with us. They will be separate. I am relieved, as I think everyone else is as well. While we don’t anticipate saying anything inappropriate, it is a private time for us and the less people present with us, the better. It is not something we want to share with strangers that don’t care about Richard.

We walk single file out of the building. Jack Wilcox had hip replacement surgery recently, and must take the elevator. We cross the street, and as we do, we see the small band of anti-death penalty supporters on the corner. As they explained to us yesterday, when the witnesses are lead in, you know it is going to happen. When they come out, you know it is over. They now know that IT is going to happen.

The Walls Unit is an old building, and there is a high, steep set of stairs to ascend on the outside. Jack takes the winding ramp, while we trudge upward to the top of the stairs to end the Walls Unit. After entering the building, we go through another door or doors, I don’t really know how many, and then we are outside again, walking through an outside court yard that is not very well maintained. Finally, we are at the viewing room.

As we enter, I am struck by many thoughts, but my eyes go straight to my son, lying on a gurney, looking at us as we enter. My eyes will remain fixed there the entire time I am in this room. In the back of my mind, I have the impression that the room is not well built, there is no air conditioning (it is muggy and oppressive inside), and the glass is really Plexiglas and it is not all that clear. It is also a very small space.

The five of us cannot fit across in front of the window, even with our shoulders turned, as we were told to get up close to the glass. One of us has to be in the second row.

I notice my son’s eyes are red. There are no tears visible now, but I know he has been crying. It breaks my heart that he was alone. But I am here now. The Warden is at the head of the gurney, and the Chaplain is at the end of the gurney, with one hand under the cover on Rich’s ankle. Rich is covered up to his chest. His arms are extended on boards of some sort, and there are needles and lines taped to both arms with clear tape. My son’s hands are not visible, but are wrapped up in elastic bandaging like the type that is wrapped around a sprained ankle. They are wrapped up as big as a boxing glove, and I wonder why? What is wrong with is beautiful hands? Why are they covered like that? I still don’t know the answer to that question.

Finally, the Warden gives the order to begin. He asks Rich if he has any final words. When I talked to Rich last, he still wasn’t sure if he was going to say anything or not. Rich responds, “Yes.” A suspended mike is pushed closer to him mouth, and he first apologizes to the victim’s family for the pain and suffering he caused them, then he thanks his family and friends for their support, and finally he tells the men back on the “row” to stand tall. Then he says he is done. The Warden orders the execution to begin.

I look at my son, and he is looking back at me. I mouth the words, “I love you,” knowing he cannot hear me if I say it out loud. He mouths it back to me. We say this to each other at least three times, and then his beautiful, loving blue eyes close forever. My eyes are still glued to his face. Now his chest rises and falls deeply, and his lips flutter, much like can happen when you have been holding your breath and let it all out at once. This happens a couple of times. Then his chest rises and falls no more. I do not know how much time has elapsed. It seems like an eternity, and yet it is all happening much too fast. I keep thinking it will stop, but it does not. And now, it is the waiting time. We simply stand there and wait. While we wait, I say “I’m so proud of you. A mother could not be more proud of a son. I love you so much.” After his eyes close, I say “They don’t know they killed a good man, an excellent man.”

Again, time more or less stands still. It is forever, and it is a matter of seconds. Finally, a doctor enters and checks Rich’s neck for a pulse, then places a stethoscope on his chest and listens to several locations. He looks up, and calls the time of death as 6:16 p.m. It is done. Richard Michael Cartwright, my warrior child, is dead. I say, “Thank you, God, for taking him away from all this. Thy will be done.”

We are then immediately led from the viewing room. I am determined not to cry or break down. I look straight ahead and keep my head high. Surprisingly, I don’t want to cry. I want to fight. I want to stop this from ever happening to another family.

