APPEAL FOR HELP
by Karl Chamberlain
In June 1997 a judge and jury in Dallas County, Texas, USA, sentenced Karl Chamberlain to death by lethal injection. With faulty information and partial evidence they concluded that Karl would 'probably' commit future acts of violence even if incarcerated for life, and would constitute a threat to society. They also decided that there was no mitigating evidence which would suggest a sentence of life imprisonment was appropriate, rather than death. In fact there was much mitigating evidence, evidence that showed that Karl had already lived peaceably in society, and had neither desire nor inclination to repeat his crime. That evidence was never heard. The jury did not know all the facts. They were misled and lied to. The case against Karl was grievously flawed and inherently unjust. http://www.lifeforkarl.org
Greetings and blessings to you and yours.
The first thing I must explain is that I am not about to write some bitter, legal harangue about how I've been so wronged by the courts. I am not about to portray myself as a helpless victim. I lived as a "victim" for the first twenty-something years of my life. THAT was a large part of my problem. So, before I even begin this, I want to explain that I accept my responsibility for my life, my actions. All I'm asking for is mercy and your help towards that.
The fact is that the life I live has taught me to look at my own part - my own responsibilities. I have learned, through many hard lessons, to accept life on Life’ s terms, to accept God's will and do my best. In this way I have learned to live and learn rather than blaming others, unfair or unfortunate circumstance, for all the "problems" in MY life.
So, if the Judge was biased (and she was), if the Prosecutor was overzealous, manipulative, lying or even withheld evidence (and they did), or if my court appointed lawyers did a sham job, and may have sold me out... well, yeah, it's wrong--but I'm not here for singing too loudly in church.
The sad fact is that I am not an innocent man. That is really a terrible thing to have to admit, and even after all these years it hurts. I feel an ache in my chest fur the people I've hurt, and I feel an urgent desire to qualify that statement, to tell you about all the abuse of my childhood how I once was an innocent victim and how I lived a tortured existence, like a trapped animal, full of fear and pain. It hurts so much that I became the very thing I loathed and feared, so I feel a desire to tell you my whole life story, to ask you to step into my shoes and TRY to understand...
But no matter what I might say, I'm here on death row for rape and murder, and that is a horrible, hobgoblinish fact... so painful I feel I must create new adjectives to describe the depth of pain. So no matter what I might say, even truly mitigating evidence cannot change the fact. I am not an innocent man. And no matter how I was once so hurt, although I was once an innocent victim, I chose to hold onto that pain. I could not forgive, therefore I did the most unforgivable thing - I held onto my anger and terror. I nurtured my hurts, until I became like the very "beast" I so hated and feared!
More than anything in my life, it hurts to realize that I passed along this same agony, even multiplied. In a sense, I can empathize with some of the hurt the victims' families must feel, because for years I lived with a hole in my guts. Where my heart should've been I felt nothing but a black-hot, writhing mass of misery.
When someone asks me, in defense of the death penalty, "What if someone kidnapped YOUR sister, YOUR baby niece and then raped and murdered them-how would YOU feel?!" I have to be brutally honest about this. I feel like any other human being must feel, and I can understand explicitly and intimately the desire for the death penalty.
I am familiar with that dismay; I know that suffering beyond words. A thick rage would settle inside and wrap around my intestines like a fist. Nothing could ease my pain but it would seem that if that 'filthy beast' was dead, then perhaps I could sleep at night.
From the beginning I want to say that I will not argue that I have any kind of "right" to life; I will NOT say that I "deserve" to live, because deep inside I am convicted by my own wrongdoing and I feel differently. If I could be gruesomely tortured to death it could never make up for the wrong I've done. Even the most medieval torture could never bring back the life I took; it, would never be "enough'" to take away the pain.
Again in brutal sincerity, I want to say that if I could go back and be someone's aborted child, one of those "flushed down the toilet", "left in the trash dumpster" babies, I would. If I could go back to that terrible moment, or to the years of pain before and commit suicide, I would. If there was ANYTHING I could do which might truly do some good, I would But there's nothing I can do to change the past, and all I can do is say I'm sorry. Those are very paltry, insignificant words. Someone once wrote that "duty is as heavy a mountain..." and that is how I feel, because nothing I can ever say or do could ever be "enough".
