November 18th, 2008
09:53 AM ET

My Execution: Seen through the Killer’s Eyes

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

Jose Angel Moreno is a 41-year-old condemned inmate on death row in Texas.

On January 22, 1986, the then 18-year-old Moreno kidnapped a man and murdered him with a bullet to the head.

His execution by lethal injection was scheduled for May, 2007. However, Moreno was given a last-minute stay.

In chilling detail, Moreno described what he thought would be his last day alive. From the trip to the death house to the preparations for the execution, Moreno offers a rare perspective of capital punishment.
His account was posted on Deathwatchjournal, an anti-death penalty weblog. It’s worth a read:

This letter is to all the friends I left behind on Death Watch: Leonel Rodriguez, Mangy Dogg, Chino Ruiz, K-loc(o), and Gilberto Guadalupe Reyes.

I haven’t been back from death-house two days yet and already you all have found a way to send me a card with all those touching words in it. One would think that I had died over there. But, you know what, fellas? It was real good to hear from you guys.

Maybe I did die over there. The experience was life-changing, even borderline traumatic. The person that left to the Walls Unit on that day is definitely not the same person that came back. You all knew me, who I was, my beliefs (or lack of) and all the crazy things I did. If we could talk, like the many days and nights we did, you all would know for a fact that something happened to Moreno. Since we can’t talk, hence the letter.

OK, imagining that we were all talking again — which is a possibility, especially since I don’t know what kind of “stay” I received or what is happening with my case — all of you would be asking me questions about what it is like at the Walls Unit. So, allow me to assuage your curiosity.

The drive over is less than an hour because I got my stay around 3, and by 4, I was back. When you finally get to the Walls, the transport vehicles are admitted through one gate after another, all the while driving through twists and turns, around huge buildings, like if you’re travelling through a maze. I felt like I was being swallowed by a huge beast. When they finally turn the van off, you are parked right outside the death chamber.

Let me back up a little, because I forgot to tell you what happens here (Polunsky) before you leave.

When your final visit is almost up, the warden (Hirsch) comes to pick you up. From that point on, every officer that has any dealings with you is a sergeant or higher, mostly lieutenants and captains. When you come out of the visiting room, there is a lot of freeworld people there. I didn’t recognize any, except the wardens. From there, you are escorted to a cage where you are searched thoroughly (you know, lift your feet and wiggle your toes, bend over and spread your ass-cheeks, then with the same hands stick your fingers in your mouth and pull your mouth open so they can check your other cheeks!) and given all brand-new clothing and cloth shoes. From there (cage at E-pod) I am escorted back to the front for the metal detector machines. But at that time, I notice that not only is the whole building on lock-down, but they have a full response team all suited up, tucked away in one of the small side hallways, just in case the 20-30 ranking officers and civilians can’t handle the situation. After running both metal detectors over your whole body, you are taken out and to the cramped transport van. The last thing Warden Hirsch says to me is, “Thanks for being a man about all this.”

Now, getting back to the death chamber. Once they get you out of the van and walk you the few feet to the holding area right next to the death chamber, they lock the door and repeat the process of removing the leg irons, belts, handcuffs and hog chain. They strip you right there in front of them (no cage necessary because there’s about 12 built or big rank all around you — a major or two, captains, and lieutenants). After they search you and dress you in their brand-new clothing, they allow you to walk over to the finger-printing booth (two sets of prints) and walk to their holding cell. There’s a new mattress, pillow, sheets and pillowcase. All brand-new. Nothing but first-class treatment. Then you are told by the chaplain (Hart, likely) that we wait for Warden O’Reiley (?). It took about 10 minutes for him to arrive for me, and all during this time there is an officer sitting right in front of your cell and several others in the rest of the room. Off to the side there is a table with all sorts of goodies on it. You know those huge 10-gallon containers they bring our juice/tea to the pods? Well, there’s three of them on the table. One with coffee, one tea, and I think one of juice. Then there’s milk cartons chilling on ice and a BIG silver platter with all sorts of sweets on it: cookies, buns, rolls, pastries, etc.

When the warden shows up, I think he is there to gauge how you are going to behave. He starts off by telling you what is going to happen. At 3 o’clock they will let you walk out of your cell and walk to the next cell where you will be behind a screen so you can visit with your spiritual advisor. The spiritual advisor visit lasts about an hour. Then, at 4, they will bring your last meal. He has a copy of your last meal in his hands and he might ask you something about it, like if you have a lot of food on there (like I did). He might ask if you’re really that hungry? Then he tells you that he is going to leave and you won’t see him no more until 6, when he comes to get you. He will say, “It’s time.” At that point, you will walk out of the cell and directly through that door (you can see it from the cell, it’s only about 10-15 feet), that’s the execution chamber. You will then be placed on the gurney and strapped down. Then two medically trained personnel will stand on each side and inject a catheter into each arm. Then he (warden) will stand behind your head and ask you if you have a last statement. He will give you about two minutes but is flexible, depending on what you are saying. He has two rules: 1) No profanity or cussing, and 2) It must be in English.

