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Monday, September 24, 2018

80 march at Walls Unit to call for end to executions

By Marina Pisano  Express-News Staff Writer  Sunday, May 31, 1998


HUNTSVILLE -- Carole Byars of Houston was 21 and pregnant with her
second child when it happened.
"My husband was at his mother's house watching a Labor Day football game
when there was an altercation with some people next door," she said,
recalling that fatal day in 1978.
In the violence that followed, as he stepped in front of his mother to
protect her, his body was ripped open by gunfire.
"Yes, I was filled with hate for the man who killed him," Byars said of
the man convicted in her husband's death. "But I couldn't go on hating.
Executing someone only creates more victims."
Byars was one of about 80 death penalty abolitionists who joined the
Texas Journey of Hope . . . From Violence to Healing in a vigil and
demonstration at the Walls Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice here Saturday.
The event is a campaign to raise public awareness of the death penalty
and alternatives such as life without parole, not an option in Texas. It
started Friday in Houston and comes to San Antonio June 8, culminating
in a June 13 rally at the Capitol.
Other journeys have occurred in Virginia, Indiana, California and
Georgia.
Members of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty were here
Saturday as part of their annual Memorial Day remembrance of the 152
people the state has executed since 1972, including 37 last year.
"We're here today at these infamous walls," coalition leader Dave Atwood
said to the crowd that assembled with banners and placards across the
street from the red-brick Walls Unit, where death row inmates are taken
for execution. "But I believe these walls will come tumbling down."
Not all were so optimistic.
"I never was an optimistic person, and I see no reason for it when
politicians are so in favor it," said Daisy Kouzel, who teaches a
seminar in death penalty and human rights issues in New York. "The
numbers (of executions) are going up, not down."
But, like others in the Journey of Hope, Kouzel said she drew strength
from the songs, prayers and statements of others who made the trip.
It wasn't an easy day. The journey's participants, traveling by convoy,
were caught in a two-hour traffic jam on Interstate 45 in the oppressive
East Texas heat. By the time the participants gathered in the prison
ceremony, emotions were running high.
Sam Reese Sheppard, one of the journey's founders, spoke of the power of
murdered victims' families in the anti-death penalty movement.
"We need to start building bridges to victims' families around this
state," he said. "We need to hold face-to-face meetings with them and
begin the dialogue because they are hurting."
Before going on to a nearby church for an evening program, the group
paused at each of the numbered crosses marked with an 'X' -- seven of
them -- that indicate the graves of death row inmates buried there.
Standing in the clearing between groves of tall pine trees, many
participants were moved visibly as they viewed row after row of unnamed
crosses, marking the graves of the hundreds who have died in prison.
Ronald Carlson, the brother of Deborah Ruth Davis-Thornton, his sister
who was killed by Karla Faye Tucker in 1983, was angry.
"I was wishy-washy about the death penalty before they executed Karla
Faye," said Carlson who witnessed the execution last year. "But, now I'm
opposed to it. And my sister had a three-foot pickaxe left buried in her
heart. It was a very heinous crime. But I had to forgive Karla Faye. I
couldn't stand the hatred anymore."