So when I hear of victims' rights groups, such as Justice For All, I must concede their right to feel as they do. I can understand that they feel we all ought to just DIE, and the sooner the better. My appeals don't matter to them; conditions here don't matter, unless it's possible to make them worse. I can almost agree with the sentiment that my life ought to be more tortured than humane-after all, to them, every moment I breathe, every second of my life, just proves how terribly wrong and unfair Life is sometimes.
In fact, I’d encourage you to check out their website and hear their side of the story. at http://www.justiceforall.org. I am not allowed to contact my victims' family, not even to say "I'm so SO sorry" or answer their questions, so I obviously cannot put their side of the story on these pages. Perhaps those at Justice For All can provide some understanding.
I have heard of another group called "Citizens for Swift Justice" who have written guys on death row urging them to drop their appeals. I can understand how they feel that those men here who are "guilty" of capital murder should drop their appeals and die, in state-sanctioned encouraged "suicide". I have sometimes felt that my life is just an unpleasant burden. My appeals and housing cost the State money. The victims' family could be happier and relieved if I would just die. Even some "victims" who don't even KNOW me might feel relieved and that the world is a nicer, safer place after they kill me. Even my beloved family and friends might have some sort of "release" after my execution. They may feel free from the uncertainty and agony of their own powerlessness. If I would just agree to my execution, they could at least bury me and then get on with their life.
That complete saying is, "Duty is as heavy as a mountain but death is as light as a feather." So, please understand that I can identify with and understand this feeling utterly. Life can sometimes be so difficult that it could be easy, so insidiously easy, just to give up and die...
Why do I live? Why should I live? WHY do I consciously choose to live each day~ when dying is so sweet and easy?
Do you REALLY think, my friends, that conditions here on death row are so sweet and appealing? Is prison food so delightful? (grim chuckle). Maybe the idea of spending the rest of my years looked inside of a concrete tomb sounds hopeful? Even the sweetest moments of my life even when I "visit" with my family and friends are thick with separation and pain. They must always leave. And I cannot even hug my mother when she weeps and bangs her fist against the glass. Doesn't it sound joyous? So, why, why wouldn't I just go ahead and die?
Is mere existence, burdened by guilt and powerlessness, truly such a gift? Why would I choose to live in this place, knowing that I have almost no chance to be free, or even to enjoy the simplest comfort like hugging my mother?
"Why Live?" has been a question throughout my existence, through all of my life have been close to death, close to suicide. Even as a child I was filled with the pain and unwanted burden of living. Children are too often unseen, helpless victims.
For a long time I felt trapped by my very existence, and longed for the "release" of death, so I would like to explore this and perhaps find the answer to "Why" - Why live? I still vividly remember one of the first times I thought I was going to die and longed for that sweet release.
I must have been around 6-7 years old because I don't remember having a little brother at the time. I “think” we were living in a little house near downtown Dallas, where my mother worked as a waitress, but we moved around so much that the places blur sometimes.
My Mom, although I love her dearly, was not the "typical housewife", nor did I have an "ideal" childhood. For a long time I was confused, or hurt by that very unfair fact; my Mom wasn't much of a "normal" mother or parent, she was always a bit of a rebel, a hippie chic with a brat on her hip!
But have learned to love her as who she is, and oh! How I loved her then! What boy does not love his mother?
I remember the sun shining in the window of the house. It was golden and bright, as bright as youth and hope~ as golden and sweet as honey. I remember that morning she woke me up early. She wanted me to go to the store for her. Her boyfriend was sleeping late, and she didn’t want to wake him - or perhaps she wanted me out of the house for other reasons. I don't know. I was often asked to be the "man of the house".
