Mystery and Crime Fiction posted December 30, 2015 Chapters:  ...10 11 -12- 


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
The state tries again...

A chapter in the book 2nd Time Around

Part I, Chapter 12

by teols2016



Background
A fight for life and truth...
Previously in "2nd Time Around":

In 1996, Sarah Griffin walked in on her neighbor, who had murdered his family. in 1998, she was convicted and sentenced to death for these killings. In 2006, the state of Virginia failed to execute Sarah in the electric chair. In 2008, the state moves to try again ...


2014:

Sarah listened as everyone spoke. As often as she'd done this, it still felt so surreal to hear it. It was like watching a home movie of the events. She needed to wrap her head around the fact it all happened ... not just to her, but to all of them.

She glanced down the table as Doug spoke about one of the appeals he'd filed back in 2008, though she couldn't recall which one. He really tried everything back then.

Sarah knew they were getting close to that night. The big man usually glossed over the events in Stonesburg and she didn't expect anything different this time. True, anyone with access to Google could find out what happened, but Doug never wanted to be the one to put it out there. Sarah could understand this. She just hoped he'd come to terms with what happened, like he'd always told her to when it came to killing Dr. Parker.

Thinking about Doug and Stonesburg always brought Sarah back to her role that night. This time was no different. She too usually glossed over that portion during these public appearances, probably because she could remember it all way too well. Much like her trip to the electric chair, she knew what happened in Stonesburg via other people's accounts, but she could vividly recall her own thoughts and actions that night ...

2008:

... Sarah reached through the cell door's food slot to place the phone's receiver back on its cradle. She missed the first couple of times but got it as a corrections officer arrived, carrying a tray. The officer seated behind the computer on the nearby desk acknowledged his colleague's arrival with a series of taps on the computer's keyboard, creating a record of this interaction with the condemned inmate.

The officer carrying the tray nudged the cart with the phone aside and took another step closer. He set the tray down on the food slot with a soft thud. Sarah moved her wheelchair towards the door. Warden Mills had been kind enough to have the chair normally bolted down in the middle of the cell removed as it only served as an obstruction for her.

Sarah supposed the warden and his officers at the Greensville Correctional Center were schooled in how to deal with her prior to her arrival. Theoretically, a mishap like those which happened shortly after her trip to the electric chair might be enough to launch an investigation and more court appearances, delaying the evening's proceedings. Sarah knew no one wanted more delays.

"Your requested Special Meal," The officer at the cell door announced. "Three scoops of mint chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream with a Wafer cookie in it. The bowl's right in the middle of the tray."

He tapped the side of the bowl with the spoon, indicating its location. He then passed the spoon through the bars to Sarah, telling her where to reach out for it. Once she had it, he left without another word.

Sarah ran the spoon across the bowl's contents until she found the Wafer. She used the cookie to scoop up the ice cream and ate both before consuming the remainder of the dessert with her spoon.

She had her sister to thank for this choice of a last meal, not a "Special Meal", as the staff coined it in an attempt to erase the stigma. Prior to her incarceration, Sarah's favorite ice cream flavor was chocolate. During their visits, Amelia would tell her about all kinds of new foods gaining popularity in the free world, including Hawaiian pizza and mint chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Figuring she had to try one of these before she was gone, Sarah chose the ice cream for her last meal. The Department of Corrections again allowed her to choose as they did for every condemned inmate, provided the choice was within financial reason. Tasting it for the first time, Sarah thought mint chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream was pretty good. Too bad she wouldn't get to have it again.

According to the records kept by the Department of Corrections, she'd had Chinese takeout for her last meal two years ago. She didn't remember making the choice or how it tasted, but she had always liked the stuff, eating it with her siblings during their college years. So that last round, coming from a local takeout place, must have been all right. It must have been better than all those years of prison food. This last meal certainly was, though Sarah couldn't recall the last time she got ice cream. This would end things on a high note ... if a high note like that could exist in this situation.

* * *

At 7:00, two corrections officers came up to Sarah's cell. Hearing them coming, she turned and looked towards them, sure about why they were there. Warden Mills had briefed her on everything. There would be no surprises and she did not want any.

