Marvin Wilson

Texas authorities executed Marvin Wilson, a 54-year-old death row inmate, on Tuesday night after his attorneys failed to convince state and federal courts that he was mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling.

Wilson was declared dead at 6:27 p.m. local time. He cried out to his gathered family members as he expired, Texas officials said.

“Give mom a hug for me and tell her that I love her,” Wilson said.




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43 responses to “Marvin Wilson

  1. This is the kind of barbarity that we should all be ashamed of. To have death penalty at all in a civilized country is ridiculous but executing disabled people is an atrocity that I have no words for.

    This is horrible. What’s wrong with the people of Texas that they just stand by and let this happen?

  2. hattie

    They are crazy.

  3. Aww. I think this is really sweet. Even viciously criminal men of colour love their mothers. Such a lovely story, Z. It put a smile on my face 🙂

    Wait, what do you mean that wasn’t the point? What else can this story be about?

    • Z

      And (this follows my first remark, below) — good God, child. Now is really not the time for this kind of remark. We can talk at some other time about how this particular news story was framed, and so on, but right now there’s a soul to put to rest, grieving relatives, a good lawyer I saw being pilloried on national television _for being rational_, and a tenebrous precedent solidified, as Carlos points out below.

      I understand you are upset about the things you are upset about in US and that you (from what I understand) may consider Americans your intellectual inferiors, politically naive, or whatever. I apologize for us and everything but right now there is some legal and practical work to be done and I need to concentrate.

      In this work both bitterness and sentimentality are attitudes one cannot afford. They are draining and make it harder, because you have to pick up and keep fighting. These executions are exhausting and disappointing and sad and there is aftermath, and then there is the next case. I need to conserve emotional energy, especially right after one of these events; I am not up for sarcasm so soon, especially not about anything relating to the prisoner or his mother.

      I am sorry to disappoint but it is not that you were misunderstood — it is that your remarks were out of place.

    • Z

      “What else can this story be about?”

      – the attitude of the Supreme Court
      – disregard for science
      – insistence on the irrationality of women (look at the way the men treat the lawyer in that interview)
      – the issue of mentally retarded reos de muerte (it is often that particular participant in the crime who gets the death penalty, not the others who may actually be the principals and more “vicious” to use your word — and part of the point here is that, although the death penalty, for those who support it, is to be used for the most “vicious” criminals it in fact is applied more often to those who are simply more vulnerable)
      – tangentially, the question of cruel and unusual punishment, which has executions temporarily halted in some states and is legally complex
      – i.e., all sorts of things, just read it and read around on the issue, if you are interested / want more information (the links on the right of this site, under projects, are a good start).

      The question of humanizing those who have been demonized is always present in these matters, although as I’ve already said downthread, that isn’t my main interest here; that these are people, I take as a given and it’s not something I am trying to convince readers of. Look, incarceration rates in the state of Louisiana are some of the highest in the world, and sentences are some of the longest. That means that almost anyone you can meet, has someone in jail; if anyone gets anything new from the post I would hope it is that these kinds of policies, rather than “protect us,” in fact incarcerate almost everyone, as it were.

  4. carlos

    What is horrendous is that the US Supreme Court has allowed, rather endorsed, this execution.

  5. Oh, and Priyanka reminds me that not only are a lot of people crazy, a lot of people are heartless.

  6. Z

    Priyanka, the thing is that all of these prisoners have mothers who love them. It is striking, when you go up to visit and you see who is there.

    Carlos, yes, that is the key issue.

    Hattie and Clarissa, yes, they are insane.

    • You amaze me, Z. Is sarcasm borne of bitter disappointment so completely incomprehensible to you?

      • I even put a hint as big as the Everest in the last paragraph, for slow people and the average American, who are protected from the sharper shades of humour by their intellect-coddling mainstream culture.

      • Z

        That is not what your comment sounded like to me, so I suppose yes, it was incomprehensible.

        Since you are insulting the country I live in, I will say that I do not understand why you British think you can be rude and then claim it was a joke, but you always do. We have gentler ways where I come from and no, I am not really acculturated to your way of interacting with people.

  7. Z

    @Priyanka, I am not quite sure what you are reacting to. If you do prison work as I do or Hattie does, you cannot really be sentimental, there is too much going on and too much to do, and many details are sad.

    I suppose one of the reasons the story quoted that line was to “humanize” the prisoner – a goal I do not oppose, given the dehumanization usually deployed to maintain support for the death penalty and long sentences. The legal, political and human rights issues are much broader and if you work on these, then I repeat, you cannot really get sentimental.