In my young life my mother often treated me like an adult. We were more like comrades than mother and son. So I got her shopping list, and left on my journey! I can still remember my boyish enthusiasm and zeal. I remember my joy to be alive and out in the wide wild world The Texas' sky was impossibly blue, the grass was vibrantly green, and had a little leap and skip in my step. My happiness coasted as I made my way alongside a busy road; there were three or four lanes of traffic, and cars whizzing by. There was no sidewalk, so I walked carefully on the grass, median beside the road I remember a bright red brick wall topped with wrought iron as I walked along a curve, and then warily crossed the street, and went into a 7-11 store.
In the store I began to get a little confused. Although I was bright for my age, they didn‘t have a lot of what was on her list! I remember they had bread - but no eggs; they had mayonnaise but no bacon. I also remember that they had Starburst candy, and those thick three-penny sour apple bubblegum!
I wasn’t yet a "bad" kid but I wasn't too good either. I'd already heard my Mom lament and rant about "big business, the "establishment", and how those evil people stole from the poor. And seeing her quick hands in action taught me to use my own-whatever she might say! (wry smile) I never once learned from the "Do as I say, not as I do" school of thought.
So I remember taking my time deciding what to get, and agonizing about leaving so much precious candy behind. It was my Mom's money, though so I merely bought one Starburst and then stole a pocketful of gum. I remember feeling really bad about not having any money, but worse because I stole.
When I left the store the day seemed less bright. A grey cloud of guilt surrounded me, and followed my walk home. It seems to me that the consequence of such a selfish, wrong action is inescapable... and being so greedy, made me feel more isolated, lost and less alive.
So, like much of my childhood I wandered along lost in thought and pain. Then suddenly, there was a squeal of brakes, and a big grey blur as a pickup bounced across the curb and up onto the grass!
I remember being frozen as my Mom's boyfriend, Clay, leapt out of the truck and came rushing towards me. He was a tall lean man with flowing golden hair. He may have been a "figure" of the hippie years, but to me he was always a terror. This is not the first, nor the last time, I remember that.
I remember holding out the grocery sack to him - feebly hoping he wanted that. He came striding towards me, and hit me in the face with his fist and a twist of his hips. I remember flying backwards being propelled by a flurry of fists and feet I remember being hit again, again along the side and back, again along my neck and shoulders as I struggled to cover myself I was kicked in the side and lifted; I remember being terrified of falling and being ground under his boots.
A lot of violence is a thick blur in my mind, but I remember a point where I felt calmly serene despite the fact I was being beaten. I remember the vivid red of the blood leaking from my mouth, and how it was strangely beautiful splashed and pooling on the red brick. I was pressed so hard against the wrought iron fence that my skull ached. His hand was pressed on the back of my neck as I absorbed his blows. I shook with each punch and kick. I was sure he was beating me to death.
I remember very clearly the tranquil green fields on the other side of that red brick and wrought iron fence; there were serene, grey stones and columns that seemed to watch me dying. I realized it was a cemetery, and felt the pull of that peaceful place, and a kind of detached bliss that is hard to describe.
The beating lasted only a little longer, but that's unimportant anyway. It wasn’t the first or second time I'd been beaten and longed to die, nor was it the last.
Even as young as 3 or 5 or 7 years old my life seemed bursting with the question - "Why live?!" Life can be such a burden sometimes; it is hard it is unfair... So why not just die? Everyone would be a lot happier, right?
In late 1991 and early 1992, I had several close brushes with suicide. After I quit drinking and drugs, I had nothing to help numb the pain. There was nothing to help me forget the horror of my youth or, worse, the terrible guilt I carried by passing along that pain. The confusion and agony of realizing I had become the very “beast" I so hated and feared crushed my heart, and I longed to die.
More than once I found myself with my lips around the barrel of the same gun used for this crime. I can still remember the cool, sweet taste of metal and oil. Wouldn't that have been a fitting, poetic end? Many nights I couldn't sleep, and even after I gave the gun away, there were too many sharp objects in my house to give me peace... sometimes I would drive for hours, and found myself pulling my car into the parking lot of the spiritual group I attended. Somehow, if I pulled my car alongside the building, I felt safe. I felt "home", and complete. But even driving wasn't safe. I remember the feel of my eyes longingly caressing those concrete pillars under major bridges...oh yes, I can STILL feel it - it would be so easy to die. So WHY live?!
