On January 22, 1986, Jose Angel Moreno (only 18 years old at the time) kidnapped and murdered a man. Moreno, now in his 40's, received the death penalty and is currently on death row in Texas. Moreno was originally scheduled for execution in May of 2007, but received a last-minute stay. The following letter was written by Moreno describing the hours leading up to what he thought would be his death.
I have no agenda in posting this letter. I am not trying to argue for or against capital punishment, nor am I trying to argue for or against the existence of God. I simply hope to provide perspective, and provoke thought. It's a bit long, but it is well worth the 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...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.
I found this letter on Anderson Cooper 360, it was originally posted on Deathwatchjournal.wordpress.com.