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For immediate release
October 11, 2000
Laura Gross, NPR
Jennifer Houlihan, Fenton Communications

Witness to an Execution,
An Extraordinary Glimpse Into the Chambers of a Texas Death House, Airs October 12, 2000 on All Things Considered From NPR News

Washington, DC-On Thursday, October 12, All Things Considered® from NPR News premieres Witness to an Execution, an extraordinary story told by the men and women who participate in or witness executions at The Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, where all death sentences are carried out for the state of Texas. The radio documentary was produced by Sound Portraits Productions.

The documentary, narrated by Warden Jim Willett, who oversees all Texas executions, provides minute-by-minute details of the process before and during an execution by lethal injection. Willett's account is interwoven with the personal testimonies of other Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees who take part in executions as well as several journalists who witness and cover them. This is the first time many of them have agreed to speak about their experiences to the media.

Major Kenneth Dean, a member of the tie-down team, describes his experience, "It's kind of hard to explain what you actually feel when you talk to a man, and you kind of get to know that person. And then you walk him out of a cell and you take him in there to the chamber and tie him down and then a few minutes later he's gone."

Former corrections officer Fred Allen describes the raw emotion of participating in the death of another person. Allen tells of his own mental breakdown, caused, he says, by participating in one too many executions. The voices in Witness to an Execution tell a rare story:

  • Jim Brazzil, a death house chaplain who has witnessed 114 executions
  • Fred Allen, a former guard who, after having witnessed 130 executions, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and could not continue to work at the prison
  • Capt. Terry Green, a "left-wrist" member of the tie-down squad who has witnessed thirty executions
  • Maj. Kenneth Dean, a "left-leg" member of the tie-down squad who has witnessed 120 executions
  • Leighanne Gideon, a reporter for the Huntsville Item who has witnessed fifty-two executions
  • Wayne Sorge, a news director for a local radio station who has witnessed 162 executions.

In 2000, Texas has carried out half of all US executions and it may reach a record of 50 by the end of the year. One-third of all executions in the US have taken place in Texas, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

For more information about Witness to an Execution (images, audio clips and biographies) please visit or contact Laura Gross at NPR, 202-414-2304, or Jennifer Houlihan at Fenton Communications, 212-584-5007, For nationwide station information and broadcast times please visit NPR's Web Site at

Witness to an Execution was funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Soros Foundation.

Sound Portraits is a nationally renowned, independent, not-for-profit radio production company based in New York City. Its mission is to create radio programs that bring neglected American voices to a national audience. Under the direction of MacArthur Fellow David Isay and producer Stacy Abramson, Sound Portraits creates long- and short-form radio feature programming for NPR News magazines All Things Considered and Weekend Edition®.

Renowned for its journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information and cultural programming, NPR reaches a growing audience of nearly 15 million Americans each week via more than 644 public radio stations. NPR also distributes programming to listeners in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR Worldwidesm, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network and throughout Japan via cable. Information on NPR programming is available online at