Jarratt, Virginia (AFP) Nov 29, 2005
Strapped down, with needles inserted in both arms, the doomed prisoner waits for the executioner, peering from behind a thick leather curtain, to release the deadly poison.
In five to six minutes, the US death row inmate passes out and is declared dead by lethal injection.
Watching through a plate glass window from a room next door a few meters (yards) away are the families of the convict's victim. They can see his body stretched out on a board, his splayed arms resting on cotton-padded planks.
The condemned inmate sees only his reflection on a mirror.
Behind a panel of Plexiglass, a dozen reporters and people who volunteered to be "witnesses for the state" solemnly observe.
The prisoner's family, in Virginia, is not allowed to watch.
This is the fate that awaits Robin Lovitt, a convicted murder who could become this week the 1,000th person to be executed in the United States. He is scheduled to die late Wednesday in the Greensville prison of Jarratt, Virginia.
A man executed Tuesday in Ohio became the 999th. John Hicks, 49, had been sentenced to die over the 1985 murder of his mother-in-law and five-year-old step-daughter.
In the Greensville prison for men, population near 3,300, executions take place in building L.
In Virginia, the US state with the highest number of executions after Texas, death row inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection. But the majority choose the fatal needle over electrocution.
Prison administrator Clyde Alderman said he has seen inmates choose the electric chair.
"It's a sobering sight," Alderman told visiting reporters. "One of them said he felt he wasn't worthy of (dying) looking like Jesus on the cross. Another one claimed he was innocent and wanted to draw attention."
Authorities try to perform the executions "as humanely and professionally as possible," said the prison official, stressing that executions take place only after the inmate has exhausted all legal avenues and the governor has turned down his plea for clemency.
Before entering the death chamber, the condemned prisoner undergoes a very precise and strict ritual designed to prevent any emotional outburst.
Four days before the execution, the prisoner is taken from death row, made to undress and submitted to a cavity search.
"He's strip searched for contraband or anything he's not supposed to have," said prison guard A.R. Pearson, wearing a royal blue uniform and hat.
Three prison guards then take turns observing the inmate inside a cell made on all sides of prison bars containing a mattress, a toilet, a sink and a Bible.
"They can watch TV," said Lieutenant Pearson, pointing to the monitor hanging from the wall opposite the cell. "Some are quiet, others very talkative."
The prisoner can talk to his lawyers from his cell. The last day, the prisoner has the right to meet with his family in a small room for two hours. He can choose what to have for his last meal from the prison menu.
Seven to 10 minutes before the execution, which usually takes place at 9:00 pm in Virginia, the condemned is escorted to the death chamber, Alderman said.
"Inmates usually act very dignified," he said. "It's a very sceptic procedure, there's no hustling and bustling."
Different colored telephones are in each corner of the room. They connect directly with the governor's office or the Supreme Court so a possible last minute reprieve can be announced immediately.
The victim's family is last to arrive and take their place to witness the execution, after which they are the first to leave.
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