Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Death Row Interview Tape #1
INTERVIEWER: Say your name and spell it.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: James Lee Beathard. B-E-A-T-H-A-R-D.
INTERVIEWER: Lee is with 2 es?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Yes sir. J-A-M-E-S. L-E-E. B-E-A-T-H-A-R-D.
INTERVIEWER: How long have you been on death row?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Close to 15 years.
INTERVIEWER: What has it been like?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I mean, I, you know, in the short, short explanations, its been kind of hell. I mean, theres no way you can describe being in prison, especially on death row, any other way other than saying its a man made hell. No doubt about that.
INTERVIEWER: Do that again.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Short answer is that its been hell. Any prison time is hell. Death row is just a different depth of hell. Different circle of hell.
INTERVIEWER: Why are you here?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I was accused in a 1984 triple homicide. Supposedly for remuneration, for insurance collection. Involved with a (ball partner?), co-defendant of mine.
INTERVIEWER: Describe the crime.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: (Well?), Id really rather not get in to long details in it right now, but the short story is that a friend of mine was supposed to have killed his father, step mother and half brother to collect the insurance money. Thats what we were charged with. In reality, it was a, he had a long term, standing feud with his father and it just escalated to a, a real nasty point.
INTERVIEWER: You contend that you were not part of the actual murders.
15:02:43 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I wasn't. I wasnt. This is Texas and thats really not relevant, according to the courts.
INTERVIEWER: Did you perpetrate the murder?
15:02:55 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No I didnt, no I didnt. And mater of fact the, the co-defendant in 1986, matter of fact after, as soon as he got down here, went to the press and the courts and explained to them that he had lied at my trial. He had testified against me at my trial. And explained that he had lied in hopes of making a deal with the prosecutor in order to avoid a death penalty for himself. The prosecutor reneged on the deal, verbal agreement they had made with him. And he has since tried to straighten it out and clean it up. Unfortunately the court system in Texas doesnt take recantations, and they dont give them any weight at all, as a matter of fact.
INTERVIEWER: Did you perpetrate the murder that you're accused of?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No, I didnt. I didnt. I cant remember where I was at with that (wall ago?). But I didnt. I have a codefendant in my case who testified against me at my trial. He admitted the day that his trial was over with that he lied at my trial, and had had a verbal agreement with the prosecutor to testify against me, implicating me in the crimes in exchange for a life sentence. The prosecutor had reneged on that verbal agreement. and since then my codefendant has done everything he can legally and media wise to try to correct what happened. Texas doesnt give any weight to recantations from codefendants or anybody else for that matter. So Im still here. And technically they have, you know, ways that they can go ahead and maintain the conviction.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you when the crime was being committed?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I was nearby the crime scene. Its, you know, we can get in to 2 hours trying to go into details of what happened, and thats really not relevant at this point.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think the death penalty deters crime?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Of course not Murders in this country have fluctuated since the reimposition of the death penalty in the mid 70s. But they're, the numbers, the statistics have never matched the execution rates in any way. If anything, they match economic changes. If you want to predict whether or not a murder rates gonna go up or down, look at the economic indicators. And that you, thats usually a much more accurate indication of what you can expect on murders in the coming year.They could double the number of people being killed. They could stop the death penalty completely. And the murder rate wont change one bit. You have to understand, anybody that commits a murder, especially capital murder, their mindset at that time is not such that they're going to consider the consequences. Somebody who might think they can get over on the system, they think they can get over no matter if there's a death penalty or not. Most crimes arent like that. Most crimes are simply a heated moment crime of passion. A survival situation if you will even. Im not justifying a lot of them. But, a man whod robbing a minute mart of a 7 eleven or what ever, usually has no intention of killing anybody. Some of them do. And the death penaltys not gonna stop them. But the ones that dont, they just want to get the money and leave. Shoot out comes down, of course they're gonna defend themselves. He didnt think well, gee theres a death penalty, Ill go ahead and get shot. I mean, they just dont think that way. I mean, you have to, you have to think a little bit on why a murder occurs. and then try to link that in as far as deterrence goes. You know, the average Joe Blow out there things, well, you know, Im not gonna commit a crime because I might get a death penalty. Well hes not gonna commit a crime anyway. I mean, most people out there in society, they're not committing murders, not because they're afraid of the law, not because they're afraid of the death penalty. They're not committing murders because of internal morals and ethics. Pure and simple. You cant scare people into obeying or following rules like that. If your mind set, if your paradigm of the world is such that the only way you control people is through fear, well you've got a really negative view of the world out there, and I don't think you understand the average person.
INTERVIEWER: How do you respond to people who people who say that of course you're gonna say you dont deserve to die?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I don't think I can. I mean, Im not even gonna try. I, I guess the one thing Id like people to think about out there, no matter what Im accused of, no matter what bad feelings they, they may have about me or what ever evil they may wish upon me, they have to understand that when they, when they execute me, my punishments over. I mean, the worst part of my punishment is the 15 years Ive spent down here in this place. Thats the worst part of my punishment. When they execute me, they pretty much stop my punishment. The people they're punishing the most after my execution is my family. My wife, my mother, my daughter, my brother and my family. They're the ones that are gonna have to live on after that. One would think that the, the victims of the families out there, who suffer great losses. I mean, you can never over state just how much suffering and loss these people have gone through. You'd think they'd be the last ones whod want to see another family suffer. You know, justly with the death penalty or not, you'd think they just wouldnt want to put another family through that. And, yet they seem to be the ones who are clamoring the most to see that happen.Its as if they want to punish my family for what Ive been accused of. More than they want to punish me. Its as if they, they have a mind set and they havent stated it, but, but you get the impression that they're mind set is that, if they can get enough other people to suffer like they have, some how or another, their suffering will be lessened. And it wont. You know. You can execute me and everybody down here. Tomorrow, and the next day all the victims families will wake up and their lived ones will still be gone. They'll still miss them.
INTERVIEWER: If your family was killed, would you want to see the killer executed?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: On a gut level response, Id want to take him and choke him with my own bare hands. I think thats a human response, and its a valid response, as a gut feeling. But just because you feel that way internally doesnt mean you should give wider action to that. I mean, were above that, supposedly. On a moral and ethical level, no I wouldnt want to see them executed. I mean, it wouldnt do me any good. It wouldnt bring my family back. And while I may think if for a little while, that this will give me some kind of peace of mind, I guarantee 6 months after that, I wont have any peace of mind. I wont care if that one persons dead. The only thing Ill still care about is the person that I lost is still gone, or still hurt. And thatll never change. Truth is I dont trust the court system to carry through, you know, accurately. I, I think they have way too many errors for me or anybody else to trust them with killing somebody on my behalf.
