Killing machine

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As soon as the group arrives in the room set up for inmate interviews, Fitzgerald starts directing reporters to chairs. The interview room is T-shaped, one long hall and a wider foyer with table, chairs, and vending machines. Along both sides of the hall are eight bulletproof and shatterproof windows. Each looks into a cubicle. The cubicles have doors on the other side that lock, a chair, and a telephone. On the other side, prison guards lead the inmates one by one to the assigned cubicles and lock them in. The prisoners and reporters see each other through the windows and talk through telephones.

Each assigned to a window, the ABC, NBC, and Telemundo camera crews start setting up their equipment even though the inmates have not yet arrived. Some two dozen people and all of their equipment are crammed into a space no bigger than a good-sized cloak room. Most whisper.

Van Fremd's voice rises above the others. When Gary Graham, a thin man with a goatee and mustache and large, intense eyes that are slightly bloodshot, enters his cubicle, Van Fremd grabs his receiver.

ABC--Monday Night Football--he says, by way of identifying his affiliation. Van Fremd tells Graham that he is going to call him "Sir." Graham recently had begun asking reporters to refer to him by the African name Shaka Sankofa.

Having made his introduction, the ABC correspondent moves from the window while his crew keeps tinkering with their equipment. Earlier, Fitzgerald says, he told ABC and the Rivera team that they each have about 40 minutes with Graham. Reporters have been known to ignore the time limits. "I've had to ask people to leave," he says. "I tell them, 'It's three o'clock. It's over.' I've told the correction officer to take the inmate out of his cell. So the reporter sits there looking at a blank window."

Many news organizations didn't realize that the interview that Wednesday would be Graham's last because of the controversy surrounding his case. Castlebury later concedes that they received angry calls from media who missed out on their opportunity.

Right now, with Rivera apparently still eating, inmates outnumber the interviewers. Paul Nuncio, who is scheduled to be executed the next day, is staring at an empty chair.

As a freelance photographer snaps shots of Graham, the inmate puts his hand against the glass so the image the camera captures has a forlorn look. For an AP photographer, Graham will stand in the back of his chamber, fist raised in defiance. That's the photo that will appear in The Dallas Morning News, a daily Fitzgerald says rarely sends a reporter down for the executions but has run stories about Graham now that he is national news.

"It's a lot more intense now," Graham says about the attention he is getting these days. "The media is beginning to examine the whole system."

He doesn't mind all the questions, even if they invade his privacy. At this late date, what's the value of privacy, anyway?

"It's beyond that now," he says.

Under more severe supervision because of his pledge to "fight like hell," Graham no longer has access to newspapers or television broadcasts. He will never see any of the stories written about him as the moments tick down to his date with the executioner.

After checking with his camera man about whether he looks better with his jacket open or closed and warning the operator "try not to be too tight on me," Van Fremd tells Graham, "Stories like this are tough for me. As I understand it, it is not looking very good for you. I want you to say what you think of the system."

Van Fremd then proceeds to ask Graham what Huntsville Item staff writer Michelle Lyons later refers to as "television questions."

"How are you holding up? Is this any kind of life worth living?" Van Fremd asks.

The correspondent, whose Graham interview later airs on ABC newscasts and Good Morning America, steers the inmate toward politics. "This may be your last chance to speak out. What do you, as one man to another, want to say to the governor?"

Having matched everyone up, Fitzgerald usually sits back and watches, but today he has to fetch Rivera and his crew. They have finished their cheeseburgers.

In a black suit jacket, black shirt, and black pants, Rivera slips into the chair in front of the cubicle where inmate Anthony Graves awaits. Rivera will talk to Graves first before moving on to Graham. Now 34, Graves was convicted in a mass murder of six people in Somerville in 1992. "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court," Robert Earl Carter, whose previous testimony had put Graves on death row, confessed in late May, moments before his own death by lethal injection.

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Miriam Rozen
Contact: Miriam Rozen

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