I never want any other mother, who did no wrong, to have to suffer and bear this horrible pain and desolation as she watches her son die in front of her, helpless to stop it. I feel God’s hand, and know that He has indeed lifted Richard out of the injustice in Texas, to peace and love, into the arms of a loving Father. In doing so, God has passed Richard’s peace to me. I am now a most committed anti-death penalty fighter, dedicated to ending this barbaric practice forever, everywhere. In addition, I want to work to end the cruel and unusual laws applied in Texas that expedite the process and keep valid information from being review by the courts. I want inmates treated humanely, and guard abuses and disrespect to be abolished. And I want to educate the other victims, the families of men and women that are at the start of the process to know their rights and to demand that their loved ones’ cases get the attention and resources they are entitled to and deserve. I know in my heart, if I had known at Rich’s trial what I know now, Richard would not be dead.

So this is the mind set I have as I leave the Walls Unit. Once again we go down the long, steep staircase in front of the Walls Unit, across the street, and then back into the Administration Building. They tell us that we should meet back at the Hospitality House and we will be given Richard’s personal property. We are then literally “shown the door” to leave the Administration Building.

Outside the sun is still shining, the trees are still green and waving in the wind, and everything looks the same, but it is not. My son is dead. We encounter a reporter from the Huntsville Item. My niece wants to know who he works for, then takes him on the side and asks him if he “has the balls” to print a real story. He says he does, but tomorrow we will find out he does not when we read the paper. He only reprints the AP version of the story, and not what she shares with him.

I am greeted by Christa Kunkle, widow of Troy Kunkle, executed in January of this year. She hugs me, and gives me flowers. She tells me to stay strong. I assure her I will.

I know pain is still raw inside her for Troy, and brought back in memory as she has walked this path to the execution chamber with me. My heart breaks as much for her, as for me and my family.

I march across the street to the corner where the anti-death penalty supporters are still standing. I thank each and every one of them for coming out and supporting us.

They tell me that no one has ever done that before. I am, honestly, surprised. Dear Marguerite, Bryan Wolfe’s girlfriend, is there to support us also.

We then gather and go back to the Hospitality House. In the parking lot, the Chaplain hands me Rich’s Bible. He said that the last thing Richard asked was that he hand it to me personally. He also gives me a ragged sack containing all of Rich’s possessions. My son, my beautiful son, has left his worldly possessions to me. I want to scream and say, no, give me back my son instead. But I know it is done. I just don’t want it to be like this. I need him to tell me it is okay. I say a silent prayers, asking God for strength. He grants me that strength, and this long day continues.

Paula asks me if I have Paul’s cross. I don’t but perhaps it is in the property bag. I open it, and there it is inside, tangled together with Rich’s cross, looking almost as if it were thrown in the bag without thought. It strikes me as strange, knowing how much both crosses meant to Rich. Later, in a letter from Robert Shields, I will learn that a guard carried Rich’s cross out of 12 Building while he was being strip searched and readied for the death van ride to the Walls Unit. Seems he wasn’t supposed to have them, so the guard took them away. At least they got put in the bag for us. I untangle the two crosses, and give Paul’s cross to Paula. She will give it to him when she visits him on Saturday, along with the news that his friend and brother has been executed.

We go back inside the Hospitality House, and say good bye. Paula gives them a donation and thanks them for their kindness. It is time for us to go to the funeral home, where we have pre-arranged a small service. The Chaplain says that he will lead us to the funeral home, but takes off without doing so. I am unable to locate it, and finally a member of our group calls, we tell them where we are, and they have the funeral home personnel give us directions. We were almost there anyway.

We arrive, and Rich is at the front of the room, still on a gurney. The funeral director tells us that we can go up and say goodbye to him, and when we are ready, the service will start. I go up and look at my son. I peek under the cover at the end of the gurney, because Rich had told his Australian friend that he wanted to go with his boots on. He did.

