Thou Shalt Not Kill. Unless . . .

A Texas native stares down his state’s execution machine, one day at a time

| November-December 2010

Death Row Image 1

The state of Texas' execution chamber in Huntsville

Ken Light /

A good friend told me something startling. She said that, barring some unforeseen event, a good friend of hers was going to be poisoned to death by the state of Texas.

Her friend’s name was David Lee Powell, and David was a convicted criminal who was sentenced to death for the vicious, evil murder of a police officer named Ralph Ablanedo.

I recognize that David Lee Powell’s crime was heinous. And yet I don’t believe he was a heinous man. I don’t believe the state had the right to kill him. I also doubt, very much, that any of this—the shooting of a police officer or the poisoning of a convicted murderer—would have registered as more than a passing blip on the radar screen of my mind if I hadn’t been personally affected, albeit in an extremely indirect manner, by this sorrowful series of events.

But because I was personally affected, because I was challenged by conversations I had with my friend—about David Powell and the death penalty, about the state’s right to kill American citizens, and about my own obliviousness to political issues that don’t directly affect me—I volunteered to write a series of posts for the Texas Observer’s website. Excerpts from some of them follow.

During the two weeks I wrote these posts, which took the form of a daily countdown to David’s death, I found myself profoundly confronted by the experience.

Twelve Days Left to Live
June 3, 2010

11/12/2010 8:40:46 AM

Thanks for sharing as always Occum. As usual I have something I would like to add. These "Scholars" debating the evolution of morality were obviously atheist? Agnostic? Or possibly Universalist? Either or I find the way the debate was framed silly. Morality never changes. If for example the death penalty is wrong it will be wrong 100 years from now even if 99% of the population supports it. The way we view morality changes we may increase one dial like sex (by this I mean we place a greater value on sexual morality) for example and decrease another like violence (violence is more tolerated). There is a standard and it does not evolve we all know that there is a standard because we are born with a desire to pursue the "Right" or "Moral" thing to do even if we do not do it, it is our pursuit that proves the point not our ability to achieve.

11/11/2010 3:28:50 PM

I listened to a fascinating radio discussion between four scholars regarding the evolution of morality. One point brought about was the premise that we are all imbalanced in some fashion and it is just a matter of invoking that defect in the correct time and place. Understanding that premise, they concurred would make us all a little more compassionate. However, they also agreed that if they found someone sitting in their car when they left a different personal view may be had. These are difficult decisions.

ann frye
11/10/2010 9:59:07 AM

Thought provoking. As a tax-paying citizen of a state (not Texas) and of the United States, I also have complicity in this state run death machine. And it sickens me.

11/10/2010 8:51:19 AM

Honestly I got bored of this article and quit reading it because it sounded like a million other of these stories I have read. What is intriguing to me is how people who dont believe in the inerrancy of scripture use it when it serves there purpose but have no idea of the context. I have a far closer connection to the death penalty than this man. My family was the vicitim of one of these heinous crimes. Personally I am undecided I have gone back and forth on this issue for over 30 years. Any one who thinks it is black and white is crazy.