INTERVIEWER: Who gets the death penalty? How many millionaires are in there?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: (CHUCKLES) Theres no millionaires in here. Weve had probably 5 people who came from families with money. Probably about a quarter, maybe a third of the guys down here come from firmly middle class backgrounds. Maybe lower middle class. But the vast majority of people down here are from lower economic rungs. Its just that simple. I mean, and theres 2 reasons behind that. One is that the courts just arent real inclined to go after somebody who comes from a good family. And those people are gonna be able to hire good legal representation, too. And second poverty brings crime. Crime breeds murder, brings capital murder. And, thats where its gonna happen at. You want to, you want to look at, at the demographics on where the death penalty is, or who commits capital murders, its gonna be people from the lower socio-economic status. And, that, that in turn gives (breed?) to some really worrisome trends. For instance, when I first, when I got here, probably 25 or 30 percent of the men here were minority. Blacks and a few others. Now, over 50 percent of the people here are minority and it may be now that African Americans are carrying over 50 percent of death row. Thats a radical change since Ive been here. And when you consider, and compare it to the, the population in general, thats way over representat-, its a huge over representation of African Americans in here. Now you're left with one or two conclusions. Either one the system is biased and unfair, or two, you can, I guess (CHUCKLES) you could claim that African Americans are more genetically predisposed for violent crimes. I dont buy that for a second and Id love to see a politician have the guts to get up there and say that and ruin his career. Cause the only explanation left is theres an economic problem here. And where minorities in this, in this country are left in a really bad position, there are going to be. Now the solution for crime there is suggested that you change the economic situation. Unfortunately that takes money and it takes will power. It takes incentive, it takes some kind of moral drive. And they dont have that in government in this country. Its much easier to ignore that and just come down hard with a (fist?), with an iron fist and say, well were fixing your problem. Were killing more people and were building more prisons. Give you a false sense of security. Nothings changing.
INTERVIEWER: What went through your mind when he judge sentenced you to death?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I think anybody, anybody here, and I dont; mean to speak for everybody, I cant do that. But when, when they read your death sentence, when the judge reads that, that document that says you've been sentenced to death, I think everybody is numbed. Even if you're expecting it. You know, just hearing those words, its something that you just cant imagine. You cant picture. I don't think theres words that I could give you that would describe it. For me, just a real incongruous thought went through my mind was well, aint this a bitch.But that doesnt describe what was in my heart. At that time Im, I was expecting it. But at the same, time, as soon as he said the words, its just like my entire world crumbled, and in my mind I could see my family just, shrinking and getting further and further away. I had seen everything that meant anything to me was just evaporated right then and there.
INTERVIEWER: Did you expect that sentence?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Yeah, yeah, I mean I knew where I was from. I knew the county, I knew what the system was like And I knew when the jury walked in, the first day of trial, they really didnt give a damn one way or the other. I mean, they were there to convict, period. I think most juries in Texas are. You know, if somebody gets selected to a jury, they'll get up there and say no, I dont have a bias. But if you ask them in an unguarded moment whats this trial for, they will say, oh, were here to have a trial for that man who killed those people. They dont say, and they sure dont think in a paradigm, well, were here to have a trial and see if this is the man who killed these people. They're, in the back of their mind is, he did it. And the entire process for a defense attorney is trying to over come that assumption. And its impossible in Texas, nearly.
INTERVIEWER: Do you deserve to die?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No, I dont. (SIMULTANEOUS CONVERSATION) I mean, I can say that and that doesnt carry any value with anybody out there. I can say I, I dont deserve to die because Im innocent. Nobodys gonna believe it. And frankly, at this point, I dont give a damn anymore if anybody believes it, cause it, it doesnt matter. And, and I dont say Im less deserving of death because I didnt do it versus these other guys here. Because the corollary to that is that other people here do deserve to die. And in fact nobody deserves to die. The courts and the trial system, what, the outcome a your trial isnt really contingent on whether you're guilty or innocent. Whether you're executed isn't really contingent on whether you're guilty or innocent. Nobody out there cares, and quite frankly at this point, I dont care any more either. I, I dont care whos guilty in here. If they get out. I, I do sort a care about the people who are innocent, to get out. But on a big level, its like well, what the hell, I cant do anything about it. Ive had too many friends who were innocent down here who have been executed. And, you know, thats just part of the, the system now.
INTERVIEWER: Are you appealing your sentence?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I am. I am.
INTERVIEWER: Then you do care.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Oh sure, Id like, Id like to, to win my freedom. But thats such a remote possibility that I dont even think those, in those terms any more. I really dont. I wish I did, I guess thats a loss of hope, but, you know uh, I don't know, after 15 years in here and, nearly 180 people that Ive know have been executed, its like hopes kind of a big, its a str-, its, the set up for a big really crude joke, is (all it is?) in here.
INTERVIEWER: How do you know some of the men executed in here were innocent?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: You look at their cases. You look at what they have for appeal, and then you see how the courts deal with it. I mean, understand something here. The courts no longer look at a case and say this man has an arguable claim of innocence, we must do something. They look at the case and they say, technically, is there any appeal options left for him under the protocol that we have? The actual merits of the case dont enter into it. You're killed by a protocol or technical default before you can even get em in sometimes. You know, Ive known people here who had another person came forward later and said yes, I did these murders, not the man you have on death row. They executed him anyway. Ive known people who had statements of co-defendants, who, who came forward near the end of the mans appeal, and says look, I cant live with this, Id like to fix this. The man who was waiting to die tired to get a court hearing, the court says you've exhausted your appeal remedies. Whether this is accurate or not is not the point. You've exhausted your remedies, we wont have a hearing. And he died anyway. I mean, this has happened again and again and again. And the first case that was the worst one about that involved a man named Leo (Perera?). And the state argued with the U.S. Supreme Court that the protocol, the execution process, your options for (habeas?) appeal were what was most important. That at some point it had to be final. And that the state shouldnt be penalized by late evidence or late information. And the Supreme Court sided with him on that. They actually got in to a discussion of, of technical guilt versus actual innocence. And unfortunately, the court system can only deal with the technical issues, as in technical guilt. And actual innocence is a secondary issue. And Leo died, and many more since. You know, you look at Illinois, where they've had to let somebody go. Texas, Texas would never do that. Texas firmly believes on burying its mistakes. And Im sure a lot of prosecutors and probably a lot of the public in Texas, too, feels like the, the appearance if integrity, the idea that we have to at least look like were doing something and look like were efficient and safe, is more important than actual integrity or safety. I really believe that they feel that (way?).
INTERVIEWER: Was Perera proven innocent?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: It depends on what you call proof. Of course he never got a legal technical hearing to prove his innocence. Thats the bottom line. You can look at the evidence and weigh it in terms of a preponderance. And on a preponderance, of course he would pass for innocent. But a preponderance of the evidence isn't what counts in the late steps of your appeal.
