A reporter interviews a man on death row.
Interview with an Innocent Man
Katherine Alvarez gazed up at the Justice Center as she wove through the press of capital punishment protesters and turned into the parking lot for the prison. Her editor had it all arranged and every second counted. Kitty, as her family called her, was there for an exclusive interview with Randall Irwin. Irwin was the one thousand, seventy-seventh man on death row whose last day of life would be today if he didn't receive a stay of execution before midnight. She reviewed the past events in her head as she checked her belongings and was searched. Randall Irwin was accused of 23 different bombings in the state of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The police, pissed about losing one of their own to this man, finally traced Irwin to a plastic explosive purchase and arrested him hours later. All the time Irwin was in jail, his court appointed attorney maintained Irwin was innocent. During the trial, Irwin refused to testify. His lawyer insisted the state couldn't definitively put Irwin at the scene of any of the crimes. The media attention on Irwin was tremendous and speculative.
Added to the fact that he was accused of such heinous crimes, Irwin himself was a speculation. He appeared in court in a hooded jacket and wore very dark wrap-around sunglasses. Because Irwin was an albino, the court had to be dimmed to keep Irwin from excruciating pain during the trial. The paparazzi tried all kinds of tactics to try and photograph Irwin without his hood and glasses.
Now the guard was leading Kitty to the elevator and escorting her to the darkened cellblock where Irwin resided. The elevator door slid open and Kitty could see that the hallway lights were dimmed with only the emergency exit light and an illuminated clock at the end of the hall. The only other light filtering in was from a small narrow window near the elevator that faced the street. The guard led her to the last cell in the hall.
Kitty was so nervous she could hear her heart beating louder than the staccato clicking of her heels on the concrete floor. This could be the 'big one', the interview that won her a Pulitzer. The stern guard indicated a small folding chair she would sit in while interviewing. He warned her not to pass the white line on the floor, within reach of the prisoner.
Kitty heard a chuckle from the recesses of the cell as the guard warned her.
"I'm not going to hurt her. She's here to make me famous, isn't she?" His voice was low and raspy.
Kitty peered into the dim cell. All she could see was a dark form reclined on a cot. She cleared her throat nervously.
"You're not afraid, are you?" He whispered.
She fumbled with the tape recorder she was allowed to bring in. "I'd be foolish to say I wasn't." She murmured. "I'd like to record this conversation, if it's okay with you. I can't see to take notes."
"You may if you like. I hardly think you'll forget me Kitty." His voice was low and smooth, like a shot of brandy.
She felt a frisson of fear crawl through her as he said her nickname. "Do you mind if we get started?" She nervously glanced at the glowing blue numbers on the wall.
"Oh yes, let's get to it. We have only two hours until I die." Another raspy laugh floated toward her.
"You don't think there will be a stay of execution? There's a crowd of protesters outside." She leaned toward Irwin. "Your lawyer is across the street pleading with a judge for an injunction. Even the judge who sentenced you is over there."
"I never did like that lawyer they gave me."
Kitty pulled some facts from her memory. "The attorney general says your first crime was when you were 14. He said you blew up a lady's mailbox. She lost her hand."
"Letter bombs aren't very original, are they? Mere child's play."
"I don't know how many types of bombs could be made with household items. Do you?"
"Sure I do. The United States Army trained me well." He shifted on the cot.
Kitty sat back in her chair. Her voice quivered. "You upgraded quickly Randall. Blowing up a cop car in front of a donut shop. Was that original?"
She could hear the smile in his voice. "Pigs should eat scraps. Not perfectly good pastry."
"You don't feel remorse?" She blurted, it was one of the questions that burned to be asked. The police officer had two young children who were now fatherless.
"Remorse?" He repeated, louder. "Remorse?"
Kitty's hands shook; she tried to hold the recorder steady. "Yes, remorse for killing those people."
His voice, a whisper again, speculating. "Do you think they'll feel remorse a minute after they shut off the power and carry my burned body from the electric chair?" A long strand of time wound between them. "I think not."
Kitty glanced at the glowing dial on the wall.
"Not much time Kitty. Better ask your questions and get a move on." There was a resigned sadness in his voice this time.
Kitty tried to understand Irwin's mood, to get a feel for this man's emotions, this enigma. "Do you think you got a fair trial Randall? May I call you Randall?" A friendly approach, she thought.
"Call me whatever you like, just don't call me late for dinner." He chuckled at his own joke.
"If you're innocent, why were you buying plastic explosives?"
