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A sad life, and death


A couple of minutes before he was to speak about his friend and client, Eddie Hartman, defense attorney Edwin West's cell phone went off. West left the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church prayer service to take the call.

It was the call West had hoped would never come. On the other end of the line was West's partner and Hartman's co-counsel, Heather Wells, who was still at Central Prison. Wells said Gov. Mike Easley's office had denied Hartman's clemency request; the execution--the state's fourth in six weeks--was going forward at 2 a.m. Hartman was sentenced to die for the 1993 murder of Herman Smith.

After reporting the bad news, West opened with a prayer, "Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth. The peace that was meant to be. ..." Then the Wilmington attorney presented a litany of his client's life, a litany that read like a horror story:

"Eddie's grandmother was married eight times. Eddie's mother quit school during the eighth grade. She married Eddie's father when she was 14 years old. She gave birth to Eddie's sister, Sherry, at 15, and gave birth to Eddie at 17. She was separated from Eddie's father when Eddie was eight months old. She herself was married six times. She was addicted to prescription drugs when Eddie was four years old. She took drugs in front of Eddie. Eddie had no contact with his biological father until he was 18 years old. Eddie attended 20 schools growing up, and he witnessed the attempted suicide of his mother when she tried to overdose on pills and slashed her wrists in front of him. He was sexually assaulted when he was eight, repeatedly, by an uncle for over six months. Later, when he was a little bit older, he was sexually abused again by an older relative. He quit school at the age of 16. His father, mother, grandmother and uncle are all alcoholics. He was beaten by three of his mother's husbands, once so badly he had to be in the hospital for a week. He witnessed his mother being abused many, many times, once seeing her front teeth knocked out."

Following the litany, West paused for 30 seconds, not speaking, one hand propping up his head on the pulpit.

West had spent the day with Hartman on death row. On his final day of life, Hartman had no visits from friends or family members. West said Hartman had "been very brave in the face of what is coming. He has been gracious to myself and to my co-counsel, Heather Wells ... He has been trying very hard to make us feel comfortable today. In some ways I think he has done a better job taking care of us then we have taking care of him today."

West also asked those present to remember Herman Smith's family. "Their family has been through a hell, and it is entirely appropriate and important that we pray for his family tonight," he said.

Wells, who has recently experienced the deaths of her husband and father, had been very close to Hartman. She said she had hoped Easley would have done the right thing and spared Hartman's life. In open court, the trial judge had noted that Hartman was gay, a remark defense attorneys claimed was prejudicial in a homophobic culture.

"It surely was an appropriate case for clemency," said Wells, who along with West, witnessed Hartman's execution. "It was a terrible thing that happened in Central Prison."

While West and Wells were saying their good-byes to Hartman, outside the prison a group of seven religious death penalty opponents kneeled, blocked and shut down the Western Boulevard driveway to Central Prison.

A statement released by the seven protesters said in part: "We recall our place as part of a human race, one component of a larger creation full of decency and light, more alike than different, more good than bad, in need of compassion and mercy. ... We know the execution of Eddie Hartman is not a product of a just and fair judicial system ... We are here to nonviolently and lovingly enflesh the imperative of Isaiah to comfort the afflicted. We plead for the lives of those who would be murdered, whether by the state or by individuals, and for the abolition of the death penalty.

"We are here to celebrate God as true security rather than accept more death and violence ... We step onto Central Prison grounds as a sign of our unwillingness to take life from another."

Central Prison Warden Marvin Polk did not order the arrest of the seven, who remained in the driveway until after Hartman's execution.

After the execution, West told The Independent: "I'm just profoundly sad. I really don't know another way to put it."

Hartman donated his body to the UNC-Chapel Hill medical school.

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