KHQ BLOG: Tom Durian Witnesses Brown Execution - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

KHQ BLOG: Tom Durian Witnesses Brown Execution

On the Inside:

The anxiety that led up to the execution of Cal Coburn Brown was nothing compared to the final minutes before we were led into the death chamber. After our 11pm live shots, a group of seven of us (three t.v., three print, and one radio) journalists were asked to gather by the media tent to be escorted in. It was a bizarre experience having the cameras turned on us. Photographers were snapping away and rolling video as we walked by, through the outer gates of the prison into the gate house. It still didn't feel like a prison honestly at that point.

Once in there we talked for a few minutes, were given a visitors badge, and walked to the visitor's area inside the front office of the prison. That's where we were searched, thoroughly. I should mention I had to completely empty my pockets, take off my watch and belt, and bring only my press ID. Then we went through metal detectors just like the airport, removing our shoes and everything, before being patted down and wanded more.

Then we were given the only thing we could take with us. A cheap pad of paper and Department of Corrections issued pen. It was how we could record what we saw. Every reporter nervously checked to make sure their pen worked before we headed down the hall and into the prison chapel. We had about 20 minutes to sit and talk here… it was already 12:30 or so. The 12:01 time we always say is more of an old wives tale… When a person is hanged it usually happens that quickly… in this day of lethal injections… per the law, nothing can be done until midnight to prepare so it often happens as it did in this case, later.

Inside the chapel, we talked about all sorts of past executions with the DOC staff to pass the time. We learned that there would be 5grams of the fatal drug injected into Brown, and if for some reason that didn't work, there was more on stand-by. Then it was time, we were buzzed through a door and into the center of the prison. Now I felt like we were in a prison… high fences with razor sharp barbed wire at the top. And there were several rings of gates we went through to the outer huge cement walls of the prison. Now the butterflies in my stomach were starting to appear even more. Several of the reporters remarked to each other that it was all becoming real at this point. We walked in a door, and then up some stairs and there we were. Instructed to remain silent and walked right into the death chamber.

When we sat down with the curtain covered window in front of us, Holly Washa's family was to our left. Her sisters in front, dad and brother behind. The women clutched a box of Kleenex close to their chests but never used them. (They would later remark that they felt stifled by the having the press in the room). 6 DOC employees and the DA from Seattle were in the room as well. It wasn't more than a minute and the curtained opened. Cal Brown, strapped to a table wearing the orange prison jumpsuit with a green blanket on top. He was looking right at us, which was startling. The prison Superintendent Stephen Sinclair was sitting on a rolling stool behind Brown like a doctor might when you're getting a check up. Brown was given a chance to speak… What he said can be found elsewhere and on khq.com but the most surprising out of his whole diatribe, was his lack of the word sorry. He said toward the end referring to his death penalty " I can not really see that there is true justice, Hopefully sometime in the future that gets straitened out" He wondered aloud why the Green River killer Gary Ridgeway could receive life in prison for his many killings, and Brown execution for only one. Only one? Ask the family of Holly Washa about that. One innocent life was taken back in 1991 and she is the true victim here. The woman died a needless death at the hands of Brown,  before he flew to California on her money and tried it again.

Once Brown was done speaking, he twitched a bit and closed his eyes. It was at this point that the fatal drugs were administered by a team of four in another room which we were prohibited from seeing. Then within moments it was obvious to many in the room that Brown drew his last breath. Then the curtain was lowered and in two silent minutes that felt like a century the phone rang… and the prison officials announced Cal Brown died at 12:56am. The door opened and we were all led out, back through the prison the way we came and to the gate house. The "decompression room" as it was called. The reporters, as we normally do, were crazed by the fact that Brown mumbled his words and all of us had choppy quotes at best. We all came together to get a better handle on the exact quotes.

We were then told that we would be led in front of the cameras now to answer questions. I said that we needed someone, a jury foreman if you will, to explain what Brown said to the media, and then take questions. Admittedly I shied away from this because of the immense amount of pressure and sort of volunteered Liz Rocca from KOMO TV in Seattle to make the statement. She did a wonderful job.

Then it was down in front of the cameras for about 15 minutes until the family came, and we were able to become reporters again and ask rather than answer questions.

The whole experience was surreal. It still has not completely set in. I'll say here what I said in front of the cameras…No matter your feelings on the death penalty... It was hard to comprehend while sitting there, that a life was taken on the other side of the glass. That in seconds a man's life was over. Just feet from where we were sitting. I can close my eyes and give you all the details inside that room, and I think I will always be able to. I have seen some pretty bad things in my years in the news business. This will sit on the list right below the horrible videotape played in the Joseph Duncan trial. It is part of my job, especially after covering cops and courts for so many years, to follow the process all the way through. I'm glad I did. I don't need to do it again. Cal Brown deserved a just punishment for his crime, that‘s for sure. I'll leave it up to you to decide if this was it.

Tom Durian

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