Then he tells you that if you get a stay, the chaplain will come inform you. Finally, he asks if you have any questions. It is at this time you are supposed to ask him to use the telephone and smoke cigarettes as per the instructions you will receive from the chaplain the day before. He tells you that the chaplain will provide the cigarettes and that you can call as many people as you want but the person must be in the continental U.S., and all phone calls will stop at 5.

So the warden leaves and I get right on the phone. I get some very sweet tea, a milk, and wait for him to light me a cigarette. The first person I talk to on the phone is my oldest (longest-lasting) friend, Linda. But I wasn’t doing much talking because I was trying to choke down my sobbing. (Sobbing is uncontrollable crying). It was at this point that it all made sense to me and I was more scared than I’ve ever been in my whole life.

Now, let me tell you what made so much sense to me:

Everything I did as a bon voyage, all the letters I wrote, all the parties we had, all the substances I abused and enjoyed at that moment, my special Sho-out show with all my music, my very special visits, my friends on Death Watch, the cigarettes from the chaplain, the treats on that silver platter, my last meal, and even being able to call anyone I want — none of that mattered. I realized that at 5, I had to stop talking on the phone, then in the execution chamber, no one was going to be there with me except some chaplain I didn’t even know (not Lopez or even Vitela). Even if my family could hold me at the moment, I was making this journey by myself. And it wasn’t dying I was so scared of. It was GOD!

Instead of indulging in these materialistic gifts the state of Texas was using to distract me, I should have been on my knees praying. At about 3, the chaplain old me I got a stay, all my privilges immediately got taken away, and I was still reeling from the shock when Michelle Lyons came in and started asking me questions for the media. On the ride back, I realized that I almost died outside the grace of God.

By now, K-loc (and possibly Reyes too) is thinking that I lost it. But Leonel (and maybe Chino), on the other hand, is probably thinking I gained it. There was a lot of people praying for me. San Fernando Cathedral held a mass for me. My cousin works at Incarnate Word and he got the nuns to pray for me. People from all over sent me letters in those last days. Woody, Rivas, and even Big Tex said they were praying for me.

Let’s forget Divine Providence. Leonel, do you remember how you told me that you should quit doing something for your jefita’s sake but it’s hard, because you enjoy it so much? Remember what Donnie Miller said about it? If, at any time in his life, now is when he needs to be clear-headed. He was right! This situation is very important. The last thing we should do is distract ourselves. What we have to do is focus so that we will be prepared and ready because in the end, nothing else matters. Instead of altering your mind, you need to purge it so that you can mediate, contemplate and figure out what it is you need to do so that you can be at peace on the day of your execution. That way you can face reality. Just in case Divine Providence doesn’t come to your rescue.

I will be praying for all of you and I hope that you all start praying for yourselves.

Peace, Moreno.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
soundoff (220 Responses)
  1. Eugene

    Prettty amazing – the point of view with its context.

    November 18, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
  2. Just Me

    And not a single word about the poor man he killed. What a disgusting specimen of humanity. Makes me wonder about 360's values.

    November 18, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  3. Aisha

    I think this was a wake up call. For those who choose to make wrong decisions. No he didn't say anything about the person who's life he took but he did give light on making the transition to "GOD". Everyone needs to pray.

    November 18, 2008 at 4:39 pm |
  4. aaron

    The killing happened almost 20 years ago. Get over it. People change.

    If it was a loved on of yours who made a mistake as an 18 year old kid, 20 years ago, would you be so quick to say, " Fry him?"

    Judge not lest ye be Judged.

    November 18, 2008 at 4:38 pm |
  5. Arne

    It is sad that this scumbag is still alive. It is sad that CNN finds it necessary to waste bandwidth on this piece of filth without even mentioning the name of the VICTIM!! Rot in hell Moreno!!!!!

    November 18, 2008 at 3:29 pm |
  6. Ken

    I cannot believe some of the responses I'm reading here. Are we really that barbaric as a society that we find pleasure and joy out of killing another person? Mentioning his victim wouldn't have brought him back to life, just as killing Moreno won't either. The death penalty may be fine to use in a society of barbarians and those who have no morals, but I am of the opinion that anyone who kills another except it be in self-defense or defense of others, is a murderer. I cannot believe that in either 6,000 years or 1 million years (depending on what you believe) we humans are still so sick and evil as to support, encourage, and even cheer the killing of another human being, whatever his crime.

    November 18, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  7. Ken

    I cannot believe some of the responses I'm reading here. Are we really that barbaric as a society that we find pleasure and joy out of killing another person? Mentioning his victim wouldn't have brought him back to life, just as killing Moreno won't either. The death penalty may be fine to use in a society of barbarians and those who have no morals, but I am of the opinion that anyone who kills another except it be in self-defense or defense of others, is a murderer. I cannot believe that in either 6,000 years or 1 million years (depending on what you believe) we humans are still so sick and evil as to support, encourage, and even cheer the killing of another human being, whatever his crime.