INTERVIEWER: How long do you remain here until you're taken to the holding cells prior to execution?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Okay, we, you're somewhere on death row, you know. Theres 5 or 6 wings now, cell blocks of the death row inmates. Its huge. And then, 2 or 3 days before you're actual execution date, you're put in a, a cell on G13 cell block. And its near the door on the first row. And, its pretty, its called death watch. And you're there. They take most a your property away from you. They put you in there to make sure you dont commit suicide and beat them to the punch.The day of your execution, you usually, a bit before lunch, or close to lunch, they'll take you from here and carry you to the walls, to the holding cell over there (...?). And you're there until they take you down the hall to the death chamber and strap you down and kill you.
INTERVIEWER: Have you visualized what it will be like for you?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Sure. I think everybody here has, to, you know. You wonder how you're gonna handle that day. You cant help but wonder about it. I think a lot of people who arent in prison and arent in any kind of trouble at all have sat and tried to visualize that. I mean, this idea of taking that final walk is, is almost a its almost a I don't know. Its, its a standard image in our culture according to movies and television shows.Theres always the, the TV show or the old 30s movie, where you have the priest reading from the bible and the guards escorting the man down that final walk. And I think everybody, if they've thought about he movies, or the reality (of the death penalty?) has wondered what it would be like. And of course we do so more in here than people out there do. But yeah, of course Ive thought about it.
INTERVIEWER: What is the truth, is there a guy with a harmonica, and a priest?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: (TALKS OVER) Were not allowed music instruments like in the movies, thats for sure. You're there in the death watch cell, and they you know, I hear they feed you pretty good that day. I mean, theres none a my friends have come back and told me about it. Thats for sure. I say that, I had a friend who got down to within an hour (of they?) actually had him in the death chamber before he got a stay and came back. And they have, they have a snack tray and they feed you pretty good. And the guards are, try to be a polite as they can over there.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: They have, they have a food tray over there, and they, they treat you decent. They give you access to a telephone, which is, was real rare in this place. And, then when the time comes, if you have a religious adviser or a priest there, somebody TVC will approve of, they will walk with you from the holding cell to the execution chamber. Unfortunately, its the people they choose now. They'll let, theres one priest whos been down here for a long time thats real close to most of the Catholics down here. And he, they'll usually let him come in there for us.
INTERVIEWER: Would you say anything to Gene (...?) before your execution?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Probably not. Probably not. I mean, I don't know what I could say to him. You know, I I mean, this is his gig, not mine. Of course I resent the fact that he testified against me, and you cant you know, escape that. I try not to let it kill me inside. And eat me up with anger and, and bitterness and all that. Working on forgiveness for that is a, is a long and slow, its, its a day to day process that I have to work through.
INTERVIEWER: So you wont say you're sorry for what happened to his family?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I mean, no, why would I? This is hi gig, not mine.
INTERVIEWER: What is your opinion of state sanctioned murder?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Well, I mean again, you know, the ridiculous answer is, well I think its a pretty bad idea. You know, cause that doesnt carry any weight. I don't think people really realize how many mistakes are made. What its gonna cost in society, both in terms of families damaged and in terms of money lost. I don't think they see the long term sociological effects of having a death penalty. I think its even possible, Im not saying its definitely true, but I think on some level the, the problem with murders in this country is partly because of the death penalty.I mean, you've completely sanctioned, given the U.S.D.A. government approval that killing somebody because you've been wronged is a valid response. And whether the government does, or you do it yourself its still given an okay. Granted they dont officially give it, but theres an implied okay for it. The governments doing it, well why shouldnt I? I I hesitate to make a comparison, because I always get these weird looks. But I don't think people see the slippery slope that we have with the death penalty here. You know how to say this. Okay, the real horror, the essential, the quintessential horror of the holocaust wasn't that they killed 6 million Jews. Okay. Thats, thats a question of magnitude. And thats a huge thing. But the quintessential horror, the quintessential evil of the holocaust was that they could kill one. If they couldnt kill the first one, they couldnt have killed 6 million. But once the first one was okayed, and then 10, 50, 100, 1000, 3000, move down the road it became easier each time. I don't think that well get to a point where were, were exterminating 6 million people. But, we are getting to a point that we really dont have much respect for life in this country. Either in this country or in other countries. You know, nobody, nobody looks at, at the holocaust and says well, you know, some of those people, those 6 million were probably guilty of a crime. Im only offended by the fact that they killed the innocent Jews, not the, not he guilty Jews. Nobody looks at the numbers and says well, 6 millions really bad, 3, 3 million would have been acceptable. I mean, how many do you have to get down to, 3000? Before its acceptable? You know, and theres some point Im sure, Eichmann looked at Hitler and said 3000? Looks like a good start. You know. So I think its a quintessential evil that once you, once you've opened the, once you've crossed that threshold of society, where you think you have the right, and a mandate, to declare another life unworthy of life and execute him, you've crossed a threshold on your, on your own heart and soul that you cant go back from. And, theres just so much that can follow from that. And I think thats where were heading now. In this country, we have a problem with Saddam Hussein, we have a problem with, with Slobodan Milosovic, and we dont kill Hussein or Milosovic. We kill hundreds of citizens in Baghdad or Belgrade. You know, I mean thats, they kill me. But my familys the one that gets damaged. We, we want to punish as many people as we can for, for our perceived wrongs.
INTERVIEWER: How do you respond to someone who says that executing a murdered is not murder?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I, you know, it, that, and thats attempting to play with semantics when people say that. I mean, taking someone, deliberately holding them down and killing them is, is a murder, no matter how you look at it. It may be state sanctioned murder, but its still murder. It, its a word game to say its anything less.
INTERVIEWER: Any feelings on why society now supports the death penalty?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Jeez, I been sitting here trying to figure that one out for the past 20 years (CHUCKLES) you know. Since the change came about, Ive been trying to figure this one out. And I really dont have an answer for that I, I do think I think it was in parallel with a symptom of maybe of a contributing cause. I don't know. But you remember the big conservative push in the late 70s and in 80 when Reagan was in power. When, when the conservative right took over the country, we just went crazy from there. And I think theres this old fashioned cowboys, you know, shoot em up, you know bullets be damned kind of thing thats taken over. I think people are afraid, and crime is really not going up. Crime is pretty much stabilized, and yet the fear out there goes up every year. The media misrepresents the actual crime numbers. Not directly by lying about statistics, but as much as the way they cover crime. You know, everybody has to be more sensational to the last person, and the last person, and the crime may still be the same, but it looks different because of the way its reported now. That leads to people wanting to have a death penalty. Politicians have got into this sort of, this one upmanship. Where Im tougher on crime than you are. No, Im tougher. And each politician, every election cycle has to up the ante. And, you get to a point where, okay, Im for the death penalty, well Im more for the death penalty than you are. And the next one says well, Ill kill twice as many as you, and I keep waiting for the politician says well, yeah but Ill throttle him with my own hands if you (CHUCKLES) give me a chance. Its the one, its strictly a, a public image. You know, feeding off itself. I really think thats whats going on.