"Time for your shower," One of the officers said.

Sarah nodded, not recognizing this woman's voice. She knew access to her was very restricted, so whoever was here had to have authorization to be here and to take her for her shower.

Once the cell door was opened, the officer stepped in and grabbed Sarah's wheelchair, maneuvering it out into the open area. She pushed her over to the nearby shower stall, her colleague right behind her.

A metal folding chair had been set in the stall. Sarah stripped down and transferred herself from her wheelchair to this chair just as that familiar invisible force turned on the water. It was just like it had always been during all her years on Death Row. She felt along the shower wall, trying to find the little ledge where the bar of soap was.

"Further up," One of the corrections officers said. "And a little to your left."

Having long ago come to ignore the officers who "supervised" her while she was in the shower, Sarah nevertheless appreciated this tip. She grabbed the soap bar and scrubbed herself, considering the possible reasoning behind her getting this last shower. She'd heard several reasons from several sources, the former ranging from the undertaker wanting a clean corpse to it being a courtesy afforded to the condemned, much like the "special meal". In truth, Sarah didn't care. She would just do as was asked of her and put an end to all of it.

She grabbed the bottle of shampoo from the same ledge as the soap and washed her hair. Along with many other things, she long ago learned to deal with the fact this had to be the cheapest stuff on the face of the Earth. It did nothing for her hair except get out mud and concrete.

When she was done showering, Sarah reached out, found, and pulled a towel off the nearby bench and dried herself off with it. Then, still naked, she braced herself against the chair, praying it wouldn't slide out from under her, and lifted herself back into her wheelchair. She was then moved closer to the bench, where a fresh set of prison clothes awaited her, the previous set having disappeared.

Sarah long ago discovered that getting dressed, especially when it came to garments belonging on her lower half, was easier when she could lie down on the cot in her cell. Then, she could wrestle her pants and underwear on over her butt. That had to look like a sad competition to anyone who happened to see it.

Here, she discovered the bench was nowhere near long enough for her to use it like that. So, Sarah pulled the underwear and pants up to her knees and, propping herself on one armrest of the wheelchair with her elbow, pulled them up all the way. She supposed the garment's lack of buttons or zippers helped as she didn't need to try and fumble with those. God bless elastic, the second-greatest gift after the reinforced joints on the arms of her wheelchair that allowed her to put her whole weight on them without anything snapping off and her hitting the floor.

The bra and shirt were easier. Somehow, Donna managed to convince the Department of Corrections to purchase bras which could be clipped in the front between the cups. There was no way Sarah could reach behind her back to do this and there was even less of a chance she'd have anyone regularly help her with this. She couldn't even imagine that scenario and never tried hard to do so.

With this setup, she could get the bra on almost like a jacket, though she always had to use her left hand to help get her right hand up to her shoulder to make the final adjustment before clipping it closed.

As for the shirt, Sarah just needed to bend forward, making sure the wheelchair's seatbelt was in place so gravity couldn't take over and put her on the floor, and toss it over her head. Again, the department became cooperative and began issuing her shirts one size too big to make the process easier. Another small favor in a situation Sarah knew she never belonged in.

Once she got the bottom of the shirt around her neck, she could pull it down all the way with her left hand, arrange it so everything was facing the right way, and work her arms into the sleeves. She'd long ago lost count how many times she wound up wearing the shirt backwards, inside-out, or both. She never got in formal trouble for this, but the officers would demand she fix the mistake in due haste, citing some vague regulation. After many missteps, she learned how to recognize when everything was correct. At least she no longer had to explain herself.

Since she began having to endure this cumbersome routine, Sarah often recalled how Jerry had braille tags sewn in his clothes to tell him what color a particular item was. She'd often seen these little aluminum tags when they were dating. She doubted the Department of Corrections would have ever let her get those. They'd be envisioning her shoving the little metal rectangles into an officer's neck. Besides, it wasn't like she needed them. All her shirts and pants were orange and her socks and undergarments were always white. Mismatching anything was not a concern she needed to consider.

