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Wednesday 5.14 

click to enlarge Carroll Pickett
  • Carroll Pickett

Raleigh
Special hearing on death penalty
North Carolina General Assembly—As a Texas death row chaplain, the Rev. Carroll Pickett had one responsibility as far as the warden was concerned: to make sure the condemned inmate "didn't fight getting out of the cell or getting on the [execution] table or during the ordeal." In that regard, the now-retired Presbyterian chaplain was successful. None of the 95 inmates he accompanied to their deaths "ever fought at all."

Once a staunch supporter of the death penalty whose grandfather was murdered in 1917, Pickett, 74, now opposes capital punishment and is in Raleigh today for a special hearing on the topic. Pickett's visit is also part of a national tour to promote the film, At the Death House Door, a documentary that chronicles his 15 years employed at The Walls, the name given to Texas' death house in Huntsville, where 405 executions have been carried out since the resumption of capital punishment in 1977. (Executions are expected to resume this month, adding to the national total of 1,099.)

Last month, At the Death House Door won the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival's Inspiration Award. Clips from the Independent Film Channel's production, which premieres May 29, will be shown at the General Assembly today in the Legislative Auditorium. The timing couldn't be better: Pickett's biggest concern is about wrongful execution, and last week, North Carolina released another innocent man from death row.

One of 11 children, Pickett says his pro-death penalty father "taught us all, 'You've got to hang 'em high and hang 'em fast,' because the man that killed his father didn't even get arrested," Pickett says, speaking from his home in Montgomery, Texas. "So he was very, very strong in favor of it, and I was taught that way, and I was raised that way, and I went to [work in] prison that way."

Years of being part of the execution process changed Pickett. "It was very painful, particularly with mothers," he says. "To see a mother watch her son getting—and we call it murder—getting murdered by the state, is very difficult. Some of them just went speechless, some became hysterical and some of them almost passed out." Pickett also believes "nobody should die alone, and some of these people didn't have anybody." —Patrick O'Neill

Carroll Pickett joins At the Death House Door co-producer Peter Gilbert, Chicago Tribune reporter Maurice Possley and several local experts at a hearing today in the Legislative Auditorium at 16 W. Jones St. in Raleigh, beginning at 1 p.m.

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