INTERVIEWER: What should be the appropriate punishment?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Okay, and, and this gets back to a a, you have to examine what your paradigm is. What are you wanting to accomplish? I mean, are you wanting to protect society? In the, the most cost effective manner possible, and with the most success? If thats your goal, thats not necessarily the same thing as punishing people. The idea is, if you have a person whos a problem human being, you need to either help that person, fix him if you can. And Ill be the first to say, a, a lotta times change for a lotta people is just not gonna happen. A lotta people change is possible, as they get older. But for some people, it wont. But you, you isolate that person, you get them out of society. And if you cant give them a chance to rehabilitate, reform, change their ways, then you remove them from society. You do put em in prison. I have no problem with prison as a concept. But once they're in prison, you've accomplished your goal of removing them from society. Theres nothing there that says you have to take all meaning from that mans existence form that point forward. And thats punishment. I think society has the paradigm that the goal of prisons is to punish. And many politicians talk that way. And it sounds good, it sounds, it appeals to some gut level baser instinct in people. I mean, for instance you were asking a while ago if how I feel if somebody hurt my family. Well Id want to hurt em.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Death Row Interview Tape #2
INTERVIEWER: Why do you do these interviews?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I don't know, heck. Why does anybody, anybody talk to other people? You know you talking about me personally or anybody down here?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: (TALKS OVER) Like anybody else, I see whats, I see whats going on. I have a, I have a better handle, I have a different perspective than most people. Ive seen it from the inside. You, the other reporters, the average citizen out there, they havent been here, they havent faced the court system. They dont really have a working understanding of whats really going on here. And I guess Im under some drive, internal thing to, to try to speak out, say hey, listen. Its not what you think it is. I mean, theres something else going on here. Im not saying you're foolish, but you havent had time to look at the truth and the facts yet. Listen and then come see for yourself. Listen to what I say, and if you, and if Im wrong anywhere, you tell me. But at least give me a listen to. I mean, its, anybody that sees something wrong, you feel obligated to, to speak out on it. I don't think Im gonna have any success at it. But there was an activist priest back in the 60s man, right now, after 15 years my brains started to slip. I cant even remember the guys name now. But what he said one time is you dont try to, to, you dont try to change the world or speak out for right or wrong, you dont ever try to change the world because you think you can succeed.You try to reach, speak out, try to change the world to keep it from changing you. Because the moment you stop trying, you give in to it, and you cross the threshold, (over?) in your own heart, you can never come back from. And I think that's a lot of why, why I do it. I mean, I don't think anythings gonna change. I know better. But, at least I know, and its on the record somewhere, I at least said it.
INTERVIEWER: What has this long wait been like for you?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: For me, and I think a lot of the guys here, its been like a slow death. You know. They've locked me up long enough that most of everything that meant anything to me on the outside is gone. Its not replaceable, its not reclaimable. I mean, I, I have a relationship with my daughter, Im still on good terms with my, with my mother. I have a wife. I mean, I have these things. But, the life that goes around that, is gone. And as that dies, something kind a dies inside you. I think the long wait for most of the guys here brings you to a point you really dont care if they kill you any more.
INTERVIEWER: Would you prefer a swift execution?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: If Id a known that I was gonna be here this long, I would have happily taken a swift execution. After a few years you have enough invested in the process of trying to fight for your life that you really dont want to give that, the equity up, I guess. You cant really afford to give that up. I mean, I havent taken a razor blade and whacked my own wrist or anything like that. But, yeah, this is, this has been a slow death. You know, the, the physical deterioration that goes on here, the mental deterioration.You know, a lotta guys, they work real hard to, to keep from going down hill physically and I gave up that struggle a long time ago. And even mental deterioration, you can, you can slow it, you can mitigate it. But thats the best you can do, its still gonna happen. And you know, when I was, when I was first sentenced to death, I was kind of you know, shocked. It was like, oh, my god. They're gonna kill me. And then after a while, there was a, an anger that came after a few years here that says, these bastards, they're gonna kill me.After 5, 10 years goes by, there is a sort of a quite, matter of fact, they're gonna kill me. Its not that Im cool with it. But, after this many years of living with it, and watching all my friends die, theres not much, I just accept it. I cant change it. And, you know, the worst part about the time here is, is the loss of the friends. You know. I mean, Ive lost, Ive met people in here, have, with more integrity than most of the people Ive known in the streets. Theres people in here that I would trust with my own life or the life of my family. Ive had friends in here, who, weve been through things in here, watching friends die. Going through adverse times with the officers and things that, you build a bond in here that you probably dont build anywhere else. Im not trying to say were heroes. You know, but its not unlike a war situation, or fox holes, where, where you go through enough adversity with somebody, you know who you can trust and you know how deeply you can trust him. And to watch those people die is really rough. And 2 of the closest friends Ive had in here one was executed, my cell partner for 2 or 3 years was executed in June 11th of, of 97.And then another long term friends whod been a cell partner on and off for years, moved into the cell, and he was killed June 11th a 98. Like, thats just too many hits too close together.
INTERVIEWER: How do the officers treat you here?
16:05:43 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Really the truth is, they have some of that that goes on in some of the other units here. Not this one. Not because of death row Well, because of death row, they watch us pretty close. And this is an old timer unit. It has just a different feel to it. Most of the guards here are, are particularly the older guards that have been here a long time, they treat us just fine. I mean, they do their job. You build a certain rapport with them where, where you talk to them. You have a comfortable relationship with them.
16:06:12 And of course there's always a few of them who are, are gonna be real jerks, anywhere you go. They're usually the younger ones and the newer ones. Not always. And you deal with those guys, and you just do the best you can. And you've got a crop of, of some newer guys here that you dont interact with them at all. They're mostly college kids. And they look like they're 16. And they come in and they've got a wall. Which is fine But in the old days, when I first got here, and still with the older guards, theres a certain rapport.
16:06:46 Its not so much that they give a damn about you. But they want to know where your heads at on any given day. I mean, thats their life at stake. And for the most part they're, they're professional. You know, about a quarter of the guys here are professional. About a quarter of em are real jerks and stupid. And then about half of them are just completely indifferent and lazy.
INTERVIEWER: Would you consider waiting here cruel and unusual punishment?
16:07:12 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Oh, sure.
16:07:15 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Because of what it does to family. Because of what it does to the survivors of a man on death row. Thats probably the worst aspect of it. In many, in many states and in most countries, the 15 years Ive done is a life sentence. And would count as a life sentence. And, Ive done a life sentence now, by those standards. I was given one sentence, I wasnt given a life sentence and execution. I was given the option between, or the court was given the option between a life sentence or execution.