The final step was the shoes. All inmates were issued cheap, plastic shower shoes and, for some reason, someone had left a fresh pair for Sarah with the clothes. What was wrong with the ones she was wearing fifteen minutes ago?

Grabbing one, she bent down as far as possible, letting her shoe-clutching hand dangle in front of her. She got the loop of the shoe over her toes and then knocked her foot off the wheelchair's footrest to get it on all the way with gravity's help. She repeated the process with her other foot and pushed herself back into an upright position, pausing to recover from the wave of queasiness that came on due to all the blood rushing down from her head again. There has got to be a better way to do this, she thought as she used her left hand to lift one leg and then the other to get her feet back on the chair's footrests. Problem was, no one ever showed her an alternative method, so she was stuck with this slow and somewhat awkward routine. She supposed it wouldn't matter for much longer.

When Sarah was dressed, one of the corrections officers again took hold of her chair and steered her back to the cell.

Donna was waiting when Sarah returned. She was ordered to step back until the cell door was closed again. Once everything was secure, she stepped up to the bars, likely keeping her hands at her side as contact with the inmate was strictly forbidden. Sarah vaguely recalled there being a line on the floor which marked how close any civilians were allowed to stand to the cell. Had the line been yellow? She couldn't remember.

"How are you doing?" Donna asked.

"I'm okay," Sarah said. "How's everyone?"

"Everyone's hanging tough, Listen, we've filed a new appeal."

Sarah looked at her, her heart starting to race. Sure, everyone said they weren't giving up, but no one actually brought up any new ideas or possible strategies worth pursuing.

"What kind of appeal?" Sarah asked.

"There's some new evidence," Donna replied, clearly being careful about what she said. "Please don't get your hopes up yet. we just filed with the Supreme Court of Virginia. We're also trying to get a hold of the Acting Governor. I don't know any more. I only spoke to Richard for a minute and I can't reach Doug or Grace."

"Okay," Sarah conceded. She knew she needed to accept the situation. There was no point in yelling at Donna or demanding more answers. The woman wouldn't lie to her, so if she said she didn't know anything, she really didn't know anything.

"Would you like me to stay for a little while?" Donna asked. There was a phone in the room and any calls from the team could and would be forwarded to her. They both knew she needed to leave her cell phone in her car or in the custody of a corrections officer for the duration of her stay inside the prison.

"Sure," Sarah said as a corrections officer brought Donna a chair. "Thanks."

Last time, Doug was her sole attorney and he'd still been in Richmond, talking to the courts and the Governor in those final hours. Though he stayed in touch by phone all day, he was unable to visit her in person before the execution. Sarah wondered what he was up to now.

Thankfully, she had Donna here. It had to be an improvement over last time.

Sarah then hoped the chair the officer brought wasn't the one she just used in the shower. If it was, she hoped someone had wiped it down and dried it.

* * *

At 8:15, a corrections officer delivered Sarah's final attire for the night. Donna excused herself to allow Sarah to change and put on the diaper which was as mandatory for executions by lethal injection as in the electric chair. As she changed, lying down on the cot in the cell this time, Sarah wondered if she'd had as much distaste and feelings of degradation for the diaper two years ago. She could feel her dignity being ripped off in two single jerks, like two bandages, as she fastened the tape on each side of her hips.

She again remembered those little tags. Then, she thought of Jerry. Maybe she ought to call him. He was probably home. The department let her call her sister in New York, so she would probably be allowed to call Philadelphia. She still knew his number.

But she knew she shouldn't. They were done. That was the choice and she needed to stay strong. She couldn't drag him down again.

To distract herself, Sarah examined her new attire, wondering why she'd had to change twice in the last ninety minutes. Weren't politicians preaching less wasteful spending? She'd seen them on the news, complaining about how frivolous appeals filed by condemned inmates did nothing but hit taxpayers in the wallet. Then again, these politicians weren't speaking up on her behalf, even the ones who normally expressed distaste for capital punishment. Now, Sarah was not seriously considering their thoughts and opinions. She ran her hand over her attire again.

