Thu 13 Jun 2019
9.00pm - 10.00pm
“This is a journey to a pretty bleak place, a maximum security prison, where there are men being held who know that they are facing a sentence of death… I just wonder what he’s thinking, whether he thinks he deserves his punishment, whether he will ask forgiveness, and what his thoughts are on the years and years he has spent in prison.” - Susanna Reid
In the first part of this new two-part documentary series in ITV’s Crime & Punishment strand, Susanna Reid travels to Huntsville in Texas, home of the most active death chamber in the United States, to come face-to-face with death row inmate Patrick Murphy, who is confronting the imminent prospect of being put to death as his execution date draws ever closer.
Murphy was one of the members of the notorious ‘Texas 7’ gang who violently murdered a police officer while on the run, after he and six other criminals launched one of the most infamous prison breakouts in American history.
With his execution date set and his final days counting down, during an in-depth interview Murphy recalls what led him to the brink of the death penalty - from the prison escape which led to the murder, to how he and the other convicts managed to overpower prison guards and evade capture. He recounts his part in the crime and how he feels about the fate that is only days away.
Delving into the details of the crime, Susanna discovers that Murphy may not be as culpable as she first thought of the murder itself. He didn’t pull the trigger that killed the police officer, and he wasn’t at the scene of the robbery which led to the murder in the year 2000.
Susanna meets lawyers fighting for and against his execution, the family of the victim, as well as Murphy’s son, who grew up not knowing his father until he broke out of prison and became one of the most wanted men in the United States. As Murphy lives out his last few days and hours, she gains a vivid insight into the impact his execution will have on them all.
Susanna asks what the small-town, believed to be broadly pro-execution community of Huntsville feels about Murphy’s sentence, and whether he should pay with his life for the crime. She also finds out what it’s like to live with an execution chamber on their doorstep.
When his execution day arrives, Susanna is outside the death chamber, with those closest to the crime waiting for news from inside where Murphy’s final moments are counting down,.
When Susanna first meets Murphy, facing him on the other side of a visiting booth window on death row, she asks what brought him to this point. He says: “A lot of poor choices that I’ve made. Basically we all have a choice to do one thing or another, it’s just I’ve made the wrong choices almost every time. And so really, basically, I’ve screwed up.”
During the encounter, Murphy recalls shocking details about his past life of crime - as well as revealing to Susanna his remorse and feelings about his impending execution. Though in favour of execution in principle, he is appealing his sentence and says: “I disagree with the reason why, but I’m at peace with what may happen… You hope for the best and expect the worst. And I’m expecting the worst.”
His lawyer David Dow, who is managing his appeal, says he doesn’t believe Murphy deserves to be executed as he was the getaway driver, and wasn’t at the scene of the shooting. He says: “Six of the so-called ‘Texas 7’ went into the store and participated in the robbery. My client Patrick Murphy wasn’t in the store. Was Murphy a major participant in the armed robbery that led to the murder of the police officer? I don’t think so.”
Dixie Buchanan, the partner of police officer Aubrey Hawkins who was gunned down by the gang, says she has no regrets about Murphy facing the lethal injection. She says: “Every time one of the ‘Texas 7’ is executed, I do feel relief. I don’t have any sympathy, I think he deserves to die. Period.”
Murphy’s son Patrick III provides an insight into his father, who he has only met three times - all since his arrest - and says he feels an unusual kinship with the victim’s family. He says: “It’s not exactly something to be proud of when your father’s a cop killer… I think about Aubrey Hawkins, usually around Christmas time. I think he had a son. That kid has grown up not knowing his father and I can sympathise with that because I didn’t know mine.”
Huntsville is a town centred around a cluster of prisons, an execution chamber and a death row museum, employing about 6,700 people in total. Susanna speaks to local people and asks them whether they are in favour of the death sentence.
Among those she speaks to is former Huntsville public information officer Michelle Lyons, who witnessed an estimated 300-plus executions, and says her view on the process began to change once she became a mother. She says: “Back then, I don’t think I really thought about it, ever. But when I became a parent in ‘05, that’s when I really started to struggle with it. Seeing the inmates’ moms watch this execution, and it tore me up.”
As the time of Murphy’s execution looms, his lawyers are still filing appeals aimed at a late stay of execution - including one stating that he would like his Buddhist Monk, Rev Shih, to be present - despite the fact Christian ministers are usually the only religious figures allowed in the chamber. Outside the death chamber, Murphy’s son Patrick III tells Susanna: “It may sound cold-hearted but I’m just here to make sure it’s over.”