16:07:48 They gave me the execution. Ive done the life sentence now, and I'm gonna get executed on top of it. Again, the worst part is what it does to my family. But, I don't think people have, have really taken into consideration exactly what 15 years in this place with that ax hanging over your head every single damn day of your life is like. You know, that stress is unbelievable. You cant imagine waiting to die every day.
16:08:15 People who lose friends, who lose close friends whether its a work situation or a school situation, they (send em?) to grief counselors, because societys finally recognized (...?) exactly how emotionally devastating this can be for people. Well hey, you know, Ive watched nearly 180 people, and the closes friends Ive got in the world die one after the other. And theres this really I don't know, sort of a grim survivor mentality you take after a while. And enduring that for a while, I don't know, I think that's an unavoidable side issue.
16:08:52 Its one of those, its an unavoidable side effect of the death penalty. You cant have a long, a death penalty without that. But, I don't think people have really taken into consideration exactly how cruel that is to put a person through that. And of course if they did, the courts and the average John Q. Citizen out there, they'd be all happy for it. They'd be happy if they came in here and beat us twice a day. You know.
INTERVIEWER: But the victims dont get released.
16:09:27 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: They dont, and, and I wish there was something that could be done about that But putting me through something bad, or putting my family, and thats the big thing. What they do to my family, putting us through something like that, doesnt change their status. If, if making me suffer, if they wanted to come in here with, with a drill and drill through my hands and my arms and my head every day as punishment, if that would some how lessen the suffering of the people on the outside, the victims, Id go for it.
16:09:57 You know, anything, if that makes them feel better, fine. But it doesnt help em. I mean, you know they can be glad to see it. But, they're still missing their loved one, they're still, and its their decision on whether they go on with life or not.
INTERVIEWER: What is your opinion of lethal injection?
16:10:18 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Well, other than the fact the years it takes and the damage it does, the (...?) lethal injection as opposed to hanging, you know, electrocution. I assume its the, you know, its the least cruel out of all of them. Im a little disappointed that, if they're gonna do it that way, they cant be at least considerate enough to harvest organs and tissues first. That bothers me. If I have to die, at least you know, reclaim something out of it. Im big into recycling (LAUGHS).
INTERVIEWER: What is the date of you execution?
16:10:50 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I dont have a date set yet.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have an opinion about the other types of execution constituting cruel and unusual punishment?
16:11:14 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I think they do, yeah. I mean, death penalty itself is by definition cruel and unusual punishment But that doesnt mean that some of the modes arent a little more cruel than the other ones. I mean, obviously Florida has had a miserable history with their electric chair. And I dont care what anybody says, the gas has got to be horrible. And hanging of course they had to do away with that.
INTERVIEWER: How will you be notified when a date is set for you execution?
16:11:52 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Well, the question is, will I be notified. Obviously Ill find out sometime before the actual date gets there. But used to be they'd take you back to the court, they'd have a hearing, they'd set your date, you'd know . Then it got to be where they would send you a post card in the mail or a letter in the mail from the court, and notify your attorney. Its got to be where now that many of the courts dont even bother to notify you. You know when you see it on an execution update list that somebody sends in from the Internet, or if you hear it from somebody else a lotta times.
16:12:28 A friend of mine, number 100 that was executed in Texas, a guy named (Joe Lane?). I talked to him out here with a reporter one day. The reporter called him out. Hed had an execution date set for, for like a week. And the reporter called him out to find out you know, talk to him. He had no idea he had a date set. He was 21 days down. Or, or right at 21 days from the actual execution before he knew.
INTERVIEWER: You lawyer doesnt inform you?
16:12:54 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: The courts dont feel any obligation to let our attorney know. They hold our attorneys in as much contempt as they hold us.
INTERVIEWER: What type of legal appeals have you attempted?
16:13:07 JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Oh, I mean, I've gone through the whole process, and of course the (...?), you have a right after you're, you're first convicted, you have direct appeal. After your direct appeal with the Texas court of criminal appeals, you have an option for petition for certiorari for the U.S. Supreme Court. My attorneys just forgot to file that step in mine. After that you go into whats called collateral appeal. Habeas corpus appeal. And it, you start back again.
16:13:36 You go to the state court for the same trial court that sent you there for, you file an, a habeas appeal there. From there you go to the Texas Supreme, the Texas court of criminal appeals for habeas. And, at that point, if you're kicked out, then you move to federal habeas, federal collateral appeal. And you go to a federal district court. And if they turn you down, then you ask the, the 5th circuit court of criminal appeals in New Orleans to give you some relief. And if they turn you down, your last step is to go to the Supreme Court and ask them for help.
INTERVIEWER: It is reported you had a cynical tone about the execution of (...?).
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Well, I considered most of the people who, who spoke out against (Carla Faye Tuckers?) execution to be a bit insincere about it. I mean, they were sincere in the fact that they didnt think she should be executed, and I agree. There should have been a huge uproar about Carla Faye Tuckers execution. However, again and again and again, we heard, especially from the religious groups that were backing Carla Faye Tucker, that this was a matter of a person who was reformed, a truly rehabilitated person. Not a gender issue. Again and again and again we heard that. We heard it to a point it sounded like they were trying to convince us of something. The fact that there have been a number of men down here whove gone through similar changes, whos dedication toward Christianity is just as sincere, is just as well documented, and none of these groups spoke out for them, that pretty much proves that it was a gender issue. It wasn't about sincere change. And these same groups, you know, I look at them and I think well great you're backing a person whos gone through changes, you know in a Christian way. And thats fine. But, I dont hear any of you people speaking out for somebody whos discovered, you know, Islam.And the, and the truth of Islam. I dont hear anybody speaking out in favor of a person whos gone through, become a Buddhist. Or what ever. I dont hear em doing that. And its almost an unspoken assumption here that Christian rehabilitation, or reformation is a valid thing. But Islam, and the other varieties of religious and spiritual renewal dont carry any weight in the country. And I think that's, I think they feel that way, they're just not gonna have the guts to come out and say it directly (SIMULTANEOUS CONVERSATION) And there should have been, there should have been an outcry for Carla Faye Tucker. But I could give you another dozen people who, whos change is just as deep and is just as well documented. There was no attention in their case.
INTERVIEWER: Did you see her before she died?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No I didnt. They, they keep them in a different unit and I never see the females anyway.
INTERVIEWER: Do you believe the media was hypocritical in its coverage of death row inmates, except for the celebrity type?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I'm not so sure you can ever accuse the media of being exactly hypocritical in that they are what they are. You know the media now is, is a commodity market. I mean, I don't know how better to say that. Its driven by what sells. And the days of the journalist being the people out there who try to help you with information to form your own opinions is long gone. Its now, most of its the sensation mongering.The fact that there were celebrities speaking out for Carla Faye Tucker made all the difference in the world. Without that, nobody would a cared. And I mean, they didnt look at the issues. They looked at the hoopla surrounding the issues. And I think thats how the media usually works (anymore?). I, unfortunately, that, thats the only media we have now. And without them we have nothing. Im not saying that they should pan the media, by any means. But it does obligate the average citizen out there to look at the, the frosting surrounding a story in the news.And see whats under a frosting, see whats, its really about. And then thats almost a matter of, of divination. But you know, its there if you look for it.