Even though the electric chair wasn't being used, she would once again be wearing the black sleeveless t-shirt and beige pants. The Department of Corrections never specified a certain attire for an execution by lethal injection. But this was a convenient choice as her arms needed to be exposed so the needles could be inserted for the procedure. The fact one pant leg was shorter than the other didn't matter and no one ever bothered to do anything about it. Besides, if they couldn't find a vein in either one of her arms, they'd insert a needle in her calve, so the shorter pant leg could still serve a purpose.

Virginia protocol mandated the lethal injection consist of three drugs. First, the inmate received a dose of Sodium Thiopental, an anesthetic often used during surgeries, to knock them out for the rest of the procedure. Then, they would receive a dose of Pancuronium Bromide, which paralyzed their lungs and diaphragm, followed by Potassium Chloride to stop the heart. On average, death occurred in eight minutes, though there had been plenty of complications over the years.

Sarah shuddered. She feared her death would again come with complications. She didn't want more problems and setbacks. She wanted this to be over. In fact, she'd wanted it done with two years ago.

The isolation and loneliness of Death Row did something to the human mind. It stripped away a person's desire to keep on fighting. So many inmates were glad when their time came as they felt living longer was worse than their impending death. Even Sarah couldn't escape this phenomenon. She couldn't keep living in prison.

* * *

When Sarah was dressed, the prison physician, Laura Morrison, arrived. She examined Sarah's arms one final time for assurances that the execution team could find good veins to insert the needles. Though only one was needed, protocol dictated an inmate have a needle inserted in each arm. One served as a back-up in case the primary line failed.

"How are you feeling?" Dr. Morrison asked as she checked Sarah's left arm, pressing down in various spots with her latex-gloved finger.

"I'm okay," Sarah replied. "It's almost done."

Dr. Morrison nodded, making a noise of agreement as she switched over to Sarah's right arm. Sarah seemed to have good veins as she didn't need much time for her examination. This wasn't surprising as Sarah wasn't a drug user. Problems with lethal injections were often linked to a person's history of using heroin or cocaine or whatever else they could shove straight into their veins.

"I can get you a sedative if you want," Dr. Morrison offered, standing up straight again. "It'll help calm your nerves."

"No, thank you," Sarah declined, not wanting even more drugs in her body.

"Okay then. I'll be there later. Don't hesitate to send for me if you need anything beforehand."

Dr. Morrison turned and walked out of the cell. The barred door slid shut behind her.

"Hey, Doc," Sarah said.

"Yes?" Dr. Morrison asked, turning back to face her through the bars.

"Thank you for everything. It meant a lot ... made it all just a little bit easier."

Dr. Morrison hesitated.

"Sure," she said. "You're welcome. Let me know if you need anything else."

She left. Sarah closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.

* * *

To keep Dr. Morrison's anonymity intact, Donna was not allowed back into the Death Watch area until the examination was complete. When she came back, she was accompanied by Rabbi Erving Kohn, Sarah's chosen spiritual advisor.

Sarah had never been religious. Her father being Jewish and her mother being Irish Catholic, her family celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas, but beyond that, she had never been very observant in either religion. However, while her brother and sister chose to be Catholic, she chose to identify as Jewish. Now, she couldn't remember why she made that choice. Maybe it was just about the fact she was able to make the choice.

She had not had a spiritual advisor at her last execution, declining to even speak with the prison chaplain. But a year ago, Amelia found Rabbi Kohn in a synagogue near her home on Long Island and he agreed to come and meet with Sarah. After a few visits, the pair developed an easy-going repour. They agreed on him becoming her spiritual advisor and he commuted to Virginia a few times a month to keep up with his duties.

A short, slightly overweight man, Rabbi Kohn was dressed in a gray suit with a yamica perched on the top of his round head. His short, black hair and beard looked like his hair had merely grown all over his head, leaving just enough room for his eyes, mouth, nose, and ears ... at least this was how Amelia once described him to Sarah.

"Any word from the Supreme Court?" Sarah asked, daring to hope.

"Not yet," Donna replied.

"How's my family doing?"

Sarah knew her parents were out in a waiting area. The law forbade her from having any witnesses at the execution, but they were refusing to leave until it was finished. Warden Mills said this wasn't all that unusual and regulations had long allowed the family of the condemned to at least remain on the premises until it was done.

