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Snapshots from an execution

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The Observer stood in front of the Governor's Mansion on Monday night in a periodic drizzle, waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether a man would die, not knowing there would be no execution that night. The protesters sat in lawn chairs before the closed gate, holding signs while a camera crew from the BBC shuttled around, getting a good variety of shots, short, long, medium. Was it the gravity of the preparations at the prison an hour away, or the silent looming of the great old houses along Center Street, or the ragged black clouds sweeping up from Texarkana, or the flickering gas lamps on the posts at either side of the gate? Whatever the case, The Observer was suddenly transported to the end of October, Halloween; the whole scene lent that same spooky air as if anything might emerge from the darkness. Halloween in April, The Observer thought. The Day of the Dead the day after the Resurrection. That's what we have wrought.

The Observer made it out to the mass protest at the Capitol on Good Friday, there with several hundred others who had come to see opponents of the death penalty speak, including Damien Echols, and got to breathe the same air as the actor Johnny Depp as a bonus. As Echols spoke on the Capitol steps — a powerful and moving speech about his time on death row, in a state he still has nightmares about — we couldn't help but notice Joe Berlinger, who came to Arkansas as a young man to make the "Paradise Lost" documentaries with his late creative partner Bruce Sinofsky, standing not 5 feet behind him with a video camera in his hand. As Depp and Echols embraced as free men, Berlinger continued rolling on the scene, unapplauded and surely unrecognized by the vast majority of the crowd. There's a moral there somewhere, maybe.

A few weeks back, The Observer filled this space with our own argument against the death penalty, in which we told the story of the trial of the man who murdered KATV, Channel 7, anchor Anne Pressly, and how the trial flipped the switch of Yours Truly when we decided how absurd it was for a judge and prosecutors and defense attorneys to spend weeks trying to drain the pitchfork rage out of terrible things, only to revert to the worst kind of mob-like impulse after they had proven themselves and our society to be more than vigilantes. That's our opinion, anyway. Feel welcome to keep yours if you like it. Earlier this week, Yours Truly had posted something about the executions to Dr. Zuckerberg's Book O' Face when we got the following reply from our friend, the homeless advocate and champion Aaron Reddin, who not only talks the Christly talk, but walks the Christly walk, even where the road is rocky.

Said Aaron: "I was at breakfast last week with a friend who has always been of a 'kill 'em' persuasion. He read The Observer that you wrote about death penalty. Then he looked up and said, 'I think this writer just changed the way I see this.' Just wanted to share that with you. Don't stop writing."

Reading that, The Observer surprised himself by getting choked up. After newspaperin' so long — 15 years this August, which must seem like a drop in the bucket to some of the more seasoned scribblers in the newsroom — it becomes easy to believe that you're just making incredibly intricate paper airplanes every week and sailing them out the window to their doom, never to be seen again. Call us crazy, but it never fails to shock Your Correspondent to learn we might have touched somebody's heart and mind.

In times like these, there are always those who say we linger too much over the names of the accused, and not nearly enough over the names of the dead. So let us remember them: Jane Daniels, Rebecca Doss, Carol Heath, Debra Reese, Mary Phillips, Stacy Errickson, John Melbourne Jr. and Cecil Boren.

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