INTERVIEWER: Have you had any contact with (...?). Is there any friendship left there?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No comment. I, I really dont want to get into that. Its not that I, I have a problems with talking about it. Its, the truth is, I have a lot of problems in my own heart and mind and soul in how I deal with it. Im not sure how (...?) would think about it. Its a confusing mess to me. And I really, theres not point in getting into that.
INTERVIEWER: Have you seen him since you've been here.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: We've been assigned on the same cell block together, in the past. The prison officials are always real freaked out when ever that happens. They have a policy of not putting co-defendants together. Which is probably a pretty good one for the most part. I dont wish, Ill put it this way, I dont with him any ill will at this point, I really dont.
INTERVIEWER: Are you the same James Beathard you were in 1984?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: (TALKS OVER) Sure, its the exact same person. I, Im probably a tad more cynical than I was
INTERVIEWER: Were you just as smart as you are now?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: (LAUGHS). I don't think I can really answer that question. I mean, if you, you know its like yes or no. I say yes, I sound like an ego freak, of you say no, than that sounds truly bizarre, too. Yeah, I, I had the benefits of a good education. I mean, Ill admit that, I had the benefits of a really good education. I, you know, Ive always enjoyed you know a clarity of mind on some issues. And Ive thats carried me through life so far. Ive been able to maintain what ever sanity I have left.
INTERVIEWER: Why strike up a friendship with a man who was planning to do what he did?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: (TALKS OVER) Well, without getting into that again, I mean, not everybody tells you what they have in mind ahead of time. You know, that's the problem right there. Not everybody tells you ahead of time. Obviously if I knew what was, what was going to happen, I wouldnt have been involved.
INTERVIEWER: Have you encountered any prisoners that maybe deserved the death penalty?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I will never ever meet anybody in here or out there that deserves the death penalty. If I met Adolph Hitler, I wouldnt say he deserves to die. Adolph Hitler needed to be captured and studied. You know, I mean, if people want to stop crime, they need to check out people and find out why. Whether you look at the sociological causes or whether you find some kind of biological difference in this person. One or the other, you need to check it out. In Texas at least, and I cant speak for other states, theres been no meaningful sociological or psychological examination done on the people down here. Nobody has really bothered to see why does this happen? Sociologically speaking, or biologically speaking. Thats completely out of the pale. In fact theres a psychological examination of any kind is discouraged in this place. Even for the people who are psychotic. Especially for the people who are mentally retarded.
INTERVIEWER: What goes through the minds of people on death row when an execution takes place?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I, I really dont know any more I can tell you what goes through my mind Im not saying it ever gets easier. It doesnt. In fact in some ways it gets harder. However, outwardly, you deal with it in a different way. Simply because you've been through it so many times before On a deep down level in my heart, in my soul, each execution takes a little more from me. Im more damaged person, spiritually speaking than I was, then the execution before that and the one before that.Outwardly, I just pretty much go on like everything else. You know, every day in here. Because I really cant do anything different. What can I do? I cant jump up and scream and holler. It wouldnt do me any good to curse the guards. They have nothing to do with the executions. For most of the people, Ill spend most of the evening not because its something I do deliberately. But because its just human nature. I cant help but think about the person, and the times I spent with that person, the conversations I had, the talks I had. The nature of the relationship with that guy. I, I have sometimes whats considered a, a fairly rude sense of humor in here. Sometimes even bordering on blasphemous. The man who was executed last night was a friend of mine, and he was a very strong Christian. And, sometimes I would say things just to (jig?) at him. To get, he knew I didnt mean anything by it. And he took it that way, and his response was something like, well I better stand away from you in case the lightning hits, or say, watch that guy, hes the anti-Christ, or something like that. And I remember those times, and the jokes, and I remember his conversations about his family and things like that. I think about those things.
INTERVIEWER: Has your life been touched by religion before or after your imprisonment?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Religions always been kind of a problem for me I believe but I cant deny the doubts that I have, either. You know, and its, and I think for any person of any intelligence at all, no matter how much faith they have, theres still always this intellectual battle. Spiritually speaking. You know, you always have to redefine it and re examine it. Perhaps even renew what you believed already, if thats what it comes to. And, and thats been a process for me. Im, Im Catholic.My faith has taken a huge beating in the years Ive been here. I think I still have faith. But some mornings I wake up and I don't know for sure. I mean, Im not gonna, Im not gonna deny that. Id like to be able to (SOUND CUTS) faith is unshakable, but Id be lying if I said it.
INTERVIEWER: Do you believe that no one should be put to death?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No he shouldnt. I mean Theres nothing in the bible that says its wrong to kill except under these circumstances. That, you know, you never hear that. I didnt see Jesus say anything about that in the bible. The 10 commandments, thou shalt not kill. Except when this happens. You know, what is it like? 85, 90 percent of the population of this country claims to be Christian. And yet, I dont see em giving any weight to any of their Christian beliefs at all. Everybody wants to go back to Leviticus, and old testament belief in an eye for an eye. But thats just primarily, exactly what it is. Its old testament, old covenant beliefs. New testament, new covenant with Jesus is different than that. Jesus even said Ive, you've heard it said an eye for an eye, but I tell you, and he goes on to explain you know, forgiveness is what you have to do. You know, I look at these people who say an eye for an eye. Well fine, if, their old testament orthodox Jews, then go for it. But if they're gonna believe that, then by golly buddy, they better stick with the whole thing.And that includes, in Deuteronomy, restrictions on, on punishment. You have to have 2 eye witnesses. Other than the person accused. And if you ever have a witness that turns out to lie, they're eligible for a death penalty themselves. And in fact Id love to see a law passed like that. If were gonna have a death penalty, Id love to see it if prosecutors and police officers who were caught hiding evidence, lying under oath or what ever, were then eligible for some kind of punishment. You know, they're immune from any legal prosecution at all by, by matter of law. But, you know, again and again its been proved whether it was Carrie (Macks Cooks?) case, or (Clarence Brandlys?) case, and a number of other cases where they've actually had to let people go down here, the police hid evidence and lied. You know, thats documented. Thats not my opinion. The courts have determined this.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think of D.A. Price?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Id really rather not comment on that. I think hes probably, hes very good at what he does.