As if on cue, Warden Mills came into the Death Watch area. He greeted both Donna and Rabbi Kohn before stepping up to the bars of the cell.

"How are you?" he asked.

"I'm okay," Sarah replied, a morbid thought crossing her mind. One positive thing about this execution would be that everyone would stop asking her this once she was dead.

"We'll come and get you in about twenty minutes," Warden Mills said. "You need anything?"

"No," Sarah replied, "thank you."

"Okay, I'll be back."

"Don't be late."

Sarah got no reply as the warden left. The joke was delivered half-heartedly anyway. "Gallows Humor" was what people called it.

"Shall we say a prayer?" Rabbi Kohn suggested.

"I suppose," Sarah agreed, moving her chair as close to the bars as she could.

* * *

Ten minutes later, the phone on the wall rang. Donna stepped over to answer it. Sarah and Rabbi Kohn watched and waited as she spoke to Richard, who was supposed to be back in Doug's office, this serving as the group's headquarters. Donna finished and handed the receiver back to the officer, who replaced it on its wall-mounted cradle. More taps on the keyboard indicated he was making a record of the call.

Donna stepped back to the cell. She was shaking, and Sarah could hear her foot tapping in a nervous rhythm.

"I'm sorry," Donna said. "The Supreme Court of Virginia turned us down without comment. We're trying to get into the federal courts, but it doesn't look good. I'm so sorry."

This was her first death penalty case ever and Sarah could tell she wasn't meant for this kind of work.

"What about the governor?" Sarah asked.

Her request for the Acting Governor to reconsider the denial for clemency was still, in some official sense, pending.

"We haven't been able to reach him," Donna replied.

Sarah nodded, the hope she'd dared to allow herself deflating. She considered asking Donna about the evidence again. But there was a fair possibility Donna still didn't know what it was, having been at the prison since before noon. Plus, asking now would only aggravate their shared sorrow. True, it had to have been a long shot, but it had been their one remaining shot. The finality of this loss stung deep.

Just then, Warden Mills came back in, asking the group to wrap things up in the next couple minutes. Sarah swallowed a lump in her throat

"I guess this is it," she said. "It'll really happen this time."

There were no legal avenues left and she doubted the state could mess things up a second time. The world was watching. They'd make sure there were no mistakes this time.

"I guess so," Donna agreed, her voice still shaking.

Sarah blinked, determined not to cry.

"Please tell my family I love them," she said. "And thank Doug and everybody for me ... and tell them I'm not mad. They did the best they could, and I appreciate it."

Donna nodded, tears filling her eyes.

"And tell Grace I'm sorry," Sarah added. "I didn't mean what I said."

The outburst was still a vivid memory. Sarah wiped her eyes.

"I'm sure she knows," Donna assured her.

She then announced she'd leave. Sarah understood it was so she wouldn't break down in front of her. They bid each other well once more and Donna walked out of the Death Watch area.

"Donna," Sarah said.

Donna stopped at the door and looked back at her.

"Yes?" she asked.

Sarah took a deep breath, determined to get the words out.

"I didn't do it," she said. "It didn't happen like they say it did."

Donna nodded and sniffled.

"I know," she assured her. "Don't worry. We all know."

She left. Sarah turned to Rabbi Kohn. She took another deep breath and gulped.

"Rabbi," she said, "thank you for everything."

"Nothing to mention," Rabbi Kohn told her. "It has been a pleasure getting to know you."

He too was fighting with his emotions. Like Donna, this was his first execution, but he was doing a better job at keeping his composure.

"Shalom, Rabbi," Sarah said, saying good-bye and wishing him peace.

"Shalom aleikhem," Rabbi Kohn returned, wishing peace upon her.

He left, pausing briefly to exchange understanding glances with Warden Mills, who was standing by the doorway. When the rabbi was gone, the warden stepped up to the bars.

"The Acting Governor called," he reported. "He's not reconsidering the matter of clemency."

Sarah nodded, the ultimate defeat weighing down on her. There was nothing left.

"We'll come back in just a few minutes to get you," Warden Mills said.

"Okay," Sarah said. "Warden?"