    One of the things I have always noticed, though, is that after they have been abandoned by everyone else, who they have left is their mothers. Not fathers. And all these people are poor, and the visit to the prison is a great expense and a difficult journey, and when you get there it is the mothers you see, waiting in line to be searched to get in. And they are happy, as they are going to see their children. And if they are visiting Death Row, they do not show their sadness until they are outside the gate again. And the phone calls are expensive, and the money orders to pay for toothpaste and things are expensive, and these are not rich people.

    (One of the things not discussed enough in general is the toll a prison sentence takes on a family, not just on the mothers as indicated above but because a wage earner, often a parent, is taken from a family and it is a hardship for them, now providing for that person and covering what they would be earning as well.)

    All of this is why “Give Mom a hug for me and tell her that I love her” are so often peoples’ actual last words. As I suggest, it is not a mere formula since that mother will have been such a strong, and often lone supporter of the prisoner during the long years on the row.

    If you, Priyanka, had ever driven some carless one up to an execution, to spend a last day with her child. Sat with her then as it is done, so that he has someone to look at besides the death penalty advocates who have come to watch and celebrate. Seen them say prayers in unison, looking at each other a last time through the glass. Heard her say softly, “Good-bye my honey child” as the drugs start flowing in. If you had done any of these things, Priyanka, then perhaps you might have some respect for what these families go through and for what Marvin Wilson’s last words mean.

  8. Ooh, impressive high horse, Z. And a stunning lack of reading comprehension. But perhaps a self-righteous culture inculcates that into one, so it is easier to misunderstand people and feel wonderful by standing in contempt of them?

    That must be it. Nothing else explains this level of sanctimonious obtuseness.

    In a justice system that has historically been racially biased, a man of colour is denied life — his bloody *life* — because a few people were determined not to be convinced he was of unsound mind. The reportage of this stunning display of inhumanity — or not quite so stunning, because don’t we just expect people to be inhumane by now? — is capped with a touch of cheap sentiment: He sent his mother his love. This is supposed to be the ‘human touch’? “Our system killed a man, but hey, look, he sent his mum his love. Isn’t that oh-so-touching?” And people fall over themselves to consume such reportage and and be sombre about it.

    My comment was a caustic parody of this shallow performance of being ‘touched’ by the ‘human factory’ in something whose very essence is it’s lack of any form of humanity at all. I could, of course have gone with, “OMG, how *could* they? This is inhuman!”, and everybody would have been pleased. The status quo of appropriate social reactions would have been maintained, and no one would have to face their own helplessness in the face of cruelty like this, or be discomfited by it. But after seeing your reaction, I’m glad I chose the former, and gave you a platform to strut how much of a better human being you are.

    • Z

      “…and gave you a platform to strut how much of a better human being you are.”

      Again, good God, as though being a “good human being” were anywhere near the point. What I am saying, though, is that you, whatever your original intention, are the one being preachy and disrespectful; a better use of time would be to light some incense or something for Wilson *and his mother* today.

      Yes, one knows all about the justice system and so on and how it works to create these situations. Still, there is the nitty gritty of it, the details, that are lived by real people every day. And I somehow do not believe your serious, practical recommendation would be to give up working on these things.

      • “And I somehow do not believe your serious, practical recommendation would be to give up working on these things.”

        How could you possibly, when I called your work valuable, and offered the possibility of having my contributions here deleted?

        I was, of course, not remotely preachy in my first comment. Your response to it, on the other hand…. A most interesting insight, shall we say. But then, as I mentioned, it is prerogrative of people who follow socially prescriptive language and reactions to go, “Haw, OMG, that was *so* inappropriate! She’s must be such an awful person!” at anything that falls beyond the textbook.

        But since you explained, I accept that calling me disrespectful and being condescending is part of the coping mechs of the gritty work you do. You need to feel this way to carry on. And since the work definitely needs to be carried on, we’ll just accept this mindset as a necessary collateral to the job, and say no more about it. Let other people’s needs come before our egos.

      • Z

        Actually, when I first saw that comment it was already coupled with calling someone else, who also has spent a lot of time working on this, a “bitch” and a “moron.” In my culture that is verbal violence, I am sorry.

    • Z

      Oh, come now. The one who came over here with contemptuous remarks was you, and I could say quite the same about lack of reading comprehension, not to mention HUGE amounts of projection.

  9. It sounded suspiciously like I was completely misunderstood, but if you say I wasn’t, and your reasons and what you say they, I do, of course, believe you. Given the kind of valuable work you do, it is entirely your prerogative to decide what sort of company and environment you need when. If my disillusionment bothers you, please feel free to delete my contribution here.