INTERVIEWER: What do you have to lose saying what you think of him?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I, you know my opinion doesnt matter on that. I mean, I dont really have much of an opinion about it. I mean
INTERVIEWER: You're here because of him. You must have some opinion.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: You know what can I say. Of course I disapproved of (the way he runs, you know?) trials. Hes known throughout this part of Texas as, for being a bit over zealous. You know I, I think you can take the law, and you can reinterpret it and bend it to your favor if you have the power to do that. If you have the home court advantage. And, and its not just him. Its most prosecutors in the state. You know, you look at people like Johnny Holmes and, and Joe Price and dozens other in Texas, you know, and, if somebody were to go shake all the skeletons out of their closet and actually re-examine all of these cases, I think you'd find more problems than you could possibly imagine in your worst nightmare.
INTERVIEWER: He says that this was a crime which was an intellectual exercise.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Yeah, you know, and thats, thats the most, that's the stupidest thing Ive heard of. You know. You know, if you, if you're watching too many movies of the week or something, or reading too many true detective magazines, you might go for that. Nobody kills for that reason. I mean, really. Just like, just like my co-defendant. Nobody kills family for money. You know. Theres something else underlying. Theres something much deeper than that. You just can not kill family for money. Unless there, theres some kind of biological problem there, you know.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Hes a very motivated person. Okay. He has very strong motivations. And he has a bulldog tenacity about how he goes at things thats just pretty much unrelenting. And the one thing he doesnt tolerate is people disagreeing with him, speaking against him, going against him in any way. Its that simple. The man has a lotta power in that county. He in his mind has every right to that power, and anybody that goes against that is, is a personal enemy to him. You know, and his job is painting me one way or the other, thats his, I mean, that's his job, is try and find a way. You know, when you got to trial in Texas, and I cant stress this enough, when you go on a trial in Texas, its not necessarily about who is most likely guilty. Its about who the most convictable person is. And, ideally, they're the same person. Realistically, sometimes not the case. And many times a prosecutor, whether its in Dallas, Trinity county, Paris county or whatever, their job is to paint that person on trial in such a way to make him more convictable.
INTERVIEWER: Isnt their job to search for the truth?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No, it, I mean, I, ideally it is. You know. But ideally, when people take marriage vows, its to be faithful to their spouses, and how common is adultery in this country? You know, what people say and what they actually do is 2 different things. And, and again, a prosecutor who goes at cases like-
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Death Row Interview Tape #3
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Most prosecutors images, reputation and in fact careers, in, in heavy elections, arent gonna be based on whether or not they sought justice. Their careers, their reputations in the community will be based on did they get the most convictions. Thats it. I mean, thats real, thats reality. I don't think anybody can deny that.
INTERVIEWER: But I would respect a prosecutor who said a person didnt do it, than put them in a gas chamber.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Yeah, but most prosecutors dont see it that way. They look at it as having to, to admit that a mistake occurred. I mean, look the guy, Jack, Jack (Skien?), in (Carrie Max Cooks?) case out in Smith County, I don't know if you followed that one or not. The courts have pretty much cleared this guy. They pretty much slam the court for they prosecuted his case. And yet, Skiens will still insist that the mans guilty. You know, and if you have a guy who has no criminal history. To speak of. Who is a sensitive and articulate person.Somebody who under most conditions would be considered a sympathetic person with a group of people, say jurors or what ever. How do you deal with that? Well, you paint them as the evil genius who wanted to get over on something. You make them into Hannibal Lector or what ever you have to do. To win the case. You try to turn anything you can to your advantage. And thats, that may be my case. The next, the next trial that another prosecutor might go for, hes gonna play on the racial issue of it. Hes going to, hell never say it. But he knows what those jurors biases are down deep inside. He knows, and hell play off of them. The next person who may be up, may be (...?) with a motorcycle club. Well hes gonna play on that. Hes gonna turn this guy whos like a weekend warrior into a 24 hour a day 1 percenter hells angel by the time hes finished. Thats how you win convictions. (SIMULTANEOUS CONVERSATION) There's a difference between proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and talking the jury into a conviction. And in Texas the prosecutors job has grown to be, has evolved to be, talking the jury into a conviction.
INTERVIEWER: This show will air late in the year 2000, and you said you'd be dead by then. What do you mean by that?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Oh, my appeal, Im out of, Im out of the 5th circuit. I have applied the last step of my appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court will certainly turn me down. Probably any day now. Within the next week or 2. Definitely before Novembers finished up. And at that point Ill receive a very swift execution day setting. Probably for just before Christmas. I know the prosecutor in my case loves doing things like that to my family. And, and theres really not any options I have at that point. I mean, Im, Im telling you now openly, I will probably be dead before Christmas. Certainly before January.
INTERVIEWER: Whos handling your appeal now?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I have a lawyer named Steve (Loke?).
INTERVIEWER: So its not the Texas Resource Center.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: They had my case and the second part of my appeal. They folded a long time ago. They're the people who forgot to file my first petition for (circ?).
INTERVIEWER: What do you think about prison advocacy groups like this?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I'm glad they're there. As I said earlier. Sometimes the struggle is not that you, is not because you think you'll win. But because you have to at least try. You know, I think its good they're there. I think most of them are in the long run, unfortunately, are ineffective. And its not because of them, its because of the way the legislature and the publics set up now. I mean, Im sure there are people in, during, in the 3rd Reich, who were protesting the treatment of Jews. But in the long run, it wasn't much they could do.
INTERVIEWER: What were the final days of some of the executed men you knew here.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: So many guys have and probably half of them were telling the truth. The majority of guys here who are guilty will admit it. They'll (admit?) cause they wont talk about it. Of the ones who claim they're innocent, I would figure probably half, nearly half of them probably were the last 2 cell partners I had before, Im on a single cell wing now. I had a cell partner, that they moved me off from. To be on the single cell wing.Before he was in the cell, back down the line, the last 2 cell partners, (Earl Berringer?) and Cliff (Bogus?). probably the 2 closest friends Ive ever had. I mean, I would, I would have put my life on the line for either of them. And I know they'd a done it for me. Its that tight. A study in contrast. Earl Berringer was innocent. I have no doubt in my mind he was innocent. His case similar to mine, he had a co-defendant who testified against him in exchange for a deal. Unlike my case, the prosecutor honored that deal As it turns out this boy had given a statement to a number of people that he knew. That he had lied in Berringers case. That Berringer wasnt guilty of the crime. But he admitted he had to do it to make a deal. And every bit of that evidence was brought up. But because Berringers appeal had progressed to a certain point, it wasn't admissible any more. Now, you have a 30 day rule in Texas, and although they've modified that, the, the exceptions to that 30 day rule are so restrictive that I don't know of anybody whos ever been able to meet the burden yet, and go back and revisit an innocence claim like that. Berringer was a good person. He was ex-military. Strong Christian man. Had a hell of a ride sense of humor. A good sense of humor, was an extremely loyal person. And when his time came and he knew it, he didnt like it any more than I did, but he accepted it. You know, I mean, its, and, and he was a strong person. You know, even the day he was executed, I, I got to talk to him out here. When he was out on a visit and I had a visit. Tell him good bye. And, I, I don't know how to describe it other than a spiritual strength and a great deal of dignity. The next person was my cell partner, Cliff Bogus. He came in here a big dumb country boy. But he had an innate intelligence. That nobody really ever recognized or gave him a chance with before. And in the 10, 12 years I knew him. 10 or 12, I cant really, its been so long now. Years that I knew him, I saw the man educate himself. Grow, discover a spiritual meaning in his life. Became one of the strongest Christians and one of the most dedicated Catholics Ive ever known. He discovered art in his life. He was one of the most gifted artists Ive ever known personally in here or on the streets. And he was guilty. You know, he never denied it.