"Yes?"

"I just wanted to say thank you. Your kindness made this whole thing just a bit easier. Thank you for that. You're a good man."

Warden Mills didn't speak at first. His silence was inscrutable.

"You're welcome," he finally said. "See you in a few minutes."

With that, he left the Death Watch area.

Sarah leaned back in her chair, knowing she would never see her family, her friends, her attorneys, or Rabbi Kohn ever again. Virginia law forbade any of them from seeing her later. One elderly couple, the parents of Dr. Parker, would be there for the victims. They were allowed. Other family members might be there as well. One of the detectives, now a lieutenant, who arrested her would be there, as would the prosecutor who'd gotten the conviction. But Sarah would have no one there.

Virginia law required six ordinary citizens to witness an execution. To Sarah, this had to be one of the most baffling aspects of the process. Why should someone have to come and watch this if they had no stake in the case? Even creepier was the thought of someone wanting to watch it.

The press would have their selected representatives witnessing the proceedings once again. Like before, Sarah did not give any interviews in her final days, so this would be their only chance to hear anything she had to say.

* * *

True to his word, the warden returned a few minutes later, accompanied by the squadron of corrections officers who made up the "Strap-Down Team". Sarah could hear them marching closer and closer towards the cell door.

Warden Mills stepped up to the bars, his subordinates right behind him.

"It's time to go," he announced.

Sarah considered this. Time to go. Sure, she wanted to go home. She wanted to be in a time and place where this mess had never happened. Under the circumstances, she kind of wanted death, though on her own terms. Right now, she wanted to vomit.

Warden Mills waited, standing silently on the other side of the bars. Sarah looked at him, her face set. She would not cry or barf, even if the ice cream was creeping back up her throat. She gave him the best look of confidence she could muster, determined not to break.

"Let's go," she declared.

Warden Mills nodded and, speaking in a louder, firmer tone, he ordered "Open 0-2."

Sarah considered the fact this was the first time she'd ever heard the man raise his voice. She supposed he had a commanding presence. His tone did always suggest wisdom and authority.

That ever-present, unseen force complied with the warden's command. The bars slid aside with a loud clang.

One of the corrections officers stepped into the cell and took hold of Sarah's wheelchair. He pushed her out, at which point his four colleagues stepped into formation around them. They moved forward, following Warden Mills to the execution chamber.

Feeling herself being pushed towards the door, Sarah found herself wondering how anyone would willingly take those final steps. She recalled hearing how she hadn't resisted the last time and she'd walked then. She supposed being pushed in the wheelchair gave her an out as she wasn't pushing herself. Perhaps there was a difference between wanting it all to end and actually taking steps towards that end.

She could somehow sense when they crossed the threshold. Everything inside the chamber was still and the air felt sterile. She couldn't be sure if anyone was already in there or if she was the first to enter.

Sarah considered gripping the wheels of her chair in an attempt to stop this whole process. She would probably get friction burns on both her palms, but did that matter if she was about to die? She tried to make up her mind as she was pushed forward.

The group stopped and one of the corrections officers undid the seatbelt holding Sarah in the chair. Two others took hold of her arms and lifted her up, momentarily giving Sarah the sensation of standing for the first time in two years. They turned her around and sat her down on the edge of the lethal injection gurney. One officer pushed her down until her head came to rest on a pillow. Another officer lifted her legs and set them down on the other end. It was all done gently but quickly, sending the clear message that resistance wouldn't be tolerated.

Not wasting any time, the five officers strapped Sarah down by her ankles, thighs, waist, chest, and shoulders.

"Moving right along," Sarah muttered to herself.

Next, her arms were stretched out on those boards which extended out from either side of the gurney at forty-five-degree angles. Her wrists were secured to these with long pieces of thick tape. In under a minute, she was fully restrained, the officers having acted with such precision that their movements had to have been rehearsed. That or maybe they were the regular group for this task. Again, Sarah could not fathom anyone volunteering for that job. She wondered if any of these officers had participated two years ago.

With Sarah secure, Warden Mills ordered someone to shut the blinds in front of the viewing rooms where the witnesses were watching. Sarah understood This was to protect the anonymity of the technicians who would insert the needles into her arms.