"Maybe I needed to blow a stump outta my yard." He stood and Kitty could see him pacing the cell in the dimness, his white skin glowing in the gloom. "Maybe I wanted to fill in an old septic tank."
"The police arrested you in your apartment, Randall. Where was this tree stump?" Kitty was incredulous that Irwin would say such a thing. "The judge asked you the same question in court."
"I never did like that judge." He sounded annoyed now.
Kitty pointed out the obvious. "He's the only one standing between you and death, Randall."
"Ha!" He shouted so loud Kitty jolted and grabbed the edge of her chair. He rushed toward the bars and glared at her. Kitty could see his pale face in the glow of the exit sign. His brush cut of stark white hair stood wildly from his head and his ill-colored eyes glowed eerily in the dim light. "He's not deciding my fate! I decide my own fate!"
Kitty stood and backed quickly, sending her chair clattering against the wall. She clutched the recorder to her chest and looked at the clock.
"Are you afraid, little Kitty? Are you afraid?" His mad laugh echoed down the hall.
"I told you I am." The frightened words came out in little gasps.
"I have no reason to hurt you, little Kitty."
Minutes passed. Kitty righted the chair and sat down. She was not going to let Irwin get the best of her. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. She mustered the nerve for another question.
"Why would you blow up a boat full of people out for a pleasure cruise? I never saw the reasoning of that one."
Irwin sat on the cot again. What felt like minutes later, he answered. "Did you know fish have an incredible sense of hearing? Boat motor noise can travel for miles underwater. Ruins a perfect day of fishing." He leaned against the wall. "I like fishing."
Kitty gaped. "Fishing?" What the hell was he talking about?
"I used to be a darn good fisherman." He looked toward the bars again. "Shouldn't you be going soon, Kitty?"
"I'd like to stay with you until the injunction comes through." She wanted to witness Randall's reaction when his lawyer brought it through. At this point, she wondered if he would show any emotion at all.
"Or watch me sizzle like a trout in a fryin' pan?" Amusement tainted his voice. "I'll prolly flop around like a fish in the bottom of a boat. Ya think?
Kitty glanced at the clock again as the elevator dinged and the guard came down the hall to fetch Randall. His keys hanging from his belt jangled and echoed in the hall.
The guard instructed Kitty to put her chair against the wall and stand back while he readied the prisoner for his trip to the execution chamber. The guard entered the cell and put Randall in leg irons and cuffed him. Kitty was to be allowed to walk with them to the execution chamber.
"Randall, are you afraid?" Kitty asked quietly.
Irwin stood with his head bowed, his ghostly arms arched behind his back. He answered, sounding small, angry and truculent. "I ain't afraid of nuthin'"
The guard slipped the sunglasses on Irwin and roughly pulled his hood up. "Let's go." He shoved Irwin toward the elevator. Kitty lead the way down the hall and glanced at the glowing teal clock face on the wall one last time.
The glee was back in Irwin's voice. "Not much time Kitty. Not much time."
The guard shoved Irwin toward the elevator. Irwin shuffled down the hall in the leg irons. They hadn't taken more than twenty steps toward the elevator when a tremor shook the building. Kitty stumbled and fell to her hands and knees on the floor. She looked up at the guard and Randall. The guard had fallen to the floor on his rump and drawn his weapon. Randall stood quietly near the wall. Kitty couldn't see his eyes behind the sunglasses, but he was smiling.
Kitty ran to the small window by the elevator and looked out. The scene spread below her was like a horror movie. The once-grand Justice Center had been blasted into something resembling the crumbling Parthenon, completely collapsed by a massive blast leaving only shattered columns standing in the front. Kitty could hear people screaming and the wail of sirens in the distance, even through the safety glass.
Smoke and dust poured into the darkened street; the maimed protesters lay spread from curb to curb, their broken bodies twisted and bleeding. In the glare of headlights, Kitty could see crushed bodies under the huge pieces of edifice that crashed down. Blood ran on the asphalt like dark shining rivulets in the reflected light. She cried out in shock as the guard shoved Irwin against the wall and radioed for help.
Instantly more guards with riot gear flooded the hall. Their voices sounded unreal coming from under the face shields. Two surrounded Kitty and escorted her toward the elevator.
She heard the guard say to Irwin. "Looks like you're not going to get that stay, Irwin."
The laugh barked out of Irwin and startled Kitty. Even the riot guards glanced over their shoulder.
"I never did like that judge."