Death Row Diaries: Amy Garcia

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*In this series, we publish blogs from people with a personal or professional connection to the field of capital punishment. Today’s blog is by Amy Garcia.*

Clinton Young & Robert Pruett Visit

I first became interested in the Death Penalty my sophomore year in college. I’ve known it existed in Texas but was never really very informed. My Social Studies professor introduced us to the tdcj.texas.gov site. I spent the next few weeks obsessively searching through the website history and the cases. I came upon Clinton’s case, and this search led me to finding a documentary online with details on his case. It fired me up. I had doubts. How is the justice system so sure about their conclusion that they decided to sentence this guy to death!?

There are no words to describe walking into the Death Row visitation room and taking that nervous and anxious walk through the gates. It was 2013 and my first time anywhere near prison much less the busiest Death Row in the western world. The fact that this unit was the last address for Texas’ condemned to die did not escape my mind. My nerves faded quickly once I sat down face to face with Clint. Despite the thick glass and using an antiquated phone, we began chatting like any other two people meeting for the first time. PS- his website (saveaninnocentlife.com) has all of the legal details if you’d like to read through them.

Visitation room at Polunsky

My trip to Texas’ Death Row would soon become regular visits. I’d make the 3-hour drive monthly to visit with Clint. We’d discuss any case updates, what was happening in my life…including family, career, and current events. Despite differences and disagreements on so many subjects, we quickly became friends.

Often, inmates are considered cold and rightfully condemned to death. This is not the case with Clint. His humanity left a lasting impression within me; he is genuine, thoughtful, opinionated and hopeful for the future. Driving the nearly 200 miles to Livingston felt like the least I could do for someone who was unjustly prosecuted by the State of Texas. His trial was plagued by many inconsistent testimonies. Notably, Clint’s defense attorney was ineffective and under the influence during court hearing. Had Clint had access to effective counsel, he would have been able to prove his innocence.

In time, Clinton and I became close friends and I wanted to learn how someone like him could be on Death Row and how I could share his story with others to help.

The American justice system is a great part of our Democracy, but it is not perfect and occasionally needs qualified intervention to stay just. At times, it can place underprivileged or unknowledgeable people at the mercy of a justice system whose whole intention is to prosecute. Under this paradigm, many people, irrespective of their race or religion truly never have a chance. This is what pains me the most and should outrage every citizen in states in which capital punishment exists. Clint personifies the many innocent lives who lived, slept and died on Death Row at the hands of inaction in our imperfect judicial system.

Clinton didn’t have the opportunity for a fair trial. Robert Pruett didn’t have this opportunity either. On October 7, 2017 we had the luck to coincide with Robert at visitation. Robert had a visit from two friends that day and I was visiting Clinton. Even better, we got to sit next to each other in the visitation room which hardly ever happened. I am grateful we did. I didn’t know it at the beginning of the visit, but this turned out to be quite a memorable day. The next few hours were scheduled yet unexpected. In that time frame we lost track of time and were able to temporarily forget the situation they were in, even Robert’s pending execution date, and we simply enjoyed the time as friends. There were lots of laughs…Clinton and Robert kept teasing each other back and forth and making us laugh. You could tell they had grown to be close during their time there; after all they were both just teenagers when they entered the row. I’d visited Clint a handful of times before but this visit I truly felt like the thick glass between us was temporarily gone, and we got a small glimpse of ‘normality.’ At the end of that visit we were all hopeful that Robert would receive a stay for his upcoming execution day of just 5 days away and so we didn’t say goodbye. Instead we said, “This was nice, see you next time.” Hope is the last thing that is lost.

On October 12, 2017 I sat at home in my dining room table listening to Execution Watch. Again hopeful…unfortunately this time the stay never came. Robert was executed at 6:17pm that afternoon. It was a tough evening…a very tough evening.

I can’t accept the same fate for Clinton, especially knowing that the justice system has failed to try this case fairly and correctly. We have missed the time frame to help Robert unfortunately, but there is time to help and support Clinton. Time and the efforts of those who want to see justice for Clinton will determine the next chapter in his story.

Robert Pruett and Clinton Young (October 7, 2017)

Want to know more about Robert’s case? Check out the BBC documentary Life and Death Row (available in the UK only).