    It’s just that, a helpless family has been murdered for political reasons here, and people who possibly orchestrated it are being so sweet and saying all the right things, and commentators are saying things like, “We are sure the family is grateful for the show of solidarity they are recieivng from the community”. Indeed.

    • *your reasons are what you say they are.

    • Z

      Uh … look, what news commentators say after the fact on these matters is always quite obtuse. I used to get angry, yes, but I am sort of beyond having to react that way at this point. The degree to which one is surprised is more or less the degree to which one believes in the system; many things in life still catch me by surprise but not this.

      As I say, though, I didn’t really understand your first comment or wasn’t in the mood for it, but it wasn’t that comment but some later ones I found a bit much.

      But thanks for writing back.

  10. carlos


    Please, don’t be upset and thanks for explaining yourself. You see, sometimes it is difficult for others to understand parody. There are people who very innocently have been critics of the system by using parody in an open way (not just in a blog) and they spent months in prison and went through a lot of trouble in their personal lives. That’s how disconcertingly paradoxical is this American democracy.

    • Z

      Or: not, not understand, just not be in the mood for this week. I tend not to subject the exhausted/bereaved to that in the first few days, at least (and now *I* am being sarcastic). More to the point — I am feeling somewhat quiet and grave at the moment. My reaction wasn’t Hattie’s, but I find it a bit ridiculous as a worker on these issues to be lectured at from afar about them; and words like “bitch” and “moron” are beneath the dignity of the subject and moment so far as I am concerned.

      • carlos

        Yes, I would agree that calling names doesn’t serve much for the purpose of a productive discussion on issues that are as important as controversial. I also think that we should always find opportunities for learning from others. And the more difficult and controversial a topic is the more opportunities to learn from participants.

  11. Z

    Well Priyanka, it is easy to say the sentiments around any death are cheap or cheaply expressed, and I’m not sure what all reports you have seen on this — I didn’t see the mainstream television commentary although I am sure much or most was silly.

    But, you are talking to someone who works on this and has for years. Typical questions I get from Americans are: don’t you realize these people are criminals, what are you, some kind of benevolent society, etc. Typical questions I get from foreigners are: don’t you realize the death penalty is barbaric, don’t you realize your country’s general policies and practices are even worse than that, etc. The answer to all of these questions is, yes.

    Remember: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, and so on.


    Footnote: I would prefer not to have words like “moron” and “bitch” thrown about in this thread. It is interesting that this kind of language comes out so quickly in discussions around the death penalty. This is not the first time I have seen it and it is said that violence in general rises after an execution [yet another reason not to have them, of course].

  12. Z

    @Carlos, sure. But the person to lecture at about the lateness of an alleged “discovery” that criminals are humans (and remember, most often those who get the death penalty are precisely *not* the “vicious” ones, but the fall guys and other ones not savvy enough to get out of it) isn’t me, and less this week for all kinds of reasons I do not have time to list right now.

    If roles had been reversed — if I vented on someone’s blog and then discovered the tone was out of place — I’d apologize and back off. (Or at least, I would now; perhaps I haven’t always been so evolved.)

    But with this set of comments I have the distinct impression I am being projected into and battered somewhat for reasons not having to do with me specifically — and then insulted for asking P. to cool it. It reminds me of how a certain ex used to behave, so maybe it is just cultural (British), but it feels abusive.

    • Exactly. This stereotype of Americans as sentimental slobs is common enough. I’ve been subjected to it myself. And often, I would gently add, by people who have themselves some cultural issues involving their countries of origin.

      This notion of Americans as boobs is also outdated as cultural criticism and based on notions of bourgeois sentimentality that are no longer prominent in American life. It’s “in” to be a cynic and a rebel these days! As long as you don’t really change things but just carp and criticize and express your contempt for the common folk.

      I admire you, Z, for your ability to go on caring. You should read the book I recommend, *The Last of Her Kind,* by Sigrid Nunez, which is about exactly this topic.

      And your passionate defense of your views is a fine piece of writing.

      And I think you should ban the troll. I ban people like her from my blog when they come around with their insults.

      • Z

        And I just get sort of bored with people who ask — ask me, of all people — whether I have ever heard that anyone does not perfectly admire “America,” and so on … as though they really believed they could be the first to ever bring me any bad news.

        Troll, is gone and I think perhaps embarrassed, and isn’t normally a trollish person. I don’t believe she knew quite who she was talking to, and it is possible she is upset for other reasons; it is also possible I am irritating because of NOT fitting the expected stereotype well enough (this happens too). All of that is speculation, though; I have sometimes ranted at people’s blogs before, so it is all right in the end, I do suppose.

