I spent an interesting evening outside the Florida State Prison on Wednesday. Larry Eugene Mann, convicted of kidnapping and killing 10-year-old Elisa Nelson in 1980, was executed by lethal injection on Wednesday night. Photographers aren’t allowed inside to witness the execution, so I hung outside with the protesters. Every execution has a group of opponents who gather to pray, sing and express their views against the death penalty. There’s also an area for death penalty supporters, but it’s usually empty. Not this time.
Family and friends of Nelson filled the supporters area with signs, photos and a table full of food. The group faced the setting sun looking across the highway at the prison for any signs that the execution had happened. About an hour after the scheduled time of the execution, the van of witnesses drove back from the prison giving thumbs up to the crowd. A hearse drove by a few minuets later giving the supporters the confirmation they wanted. Many of them applauded.
Meanwhile, the opponents stood in silence, huddled and prayed. Then walked back to their bus (they came as a group from the Tampa area) past the stares of the supporters.
I don’t really have an opinion for or against the death penalty, but it was nice to see (and photograph) both sides of the story. And it was nice to get something we don’t normally see during executions. Everybody I talked with, who have been to a lot of Florida executions, said it’s rare to see so many people on the supporters side.
(Click here to read the full story in Gainesville Sun)
The brother of Elisa Nelson read a statement to the media after the execution. That’s the norm. What we (the media) didn’t expect was the entire gathering of supporters marching over to stand behind him as he spoke. It made for some good moments since the brother and father were inside to witness the execution and weren’t with the group outside. David Nelson, the father, hugged and celebrated that “after 32 years, justice had finally been served.”
Some side notes from the evening: If you drink a lot of water like I do, then have to drive about an hour to an assignment where you’ll be waiting around for something to happen but you don’t know exactly when it will happen, use the bathroom before you leave. I asked my friend Phil, the AP photographer, if I had time to run to the bathroom. He said “I’d cross my legs if I were you.” Turns out nothing happened for about 45 minutes after I got there so I had plenty of time. But you never know.
Also, I had some fun with the sun while waiting for confirmation of the execution. I had to get my mind off how badly I had to go to the bathroom somehow.