Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Last Words of Johnny Frank Garrett

Way, way, way back on April 16, I posted Actual Innocence: Johnny Frank Garrett and Bubbles the Clairvoyant. That post has turned into the most frequently hit post of this blog. Perhaps it's difficult to resist any story having a cameo appearance by Bubbles the Clairvoyant. Alternatively, the interest may have been peaked by Johnny Frank's position at the top of my slowly growing list of those I have scored as possibly innocent while in Search of the 54. I repeat that list here, now adding The Surprising Case of The Despicable Claude Jones and The Troublesome Case of Lamont Reese.

Reader Michael H. Fox of The Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Research Center has commented on that post and has questioned one aspect of the story as told. I present his comment below, in its entirety.
I have just seen the documentary for the second time. It is excellent, but I wonder if the director has sensationalized/created quotes that are not factual. One of the film's underlying premises is that the executed boy cast a curse on his antagonists and gave a last statement saying that "all of them could kiss my everlovin' ass." But the book "Texas Death Row," available on Amazon, which details the crimes, personal data, last meals and final statements of everyone executed since 1977, shows no last words or statement for Johnny. If the director or anyone else would like to correct what I perceive as fictive fluff, I will stand corrected. Still I recommend the DVD.
Michael H. Fox is correct in that Texas does not list any final words for Johnny Frank Garrett. You can see that by examining the web site on which Texas presents the last words of those they have executed since they were allowed to start once again in 1976. Johnny Frank is number 44 on that list, placing him near the bottom, since the most recently executed are near the top. As you can see, they have no last words recorded for him.

That list, however, is based on what the person to be executed said while in the death chamber after being given an opportunity to make a last statement. A fair number of individuals executed prior to May of 1997 have no last words recorded, while almost all those executed after May of 1997 have last words recorded. I suspect the missing last words for some of the early cases had more to do with procedural or recording issues rather than a reluctance to speak on the part of the convicts. With respect to Johnny Frank, I have no  way of knowing whether he spoke or chose to remain mute.

My sense of the documentary was that they used words from Garrett's last interview as his final statement. They did, however, portray the words as if spoken from the death chamber. Now I have to wonder if the producers had some insight into what Johnny Frank did say while in the death chamber, and Texas declined not to record it because he said "ass," or for some other equally valid reason. While I'm unwilling to accuse the producers of "fictive fluff", I can't dispute Fox's suggestion they are guilty of such offense.

I'll add that being found guilty of "fictive fluff" is not good when you are trying to convince people you are being truthful with them. Personally, I'm contrite to the extent I have contributed to perpetuation of possible fictive fluff. I've included the YouTube trailer for the DVD video below. You can hear for yourself at the beginning of the trailer how they present his final statement.

I thank Michael H. Fox for his comment, and I credit him for his observation, his skepticism, and his use of the phase "fictive fluff." I suspect also that he could amaze us with his knowledge of the Japanese judicial system. I have read only a small amount about it, but what I have read caused me cultural surprise, shock being too strong a word.

I close with a note to him. I will be pleased to link to a good summary or to directly post text of your choosing if you care to inform readers of this blog about the Japanese judicial and capital punishment system.