      • Z

        P.S. Especially important to note:

        “This notion of Americans as boobs is also outdated as cultural criticism and based on notions of bourgeois sentimentality that are no longer prominent in American life. It’s “in” to be a cynic and a rebel these days! As long as you don’t really change things but just carp and criticize and express your contempt for the common folk.”

  13. carlos

    Sorry Z. I don’t think I follow you and I apologize for not being in the sharpest state of mind. I do not feel like anyone insulted or lectured you. Expressions are different from different people on difficult issues, so objectivity is a hard task for everybody, including myself. Please, don’t take it personally because I did not mean it at all.

    • Z

      Hey Carlos, I didn’t mean you!!! There is nothing to apologize for … although I thank you nonetheless!!!

  14. Z

    And now: e-mail to blog re the comments from P. I wish they’d say it themself but here we go, for my files:

    “It is arrogant and presumptuous of this person to project motivations into you. The only way I have found to deal with people like this is is to let them know that you are happy that they think they are in such a superior position to know about the world than you, and that that being the case you have nothing further to offer them, and wish them a good day.”

    We are all in the same boat to Hades, this person points out.

  15. Z

    And related – random thoughts re assumptions made about identities and what people will think or say based on the (putative) identity they have.

    – the visitor to this blog who was convinced only a Black person could think the thoughts it voiced.

    – the fact that so many people get upset if one isn’t a white American of the northern type with nice liberal (or in some cases, rabidly conservative) politics … their disappointment when they find out one is not that audience, one is not an opportunity for them to teach those precise ears.

    – the time a French person came and told me the problem with Americans was, we had never heard of the French Revolution and its values. How easy it was to come back and say well, the French Revolution betrayed Toussaint L’Ouverture.

    I of course understand what the problems people have with the US are — I have them, too. And I am from here and I, too, would like it to be a more civilized country. And yes, I am a part of it and so I am complicit with it, materially in more important ways than I can control or counterbalance. But it is dull to repeat these things, of which one is aware at all moments and in spite of which one must act — at least, in my view.

    • I like that retort to the French person. Always this assumption that Americans don’t know anything. Well some of us do! And I’ve met my share of dolts of other nationalities but that does not cause me to go around saying how dumb Germans or French or Russians or Mexicans or what have you are.

      • Z

        Well, they have read Henry James who finds the French sophisticated and wise and so on, and the US is an imperial power (as France has been, I note). Why those things should justify being abusive to individuals I do not really understand, but many seem to feel it is their right, that it is tolerable to subtle minds, and so on. (New Englanders can be that way, too, I have noticed, and that is why I am glad I do not live in the East.)

    • la redactora

      I am veering this conversation horribly off topic but I am curious about the New Englanders in whom you have noticed these attitudes. For instance, where were they from in New England? If you don’t mind, obviously.

      • Z

        This is of course very subjective or to be more generous to my own perceptions, intuitive, and my sample is small, but people from places like Harvard University and Brown, *and* who are from the area. I am from California so I believe in relaxing as one stares at the ocean and not getting on peoples’ cases, but these people seem not to be laissez-faire like that at all. I asked one of them about it one time and she said that in her region it was a way of showing affection! I am not sure I understand it, and I am not being very scientific in saying all of this.

        (Something else that occurred to me while swimming is that there are also some standard British stereotypes of Americans, which the British seem to hold dear, half in awe and half condescending.)

    • la redactora

      Interesting. I am not familiar with the kind of people who go to Ivy League schools, or who live in southern New England–a very different feel to things down there.

      British people can be insufferable about people from the US, or so I have found. Sour grapes?

      They tend to revise history to make it look like they had nothing to do with the colonizing, genocide of Native peoples, and enslavement/murder of Africans in the “new world.” No, it was always these mysterious people called “Americans” who had nothing to do with their precious and benevolent empire.

  16. “Exactly. This stereotype of Americans as sentimental slobs is common enough. I’ve been subjected to it myself. And often, I would gently add, by people who have themselves some cultural issues involving their countries of origin.”

    – This is completely true. I came to the US with precisely this vision of Americans that I brought with me from my own country. Now, of course, I understand why this vision was constructed and promoted and what goals it served.

  17. carlos

    Off topic and not so much.

    “Sister Rice served six months in federal prison. “It was a great eye-opener,” she said. “When you’ve had a prison experience, it minimizes your needs very much.”

    Very interesting to read in today’s NYT

  18. Z

    @Redactora, I have not spent much time in Maine-NH-VT, but it’s true, up there seems far less pretentious, more like Canada. Otherwise in NE I feel there is no freedom until you get safely south of the George Washington Bridge.

    @Carlos, that is a great news item, thanks. And, I went on Facebook to broadcast it and discovered Mexico was winning an Olympic gold medal against Brazil!

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