I stroke his lovely hands, now folded across his chest, and completely unwrapped. They are cold already, and I have to resist the motherly urge to pull the covers up higher to warm them. The clear tape is still on his arms, but the lines and needles are gone. I am finally able to stroke his cheek, touch his head, hold his hand, things I was denied for the last 8 years. I reach down and kiss his still warm lips, and hug him. I tell him again, “I love you so much.”

The rest of our group does the same, each one going up to him to say their good byes, touching him, hugging him, kissing him. He is finally at peace, and while we know he is in a better place, but we grieve for our loss. Many cry.

I sit down and open the Bible he left to me. Inside the front cover, I read a very special message he left for me. It both breaks my heart, and restores by spirit, all at once.

The service begins. Jack Wilcox comforts us with God’s words, and his rich message. His love and respect for Rich is apparent, and very much appreciated. He says that he doesn’t think he ever knew a prisoner that was more respected or liked by other prisoners that Rich was. He was loyal, honest, and always stood up for the underdog, no matter what the consequences. We know this already, but it is something we want and need to hear again. Our son, brother, cousin, and friend was loved, not just by us, but by almost everyone he met.

At the end of the service, Jack asks if anyone has any words to say. I ask if I can read what Rich wrote in the front cover of his Bible that he gave to me. Jack says yes. I walk to the podium and speak. It is harder to read it out loud, than it was to read it to myself, but I get through it. Everyone is crying. My son, my very, very special son, still reaching out and touching those he loved with his words and love. Here is what he wrote:

Dear Mama Sunshine, 05-11-05 4:26 PM

Well, if you are reading this, I am in heaven right now. *Smile* Mom, I could not think of a more personal gift to give you than my Bible. Do not put it in storage, it is now your Bible Mom. Anytime you read it, see it, or touch it, I will know & you will think of me. I’m most likely looking over your shoulder as you read this right now, no, no, .. Mom look up some, your boy got some wings don’t you know?!!? Free from my box & the inhumane & cruel treatment of TDCJ!! Mom the sun will still rise & set for you & you must go on & not miss a beat. You have so much to offer to so many. You are a “tool of God” & you must never forget to praise God’s name to all!! Stay strong & faithful in your walk with Jesus. Let others see his love & peace through your continued faith through troubled times.

I could not of made it through these past 8 years without your love & support. It gives me so much peace to know that Ricki Marie has you in her life to love her as you have loved me. Mom you truly are the Sunshine of my life. Proverbs 31 – read it all, but 25 thru 31 is all you. Stay strong, I’m watching over you & will be waiting for you patiently. Love, Your Son, Rich

It is now time to say good bye to Rich again. The service is over. It is time to leave him behind, once again. Everyone files to the front of the room again, to say their final good byes. My daughter Diane and I are the last ones there. Once again we hug him, stroke his face, kiss his lips, and hold his cold, beautiful hands in ours. And then we leave.

I go next door to take care of the payment for the transportation of my son’s body, the preparation necessary for the service, and the use of the facilities for our service, as well as the future cremation and shipping of his ashes home to me. Initially, we had scheduled our flights to leave late the evening of the 20th in anticipation of taking his ashes with us. We are informed that it is not possible. Seems Texas has a law that states it is illegal to cremate a body without waiting 48 hours, because there might be a criminal investigation. We can only hope. But alas, the law is the law. Richard is not eligible to be cremated until 6 p.m. on Saturday, which means that he won’t be cremated until Monday morning since the crematory is closed on the weekend. We cannot stay, so we all know we are leaving him behind one more time.

After taking care of the paperwork, I ask if we can go back inside again. The answer, kindly, is yes. So once again, my daughter and I go back to my son, and say good bye one more time.

I know he is not inside his body any longer, but rather he is watching over us from above. I am so very sad and miss him so much, but on the outside I remain strong and steadfast, knowing that I have to for everyone else, and to continue my son’s fight.

