Longform

Death Angel

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And there were those he viewed as too intellectually challenged to grasp the severity of their situations as they faced their deaths. "For [Governor George] Bush to say that the State of Texas has never executed a mentally retarded person is just not true," he says. "I've been there; I've talked with them."

During the course of his work for the prison, did he meet and counsel any prisoners whom he felt had been wrongfully convicted? "Yes, I was convinced that some of them did not commit the crimes for which they died." To be more specific, he says, would uselessly reopen old wounds suffered by family members.

In retirement, Pickett has distanced himself from the prison and the death house. These days he sleeps better, smiles more often, enjoys life with his wife, Jane, whom he married 10 years ago. But he has the memories and the answerless questions about a legal system bent on demanding a life for a life. And one promise he continues to keep to the man who first persuaded him into the job.

"When [prison director] Estelle retired and moved out to California," he says, "he asked that I do something for him."

In honor of that favor, Carroll Pickett dutifully visits the local cemetery on the anniversary of the 1974 siege deaths of prison librarians Elizabeth Beseda and Julia Standley.

There, at Estelle's request, he places a single red rose on each of their graves.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers

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