Killing machine

It is 6:07 p.m. John Albert Burks salutes the Oakland Raiders and says goodbye to his friends. Minutes later, he is a dead man. This year's 21st execution.

Fitzgerald says that the information about the crime on the Web site comes from admission officers at the prisons. "We're only as good as our weakest link," he says.

Back at his office, Fitzgerald asks the reporters simply, "Why did the turkey shoot the guy?"

"The old man wouldn't give up the money, and I think he may have used the N-word," Witherspoon, the Waco reporter and the last one to interview Burks, replies.

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Larry Fitzgerald, the 63-year-old Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman at state executions, says that "it is just a goddamn circus around here."
Larry Fitzgerald, the 63-year-old Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman at state executions, says that "it is just a goddamn circus around here."

Don Youngblood, an investigator whom Burks' defense lawyers hired to help prepare the case, says that before his trial Burks all but confessed that he killed Contreras. "He told me he threw the gun in the Gulf of Mexico," Youngblood says. The investigator says he withheld that information from the defense lawyers until after Burks' execution because it would have gummed up their efforts to present the best case for Burks.

It's nearly 7 p.m., and the victim's family has still not emerged. Lyons, like most of us, wants to go home. "Can you give us a copy of the statement?" she asks Fitzgerald.

"They want to read it," he says.

No one in the room seems ready to defy Fitzgerald and leave.

A few minutes later, Gloria Torres, the victim's oldest daughter, stands in the TDCJ administration building lobby in front of the reporters. Torres is composed. She did not witness the execution. "We wish to express our sincere condolences to his survivors," she says. "We, too, know how devastating is the unnecessary and premature loss of one that we greatly love."

A TV reporter who has joined the group asks whether she feels better knowing Burks is dead. "The Bible says an eye for an eye," Torres says. "But had he not been executed, I could have lived with that."

Larry Fitzgerald had already headed back to his office. He'd had enough for a day.

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