She heard two new sets of footsteps enter the chamber. She knew they had to belong to those medical technicians. Sure enough, a hand wearing a surgical glove came out of nowhere and poked and prodded at her left arm, Startling her. it examined a spot near the crook of her elbow, much like how Dr. Morrison had done earlier. Then, a selected spot was cleaned with alcohol, which was followed by the insertion of the needle. Unable to see it coming, Sarah gasped in surprise as she felt the stinging penetration of her skin.

"It's all right," An unknown voice said, securing an intravenous line to the shunt and making sure everything would stay put. "It's over now."

This was the only thing either of these people said, the statement and the flat tone of voice offering no comfort. Sarah understood they wanted to remain as detached as possible. Part of her hoped her face would haunt them during many nights in the future. No one here ought to be allowed to say they were just doing their job. Even if she sometimes felt ready to go, this was wrong. She never should have been in this situation to begin with.

She felt queasy again and her heart raced. The sensations were coming and going, each trying to outdo each other.

A second needle was inserted in Sarah's right arm, this one going in closer to her wrist. She wondered why they bothered to clean the spot with alcohol, like when she got a shot. Did anyone really have to be concerned with the possibility of her contracting an infection?

Another intravenous line was attached and secured. Sarah could feel the saline solution flowing into her blood vessels. She knew it was used to flush the lines between doses in the injection. Otherwise, the chemicals might solidify before they reached her veins, clogging the tube and botching the execution. Can't have that now, she mused.

Her thoughts switched to memories of the surgery from last year. During that procedure, an intravenous line was inserted into her arm as well, though there had only been the one then. Tonight, the prison officials were about to use the same anesthetic as the doctors to start off this three-drug cocktail. Sarah felt queasy when she considered the irony. That wasn't going away.

The two strangers left and someone else stepped up to the gurney, stopping near her head. Sarah waited.

"I need to attach these pads to your chest," a voice said. "They're for the EKG."

Sarah recognized the speaker as Dr. Morrison and nodded in understanding. Nevertheless, she could again feel that tingle in her throat. Maybe she ought to have not eaten at all.

"it's okay," she said in a small voice.

She knew the pads would be going on no matter how she felt about them. The doctor seemed to be trying to give her some sense of control in all this madness. Sarah supposed she appreciated that.

Dr. Morrison lifted the neck of Sarah's t-shirt and stuck the four pads onto her chest. She let the wires attached to these run out through the shirt's neck hole and over the side of the gurney. They continued on to the unseen EKG machine which would confirm an inmate's death. Sarah could soon hear faint beeping from the apparatus. Everything was working as protocol dictated. No screw-ups so far.

Before leaving, Dr. Morrison squeezed Sarah's hand. Sarah returned the gesture. Apart from fleeting contacts from the corrections officers who handcuffed her and brief embraces with her family during final visitation and while she was in New York, this was her only physical contact with another human being. Sarah wanted to savor it.

But she loosened her fingers after just a few seconds. She didn't want anyone thinking she was trying to take the physician hostage. Without another word, Dr. Morrison left to station herself behind the unseen EKG. From there, she would watch the proceedings and confirm Sarah's death via the machine. Her role in the actual killing was meant to be as hands-off as possible. Sarah wondered if she'd volunteered for this. The doctor was maybe the one person here whom she wouldn't hold accountable for her death.

Sarah flexed her arms. The restraints held. She relaxed again, if one could call her heart racing "relaxing". She recalled someone once telling her there was a mirror mounted on the chamber's ceiling directly above her. She supposed it was once used by the executioner to see the inmate while remaining unseen by the witnesses thanks to the tall black leather curtain standing in the way. A CCTV now fulfilled this function, but no one ever thought to remove that mirror.

Sarah was glad she couldn't see it. Looking at herself in these final moments would push her over the edge. She closed her eyes, still trying to relax.

Warden Mills stepped up to the gurney, also standing near Sarah's head.

"Open the blinds again," he ordered.

His voice betrayed no emotion. Had he been like this last time? Sarah opened her eyes.

