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AP reporter has witnessed more than 300 executions

October 21, 2009

The New York Times today has a profile of Michael Graczyk, a reporter for the Associated Press in Texas who has witnessed more than 300 inmates put to death there since the 1980s.

As the Times notes, newspapers and other media outlets routinely send witnesses for executions to be there among members of the families of the inmate and any victims. In a state like Kentucky, which hasn’t put anyone to death in a decade, and has only killed three convicts since 1976, it’s a rare occurrence that warrants statewide coverage.

But in Texas, which has killed more than 400 since the 1980s, it’s become more routine, and fewer media outlets are paying attention or participating. Except the AP, which continues to cover every execution, usually with Graczyk.

From the Times –

No reporter, warden, chaplain or guard has seen nearly as many executions as Mr. Graczyk, 59, Texas prison officials say. In fact, he has probably witnessed more than any other American. It could be emotionally and politically freighted work, but he takes it with a low-key, matter-of-fact lack of sentiment, refusing to hint at his own view of capital punishment.

Given a choice between the death chamber’s two viewing rooms, he usually chooses the one for the victim’s family rather than the side for the inmate’s, partly “because I can get out faster and file the story faster.”

“My job is to tell a story and tell what’s going on, and if I tell you that I get emotional on one side or another, I open myself to criticism,” he said.

It’s an interesting read, and perhaps a part of journalism that many don’t know much about. Many states take applications from media outlets to attend executions, with many vying for only a handful of spots.

Gracyzk has understandably seen some interesting things during the hundreds of executions, including an inmate spitting out a hidden handcuff key right before his death, according to the Times.

More from the Times –

But before the drugs flow, the inmate is allowed to make a last statement, giving Mr. Graczyk what even he acknowledges are some lasting, eerie memories.

One inmate “sang ‘Silent Night,’ even though it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas,” Mr. Graczyk said. “I can’t hear that song without thinking about it. That one really stuck with me.”

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