Before founding StoryCorps, Dave Isay made documentaries that shined a light on the darkest corners of the country. Perhaps one of the darkest places in the U.S. is inside the death chamber. No one is allowed to film or photograph executions — but there are witnesses, and they carry what happens there with them for the rest of their lives.
In 2000, StoryCorps founder Dave Isay and producer Stacy Abramson spoke with the men and women who witness multiple executions as part of their jobs at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, and created a radio documentary from those interviews, called Witness to an Execution. Narrated by Warden Jim Willett, who oversees all Texas executions, Witness to an Execution documents, in minute-by-minute detail, the process of carrying out an execution by lethal injection.
Most of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees interviewed have witnessed over 100 inmates be put to death. Major Kenneth Dean, a member of the “tie-down” team, describes the act of walking an inmate from his cell to the death chamber. Jim Brazzil, a death house chaplain who has witnessed 114 executions, remembers inmates’ last words. Former corrections officer Fred Allen discusses his own mental breakdown — caused, he says, by participating in one too many executions.
Witness to an Execution won a Peabody Award in 2000.
Released March 8, 2017.