This was where the warden's and Richard's descriptions blended in her mind. Their word choice had been nearly identical as they separately explained every step she would encounter. Sarah knew exactly what came next.

With the witnesses now having a clear view, the warden unfolded her second death warrant. He began to read.

"Sarah Inez Griffin. You have been condemned to die in accordance with the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the crime of first degree murder with aggravating circumstances."

Sarah never got that. Aggravating circumstances? Why were only certain killings eligible to land someone on this gurney?

"The aggravating circumstances, as determined by a jury, are as follows ... The murder was committed against more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction. The murder was committed against more than one person within a three-year period."

Sarah wondered if, had she not killed him, Dr. Parker would be lying here in her stead. He'd qualify, but would it be fitting for him? Sarah supposed her current opinion on the matter was quite biased.

"The sentence, as decided by the jury and upheld by a Circuit Court judge in Arlington County, will be carried out on May 20, 2008, at 9:00 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center in Greensville County, Virginia."

How many people died knowing the exact date, time, and location of it happening? Sarah would have loved to never hear that information.

"This execution shall be carried out by lethal injection in accordance with the law of the commonwealth of Virginia."

With that, Sarah's death was authorized by writing on a piece of paper. She could not make sense of it. She was innocent. But she didn't want to stay in a place like this any longer.

Warden Mills looked down at Sarah.

"There are no stays or cause to halt this execution from the courts or governor," he said. "Do you wish to make a statement?"

A statement, not a final statement or "last words". Another attempt to wipe the stigma off the situation.

Sarah swallowed. She'd gone over her chosen words time and time again. After all, she'd had the time.

"I just want to thank everyone who's supported me all these years," she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. "I love you all."

She fell silent. She had nothing else to say to this group of strangers, people who were once somewhat nice to her, and people just there to see her die. Those who these words were meant for would hear them soon enough, once the press began reporting about the execution. They would know Sarah thought of them at the end.

Warden Mills waited. Sarah waited as well, her lips a thin line. She would not initiate these proceedings.

She heard the warden refold the warrant. He paused another moment. Sarah heard him take a deep breath. Was he hesitating? Did he see something wrong in all this? Sarah's thoughts were racing as fast as her heart. Then, the warden spoke, his voice as clear and emotionless as ever.

"Proceed ..."


To be continued ...



Recognized


Cast of characters:

Sarah Griffin: resident of Arlington, VA, and student at American University. Walked in on her neighbor, who had just murdered his wife and children, and pushed him down a flight of stairs. She was convicted and sentenced to death for all four killings. Is now blind and uses a wheelchair.

Doug Walker: Attorney in Richmond, VA. Sarah's lead attorney in the appeals process.

Grace Collins: legal intern for Doug during Sarah's appeals. Later graduates from law school and earns her law license.

Richard Romer: attorney in Virginia. Specilizes in defending people facing the death penalty.

Donna Smith: Disability Rights attorney in Richmond, VA.

Andrew Daines: Civil rights attorney in Richmond, VA. Helped Doug with Sarah's appeals.

Matthew Kellie: attorney and law professor in NY. Helped Doug with Sarah's appeals.

Amelia Kelmer: Sarah's older sister. Moved from VA to NY with her husband and children.

Michael Kelmer: Amelia's husband and Sarah's brother-in-law.

David Kelmer: Amelia's and Michael's son and Sarah's nephew.

Rose Kelmer: Amelia's and Michael's daughter and Sarah's niece.

Ruth Griffin: Sarah's mother.

George Griffin: Sarah's father.

Jerry Baker: Sarah's ex-boyfriend from college.

Lewis Griffin: Sarah's younger brother and a Baltimore City firefighter on Truck 29. Formerly a member of Engine 4.

Dr. Ben Parker: local dentist in Arlington, VA. Murdered his wife and two children and tried to kill Sarah. Died when Sarah pushed him down a flight of stairs. Sarah was convicted of the crimes he committed.

Luther Mills: prison warden who oversaw Sarah's execution in the electric chair and by lethal injection.

Feedback, especially suggestions for additions, subtractions, and revisions, are always welcome. Enjoy.
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