    November 18, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  8. Butch Dillon

    There is no point in presenting Moreno's letter. Regardless of the epiphany he claims he is still the same self-absorbed murderer he has been for the last 22 years. He shows neither remorse nor contrition for his heinous crime, just some recognition of God born out of the fear he senses over his own death. In spite of, and perhaps because of this letter documenting his experience with the death chamber, Moreno makes an excellent case for the death penalty.

    November 18, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  9. Linda

    It's shameful that he did not mention the man he murdered or his family. Sometimes I think the old days were better. There were no 10 to 20 year appeals or living off law abiding tax payer money.

    November 18, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  10. Rob from PA

    I think that most would agree that the death penalty should be reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. However, I'm not going to be the one to judge if this man's crime would fit such a definition.

    That being said, I am firmly against the death penalty and how the system plays it out. The condemned get automatic appeals that drag out for decades, and it is well documented that it is far cheaper and expedient to simply hold them for life. I have NO faith in a criminal system where the prosecutor holds all of the cards, routinely ignores evidence that doesn't support their theory, and only cares about convicting anyone that they can prove, regardless of guilt or innocence.

    Remember, this is Texas where tons of convictions, even murders, have been overturned. This is where DA kick and scream that the inmate was convicted by a jury, not matter what the DNA or the truth says. How many innocent men have we put to death?

    November 18, 2008 at 3:21 pm |
  11. Amy

    Just what I expected, no mention of the victim or of any real remorse for the pain he caused. If the criminal is looking for some kind of sympathy he won't get it from me. Let him live in fear of his own execution date and of his own execution. Seems as fair punishment to me.

    November 18, 2008 at 3:21 pm |
  12. Kim

    Why did he get a stay? What could possibly be a good reason to stop?

    November 18, 2008 at 3:17 pm |

    Wow, I pity all of you, no wonder the USA is in such a sad state of affairs you all have extreme amounts of hate, your country is just so sad and pathetic, how many die on your streets daily there, fo rreally no good reason, how many parents there klill their children adn vice versa, how many corrupt people do you have, are any of you happy, really happy?

    November 18, 2008 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Beverly

    I feel sorry for him but we all get what we deserve, he killed he gets killed that's it....

    November 18, 2008 at 3:16 pm |
  15. Muriel, Hyattsville, Md

    Let me get out my crying cloth. No mention was made of the violent death of the victim. He should have been hung immediately after sentencing....

    November 18, 2008 at 3:13 pm |
  16. Rob

    Here is my perspective and thoughts.

    What is you were Moreno or if you were the victim? Think of the reality of what Moreno went through and probably a majority of those who face death every day. Reading this made me think about his victim also. I wonder if his victim felt the same way and had the same thoughts.

    Think about it this way. Has tomorrow been promised to everyone? How do you know that whenever you go to sleep tonight you will wake up tomorrow? We dont know but there is one thing we do, we have hope. Moreno found that hope and reading his letter I believe that. At least he has time to meditate on that hope. A lot of people dont but that is no excuse of not being ready. We all should be ready at any given time because we do not know the very next minute has for us. As I write this right now there is somebody in this world dying. Were they ready? That is only between them and GOD...

    November 18, 2008 at 3:11 pm |
  17. Shana Ballard Garrett

    I am glad that he was afraid. As far as the posts about how we lack compassion for the killer...well you are gosh-darn-tootin! This animal and others like him showed no compassion when he brutally murdered someone. There must be penalties to pay for your crimes. The punishment must also fit the crime. I personally do not see how getting 3 hots, a cot, medical care, and, apparently; internet access is "paying" for your crime. Prisoners are far better off than many people living in the United States. I am unapologetic about my lack of compassion for this beast.

    November 18, 2008 at 3:05 pm |
  18. Linda

    I'm and I've always been against the death penalty. It is not a deterrent for such a people. In his narcissistic letter his last thought has been for himself, not for his victim.
    He should have been forgotten in the darkness of a strict jail for all his life.

    November 18, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  19. Dallas

    Troy are you serious about your comments? You think we shouldn't have the death penalty? I wonder if you would change your tune if one of your loved ones was murdered. I think it should be like the old days where we have public hangings and charge admission. There must be consequences for your actions and I'm sorry if you kill someone and it is cut and dry that you are guilty you should have to pay with your life. An eye for an eye right?

    November 18, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  20. linda

    as a latino, i am ashamed of this man.
    as a fellow human being, he had more opportunity to live, to say goodbye to those he loved, to eat and enjoy life than he gave his victim.
    what sympathy should we have for him? what caring? what remorse over his death?

    November 18, 2008 at 2:59 pm |
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