First, my legal point is this - these are just a couple of small, insignificant events in my life which were never heard by a jury. But it's something that might be "mitigating."
My Judge wanted it over fast, so after the Prosecuting attorneys had their lengthy say, my lawyers routinely refused to ask pertinent questions of defense witnesses. My family and friends begged them to ask certain questions, which they would not; my lawyers did cursory cross-examinations, and would not ask many questions which I begged them to ask. They further refused to put me on the stand, and enlisted my father and mother to coerce, or convince, me. Almost NO evidence of my life was put forth by the defense, and even less about how or why I chose to live. No juror realized how I had changed my life utterly in late 1991, much less WHY. WHY did I choose to live? WHY did I choose to change?
Does it really matter? From a certain perspective I am sure it doesn’t matter. No evidence could ever erase the wrong's I've done. Many people blithely quote "an eye for an eye" and feel they would be satisfied in their vengeance.
I can feel and understand this explicitly, for most of my life I felt like the people I trusted and most loved murdered the child I was. I was raped, beaten, molested, abused, neglected and beaten again at any astonishing excuse and with such creativity that is impossible to describe. I became like a hurt animal with its leg caught in a trap. My whole world was swollen and hurt with fear. I could not trust or love or learn... not even to save my own life.
I have one more question to ask you and then I'll go. This comes from one of the oldest stories in the world, full of spiritual and moral truth. The question I have to ask is; “Why kill? Why are we so eager to kill and destroy?" And the story is about two brothers, Cain and Abel.
This is excerpted from the NIV, Genesis 4: Verses 2 ½ -> 9.
"Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.
The Lord looked with favor upon Abel but upon Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, win you not be rewarded? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you but you must master it."
Now Cain said to his brother Abel "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know', he replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?" "
A lot of people take this story further, and try to make a point that we have a "right" to life because God Himself doesn't kill Cain... but I am more interested in our actions and choices, and why are we so eager to kill?
I read how God looked upon Abel with favor but ignored Cain. I recall the unfairness, the abuse and neglect, of my youth. But then God says, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be rewarded?”
I began to understand that it was my own choice to remain a victim. Yes, sometimes children are truly helpless victims, but I felt so hurt that I did not talk to anyone about these things for years. Sometimes I tried, but it was easier to hold onto my pain. It was easier to blame other people for my suffering, my problems.
No, it wasn't fair, it wasn't "right' that I was punched and kicked and spat on and beaten bloody as a child; it is terribly wrong to be so used, hurt and neglected by all those who might have helped or protected me. But by blaming them, I chose to remain a victim. I refused to grow up and accept life as it is, and I "gave" others the power to hurt me.
The point of all this is simply to show that there is another way. I have learned a better way. By the grace of God, for "God is so good He teaches sinners His ways.”
I have learned to forgive, and to do what is right as best I can. With the help of many good-hearted caring friends, I have learned to accept responsibility for my own actions, and not to blame anything on others. When I choose to react, even to someone's provocation, I often choose wrong.
The point is that we, as human beings, as civil society, have the responsibility to protect all people equally. That is "justice" at its best, both discipline and mercy. By placing blame and punishment, by condemning even the least among us, we betray our own humanity. We believe the easy, self-gratifying lie that destruction is more powerful than creation; that hatred is more powerful than forgiveness or love.
WE choose to condemn the least among us, often people who have been more hurt and abused than I, to die. We kill these immature, hurt "children" that are often trapped inside adult bodies. We pass along the pain.
Furthermore, by focusing on our own hurt, by focusing on the crime, we make ourselves victims! We are the authors of our own suffering because we encourage an unhealthy sensational fixation on the "problem rather than opening up to look for another choice, another solution. We teach, encourage and manipulate people into believing that execution can be a healing thing!