INTERVIEWER: How do you manage to hang on so long here?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I have family and friends who visit regularly. I, without them, I would probably be a different person than I am now. Im not so sure Id be sane now. Id probably have given up a long time ago. My, my parents visit me almost ever other week. I have a wife who visits me probably nearly over, more than my parents do. I have a daughter that visits me every 2 or 3 weeks. I have a brother that visits when he can. Other relatives and friends who come down pretty routinely. (SIMULTANEOUS CONVERSATION) Ive been very lucky, you know. I came from a, from a good background, with a really tight family and a lotta good friends. And, and Ive, they've been the thing thats kept me together these years.
INTERVIEWER: What is it like for your wife and child to come here?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: My wife is, understands the situation. We got married after I was here. But weve been in each others lives for over a quarter of a century. Since we were in high school. My daughter I didnt see for a long time. And she started to visit, now shes old enough to come on her own. And then, and thats been good. I mean, she really needs me in her life. And I need her in my life too. I have a son who lives in Tennessee. I dont hear from him too much. Just cause of the distance. My daughter is, is having trouble dealing with this. Shes pretty angry about the situation. Cause all the missed years and the future I won't have with her. My wife can accept it, and its gonna hurt her. The person I worry most abouts my mother. This is gonna pretty much shatter my mother. When Im executed. And really again, I think thats what a lot of the people outside want.
INTERVIEWER: Are they prepared for the media when the day comes?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I don't think therell be any media when the day comes. I mean, you know, if I, if I were female, if there had been a big movement to push for my innocence to something like that, and maybe. But no, Ill just be a, another, another blip. You know, the executions go by anymore the, its, lotta the local stations dont even carry the news, you know, anymore. Its almost a non-event now. Which is another reason why any arguments for deterrence dont really hold up. If nobody knows the executions (...?), but if nobody pays attention cause its so routine. What value does it have?
INTERVIEWER: If you could rejoin society, what would you do with your life?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Id be pretty much conflicted. I mean, theres a part of me thatd want to speak out for social justice and try to change this. You know, the death penalty. And even then, Ill admit the death penaltys not my biggest concern in society any more. You know, its treatment of the economic, you know displaced in this country. Its unbelievably how bad, its unbelievable how bad its getting out there. I, and as bad as my situation is, Im not a kid growing up in a place where, where I watch people get shot all the time. Im not a kid in Baghdad, or, or Belgrade, or, or I didnt have to go to Serajevo. You know, so I mean, you know, globally speaking, my situation isnt that bad. You know, but I would, I would like to do that. But theres a part of me that says, you know, to hell with it. I just really want to get away. If I could do anything in wanted to, if all these other pressures weren't there, the thin I would do would be move back out to the country, where Im from. You know, I'm a rural, Im a country boy. No doubt about that. And, I would go into a, a small scale organic farming business. I mean, thats probably my dream. More than anything else in the world. I, I love farming.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about yourself.
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Okay, until I was almost 5, I was a military brat. My dad was in the Air Force, a medic in the Air Force. He was killed in a car wreck in France when I was a little boy. We moved to Cherokee county, (...?) Texas, where his family was from. And thats where I grew up. My grand parents were always there. They were very, very close, I, you know, theres, gosh I cant remember over 2 or 3 days passing when I was growing up that I didnt see my grand parents. My mother, because there was the 3 of us kids and just my mother after my father died, we were very, very close all 4 of us.Very close. I, and we pretty much took care of each other growing up. The town I grew up in was a small town. Its a close community, people kind a watch out for each other there. Its, its wasn't a really bad place to grow up. You know, I mean, I ran bare foot in the woods, and rode my bicycle down town. And, and the whole 9 yards. I went to school. I was you know, a normal kid. Science club, you know a future teacher. 4H and that sort of thing. You know, nothing really extraordinary.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of student were you?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Not the best. I mean, I graduated an honors student from high school, but I was a lazy student. You know, I got used to the fact that schools then and more so now are always geared to the lowest common denominator. And half the class is always gonna be above that level. You know. At least half the class. And so you know, a lot of us got lazy. I was growing up in the 60s and the early 70s. You know I, I did my share of drugs in high school and college. No doubt about that.
INTERVIEWER: Did you and (...?) grow up together?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: No. No, he moved to Rusk, after I had gotten married. I got married in 1978 and I, and I met him where I was working at (Rusk State?) hospital at the time. I mean, you know, it was, it was an unbelievably middle class background. You know, theres nothing there. And my mother remarried when I was 13. To a, to a man, who lived in Rusk or near Rusk all his life. And I was always enjoyed a really great relationship with my step father. Hes a great guy. I love that guy. As much as, as my own biological father if he, if hed still been living.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss most about the outside world?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Oh, geez, I don't know how you prioritize that. I don't know, you know, I mean its, you know its the little things that all add up. Id like to be able to walk barefoot in the grass. Id like to walk up and put my arms around a tree. Id like to be able to you know, hug my daughter. Id like to be able to kiss my wife. You know, all those things. Id like to be able to go out at night and look up at the sky and actually see stars again. You know, that sort of thing. I mean, theres all those things. I really wouldnt know how you prioritize that.
INTERVIEWER: Have you thought about what your last words are going to be?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: Sure, about a million times. I don't know what they'll be. Ive got an idea, but well see to it when that time comes. You know.
INTERVIEWER: Whats the idea?
JAMES LEE BEATHARD: I don't know. You know, I mean, hopefully Ill get to tell the people that I care about that day that you know, that I cared about them. I, I do, I will take that moment. I guarantee you that, to, to mention a causes that seem to be just real important to me. And thats, thats complete disregard for what, what happens to the environment. You know. That, and the ungrowing, the ongoing injustice of, of a lot of issues. For instance the continuing embargo against Iraq and, and Cuba. I know it seems like a stupid thing about (to guy?) for a guy about to die to say. (Those things?) are real important to me. You know, this is costing children their lives. The environmental disregard is costing everybody their future. And, and I cant believe that its not a bigger issue to people out there than it is. You know. The one time in my life when people will actually really give a damn about hearing what I have to say will be then. And, I intend to try to make use of it.