Finally, it is over, and we head back to our lodging. Sleep amazingly, comes pretty easy. We are all very, very tired and emotionally exhausted. While it comes easily, no one sleeps late or long. We all want to leave Texas far behind. We are anxious to get out of town. Missy and Charity stop by with copies of the Houston Chronicle and the Huntsville Item the next morning. The Huntsville Item does not contain the information Layne shared with them yesterday, and she is disappointed that the reporter didn’t get it right. The Houston Chronicle does a more factual job, but still it is obvious that they all copied the AP report.

Pastor John arrives to take Jennie to the airport, and I give him his last letter from Rich. He reads it out loud. It is Rich’s heartfelt testimony. He wants Pastor John to use it to keep the kids he works with from traveling with the wrong crowd, getting into the wrong things, and ending up where he did. Again, a good man reaching out to make a difference, even from the grave.

Pastor John and Jennie leave for the airport. We sit around and talk for a while. Things have moved so fast. I give Missy Mouse, Rich’s dear friend, his coffee cup. It is an old white, plastic cup, covered with pictures of cars that he has taped on it. I remember him telling me about it years ago, but I didn’t know he still had it. I also give her one of his socks. You see, his underwear that he had been wearing was in his property bag. Everything else, he had given away to others on the row. I show them his hot pot. His sense of humor intact, he left a note on it that reads:

May 19, 2005 4:55 a.m.


Just poured me a cup of coffee & decided since I worked so hard for this pot that I wanted to send it to you! *Smile* I love you!!!

Your Son, Rich
P.S. Lots of tickle bugs for Ricki (each I in Ricki was dotted with a heart instead on an I)



Other than that, the bag is filled with letters from family, friends and supporters. And there are many pictures. It also contains his prison ID card, or at least a copy of it, and the other items he carried with him at all times, in with the ID card. There are two pictures of Ricki, one of her with the Easter bunny at age 3, and one taken on his birthday this year as she lay sleeping. There is also a picture of his Las Vegas friend. There is a picture of a little family I don’t know, and there is the folded up piece of lunch bag with all his precious phone numbers from his calls yesterday. My son, my son, I miss you so much.

I am surprised to find the words I said during the execution in the paper. My daughter tells us that the reporters were right behind us throughout the execution. She saw them, but no one else did. Obviously, we were lied to by the guard. I think I remember her apologizing, but I am not sure. Many things are very vivid, and other things not.

Missy and Charity leave, and it is just Diane, Layne and I. We pack everything up, and head for the airport. Finally we are leaving Texas. The last week of my son’s life is over.

It is now the first day of the rest of our lives, the first day of a life without Richard, his love, his humor, his smile. God has a new angel, and he is watching over us all. Even as the jet takes off from the ground, my mind is sad.

They killed my beautiful boy, and I will never again see his smile. I pray to God for strength to go on.

There is a cruel twist of fate that awaits us when we land. As the plane lands, my daughter checks her voice mail. On it is a message from her Dad. He says that he wants to talk to Rich, and to please have him call. He doesn’t know or understand what happened yesterday. He doesn’t know that his beautiful son is dead. Diane hands me the phone to listen to his message, as she chokes back her tears. She asks me what to do. I tell her gently that she needs to call him. In the car on the way home, she calls her Dad in Florida, He tells her again that he wants to talk to Rich, and she has to say those very hard words, “Dad, Rich is dead. They executed him yesterday.” They both cry. And another victim is created. It never stops.

About 10 days later, I open the mail box to find three copies of Rich’s death certificate, which I had requested through the funeral home. As I read it, I have the strange feeling that they have executed the wrong man. Richard’s birthdate reads February 11, 1974, when he was actually born February 11, 1970. Also, my maiden name is listed as Irene Iado Kabunsek. It is actually Irene Aida Kubancek. You would think the State of Texas could at least get this information correct.

Finally, instead of the cause of death reading “justifiable homicide,” per recent legislation in the State of Texas, the cause of death reads “Court ordered lethal injection,” and Approximate Interval Between Onset and Death is listed as “10 Min.” It is now official. My son is gone forever, but will never leave my heart.