This is why, to me, it is SO wrong to focus on "crime and punishment", in supporting harsh punishment and vengeance, rather than containment, rehabilitation or reconciliation and restorative justice, we condemn ourselves! We put the power of our lives on to ‘them' instead of looking for a solution!
Why are we miserable, afraid and angry? Why are we unsatisfied and "downcast? Because we are our brother's murderer rather than his keeper. Because we cry for a "culture of life' and surround ourselves with death.
Because with each judgment, with each condemnation, we give away our power of life, we betray our humanity, and for those who are believers, we sacrifice our God to an idol. Go to a courtroom, go to an execution, and you'll see the face of America’s faith. It is the face on our television screens~ and "America's Most Wanted". Believe me, my friends, it is not MY face any less than it is yours. The gleeful hatred found on the faces at the Coliseum watching gladiators and slaves die in the pits of the arena, is the same face in every house in America that hovers over the TV.
I digress but I will finish my point Why do we need this sensational gore? Why do we need the vicarious terror and thrill to distract us from life? Because our neglect is murdering the world. One life at a time... and again my friends, I don't mean my life, but YOURS.
There are thousands of "murderers" that go into prison population for life. Why are we, on death row, singled out to die? If it wasn't just a political choice, masked by sloppy jurisprudence, I could perhaps understand... but our system makes a farce and a fraud out of the last two "safeguards."
"Future dangerousness" and "Mitigating circumstance" are supposed to be considered in any capital trial. However, while this door was open for the Prosecution to allege that joyriding in my stepmother’s car while they were on vacation was "grand theft of an automobile", and to imply that keeping a few naughty magazines as a teen was "possession of hardcore S & M pornography", all with no evidence except hearsay of one, bitterly misguided woman years after the fact, they neglected to allow me a reply, a rebuttal, or anything like the 'truth.'
They neglected to allow me to tell MY side of the story; I could not stand up and tell the jury about my life and the mitigating circumstances of my childhood so now I am telling YOU. I could not tell the jury about the changes I began to make in late 1991 - changes which have taken root in my life. I could not tell them how I quit drinking and drugs, how I sought psychiatric and spiritual help, so now I’m telling you. I could not tell them how I left behind all that criminal insanity, nor how I lived free and reasonably responsible for five years, nor how I even went to High Schools to talk to the kids about the danger of drug and alcohol abuse.
I tried to help everyone I could – strangers, neighbors even alcoholics on the street. I am all too keenly aware that there is nothing I can do to take away the wrongs I’ve done. There is nothing I can do to take back my most terrible mistakes, but even within this terrible place even within such isolation and degrading circumstances, I TRY. I try to do some small good each day. And I’d like to ask for your help...
For me, to die without a fight seems too close to the ease of suicide. Life may be the harder choice, but perhaps death is too easy. So I want to continue to reach out. I want to continue to speak against the wrongs I see done, and, for abused kids trapped in adult bodies who never had a chance at life, those who never had a sense of worth much less humanity, who go down to that gurney and die.
It seems to me, whatever the excuse - there must be a better choice.
And for America, and the world, it seems evident that now is the time to learn to face this fear, or die trying.
A REPENTANT LIFE HAS PASSED
Karl Chamberlain was executed in Texas on the 16th of June 2008
We honor Karl who acknowledged the horrific deeds which he could not undo.
Here are his final words:
“I want you all to know, everyone with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, thank you for being here today to honor Falicia Prechtl, whom I didn't even know. To celebrate my death. My death began on August 2, 1991 and continued when I began to see the beautiful and innocent life that I had taken. I am so terribly sorry. I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am. I have said in interviews, if you want to hurt me and choke me, that's how terrible I felt before this crime. I am sorry, it is her innocence and her life which began the remorse ever since December 1, 1991. I have embraced life. Thank you for being a part of my life. I love you. May God be with us all. May God have mercy on us all. I am ready. Please do not hate anybody because...” (end of statement)
Cell Door Magazine has published seven of Karl’s articles
July -> Mid Sept
Mid Sept -> June
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