I just read perhaps the most unnerving result yet of the decline of journalism. Pressed for cash, news organizations are no longer assigning reporters to cover executions.
There’s one exception: Michael Graczyk, based in Houston for the AP. Being that his beat is Texas, America’s leading state for capital punishment, Graczyk has in his 20-year-plus posting witnessed some 300 deaths.
No reporter, warden, chaplain or guard has seen nearly as many executions as Mr. Graczyk, 59, Texas prison officials say. In fact, he has probably witnessed more than any other American. It could be emotionally and politically freighted work, but he takes it with a low-key, matter-of-fact lack of sentiment, refusing to hint at his own view of capital punishment.
So what does it do to a man to watch 300 people die? Graczyk is as subdued as the act itself.
“The act is very clinical, almost anticlimactic,” Mr. Graczyk said. “When we get into the chamber here in Texas, the inmate has already been strapped to the gurney and the needle is already in his arm.”
Witnesses are mostly subdued, he said, and while “some are in tears, outright jubilation or breakdowns are really rare.”
They stand on the other side of a barrier of plexiglass and bars, able to hear the prisoner through speakers. And the only sound regularly heard during the execution itself, is of all things, snoring. A three-drug cocktail puts the inmate to sleep within seconds, while death takes a few minutes. Victims’ family members often remark that the killer’s death seems too peaceful.
It’s hard for met to imagine being able to sleep at night with so much death on my eyes. Or maybe, worse, having the memory of watching the victims, some of whom Graczyk said give each other high fives.
But this is the kicker, and one I will not soon forget:
One inmate “sang ‘Silent Night,’ even though it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas,” Mr. Graczyk said. “I can’t hear that song without thinking about it. That one really stuck with me.”
This is America. As Thomas Pynchon wrote: “We live in it, we let it happen, let if unfurl.”