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Death Penalty Controversy Lives On


A new documentary At the Death House Door and a Virginia execution of convicted killer Kevin Green have once again stirred the controversy over capital punishment. New questions have been raised in recent years over the U.S. death penalty, as some officials say minorities and the poor are disproportionately put to death. In other cases, DNA tests resulted in the release of a few inmates who were scheduled to die.

On a Friday night in February 1983 a man with a knife walks into a Texas convenience store. The documentary At the Death House Door replays the conversation in which Wanda Lopez, a lone clerk, calls the police screaming for help while being attacked.

Wanda Lopez died shortly after the attack. Police arrested and charged an ex-convict, named Carlos De Luna, with the murder.

Reverend Caroll Pickett was chaplain on Texas death row for 13 years. He is the one who escorted De Luna to the death chamber in December 1989. Pickett says police were drawn to the ex-convict, ignoring evidence that another man might have committed the crime.

Pickett watched 94 others executed. He says even though he believes many of them were guilty, noone should be put to death.

He tells his story in the documentary, to directors Peter Gilbert and Steve James.

"It is hard to tell anybody, even the meanest person 'It is time to go,'" says the retired minister." We're 10 steps away from the gurney. Many of the inmates who were strapped down with the arms spread out, said I feel like I'm on a cross."

Nine years later in another convenience store in rural Virginia, the owners faced two armed men who walked in and opened fire.

Patricia Vaughan was shot four times, drowning in her own blood.

Her husband, Lawrence Vaughan was shot twice and survived. He still carries in his body the bullets that came from Kevin Green's gun, and Vaughan says his life has never been the same.

"Look what he took away from me. He took my friend, my business, my store, my wife. And we got to pay taxes as long as we live to take care of him," says Lawrence Vaughan.

Green was executed by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center days ago on May 27th.

Lawrence says his wife's killer deserved to die. His daughter, Marcia Brown Vaughan agrees.

"Even for the people who aren't for the death penalty, I hope they sit back and take a moment to realize how that victim feels when they are in that position. I mean the last thing these people see is a gun pointed at them," she says. "I hope this will be a closure for us to start over a new chapter to know that my mother's killer is no longer a threat in our minds."

Anti-death penalty activist Caroll Pickett insists that capital punishment is not the answer. "We had a fellow in prison. He was executed and within two years his sister killed four people and his son killed three people. It doesn't work!" says the reverend.

But David Albo, chairman of the Justice Committee in the Virginia House of Delegates, says the death penalty is about fairness.

"If we're going to carry out the ultimate punishment we're going to make sure that person got a fair trial," says the delegate.

Reverend Pickett of Texas tells a different story.

"I began to see the type of person who's been executed. Primarily black or brown, many of them mentally ill, and then the biggest thing I began to see was that a lot of these people were innocent. Death penalty is an irreversable mistake," he concludes.

Even so, Lawrence Vaughan and Marcia Brown-Vaughan say this argument is not convincing enough to end capital punishment for killers such as Kevin Green.

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