There’s a narrative here somewhere. Haven’t quite figured it out yet. But it’s about leaving, going away, departing. And in an odd way, maybe, matters of grace might seem to be involved. Contrasts of a sort, too, we suppose.
Or maybe it’s just fatigue talking.
This will take a couple of entries to work through.
Let’s go back to last Tuesday, a day that began with an alarm clock at 4:30 a.m., as usual, and the drive through some still-dark streets of Jefferson City to the Missourinet newsroom for the first newscasts of the day to our sixty-or-so affiliated stations. One of the stories in one of those early newscasts was this”
” If prison inmate Earl Ringo Junior is executed tonight, Missouri will, for a brief time perhaps, lead the nation in executions this year. He’ll be the eighth person executed. A few hours after his scheduled execution, Texas is scheduled to execute its eighth prisoner.”
We watched as Ringo was pronounced dead at 12:31 a.m. Wednesday morning. Missouri led the nation in executions for eighteen hours and four minutes before Texas inmate Willie Trottie was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m.
Some condemned inmates try to die with some grace, issuing last statements expressing remorse for the events that led to their coming demise, often apologizing to the friends of families of victims, sometimes expressing confidence that their religious growth in prison would bring them a satisfactory afterlife. Some inmates leave defiant, even profane, final messages.. Someday we’ll post a series of “last words” of Missouri inmates and you may consider whether they have sought to leave this life with at least some grace.
Earl Ringo, Jr. left with no remorse or apology and it appeared the only comfort he sought or offered was to himself. His last statement was an eight-verse segment of the Quran: “For they are enemies to me, not so the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds. Who created me, and it is He who guides me; who gives me food and drink; and when I am ill, it is He who cures me. He will cause me to die, and cause me to live again; and whom, I hope, will forgive me my faults on the day of Judgment. O my Lord bestow wisdom on me, and join me with the righteous. Grant me honorable mention among the tongues of the later generations. Make me one of the inheritors of the Garden of Bliss.”
Moments after the media witnesses returned to the press room at the Bonne Terre prison, the widow of one of his victims told us, “I don’t care if I ever have to hear the name of this person who died today, but you need to speak of Dennis Poyser…” He was one of two people killed in a Columbia restaurant robbery Ringo masterminded. The other was Joanna Baysinger, the mother of a two-year old son, who–said Jama Brown–“didn’t even get to see grow up.”
The closing lines of Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” has crept into the mind since those near-midnight events at the prison;
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.
A few yards away from the execution chamber and a few minutes after life left Ringo, a woman who still mourned the loss of her first husband sixteen years ago lifted up his memory and that of the second victim, thanking those who had brought service to the families and, at long last, justice to a man who remained “concentred all in self” to the very end.
There is a second chapter to this post. The connection to the events at Bonne Terre might seem tenuous. We’re not sure. It’s tenuous enough that we’ll reserve it for next time.