Michelle Lyons has an interesting story to tell, and now she is telling it, in a new book entitled 'Death Row Texas," News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Lyons, who was a reporter for the Huntsville Item and later a top public relations official with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice during the heyday of capital punishment in Texas, estimates she has witnessed 300 executions, more than any other woman in American history.
Lyons, who is now with a law firm in Huntsville, says, despite witnessing so many executions, there is no way the procedure ever became routine.
"What is said in a last statement, or whether the inmate looks at the victims or apologizes or looks at his own family and sometimes apologizes, now the victims and the inmates' families react, can all be different," she said.
And she said that she never forgot that what she was witnessing during all those executions was the death of an individual who had taken the life of another individual.
Lyons has seen men and women executed, she saw people go to their death apologetically, defiantly, and in some cases, almost casually. She says some inmates were determined to make a splash at the end of their lives.
She recalls one execution that particularly stands out among the 300 she saw.
"In his last statement, he was mumbling something about a secret, and then as he muttered and took his last breath, he actually spit out a handcuff key."
She says the warden quickly grabbed the key off the dead many's chin and put it into his pocket. Of couse, prison officials never determined where the man got the key, because he was dead.
Lyons says, just like in the movies, there really is a 'hot line' in the death chamber connected to the governor's office, but she says they never moved an inmate from Death Row, which is now located at the Allen Polunsky Unit in Livingston, to the place of execution, at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, which is more than 40 miles away, until all involved are certain that no delays will occur.
Lyons recalls getting to know some of the inmates on Death Row during her time as a reporter and as an employee of TDCJ. She witnessed the executions of some of the most infamous killers to be put to death during the period that Texas routinely executed dozens of people every year. The number of executions per year in Texas has fallen significantly since those days, so it is unlikely that any other woman will surpass Lyons' record.
She says while her attitudes toward the death penalty have wavered, especially when she became a mom during her work at TDCJ, she still feels firmly about the death penalty.
"I believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for some crimes," she said. "But there were some executions I witnesses where, had I been on that jury, I don't think I would have given that person the death penalty."
She cites the state's so called 'Law of Parties,' which has resulted in the execution of people who didn't even know that a murder was being committed, and did not participate in the killing, but because they were an accomplice to the crime, they face the same exposure as the actual killer.