On Dec. 3, James Basden came to the State Capitol clutching an 8-by-10 glossy of a young soldier in uniform, standing in front of a U.S. flag. The photo was of his baby brother, Ernest, who spent a decade on Central Prison's death row before Gov. Mike Easley denied clemency. Ernest, 50, who was the trigger man in a murder-for-hire plot that resulted in Billy White's death, was executed by injection Dec. 6.
Despite the pleadings of Ernest's brother, sister and niece, Easley allowed the execution to go forward on a night when electricity to the prison was partially knocked out by the ice storm. The death chamber had power.
Following the meeting with Easley, which James did not attend, several members of the Basden family expressed optimism. Ernest's sister, Rose Clark, who met with the governor and who sits on the board of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, said it plainly: "We're just begging the governor for mercy. He has the final say."
James, who flew in from Seattle to be with his siblings during Ernest's final days, delivered a petition urging Easley to commute Ernest's sentence to life in prison. He said he had "a lot of hope" the plea to Easley would "come out the way it should, and [Ernest will] be living past Friday morning. It's just wrong to strap a person down and shoot him with chemicals to death. It's just wrong."
On Thursday, as the hours ticked away on Ernest's life, the Basden family was allowed its first-ever "contact visit" with Ernest. Later, Easley's decision was announced to the family. Rose placed a few phone calls to share the news she never wanted to have to say. In the background of her phone calls, family members could be heard weeping.
Instead of crying, James Basden got angry when he heard the news, so angry that Central Prison guards eventually escorted him out of the prison. Once outside, James joined a small group of about 20 anti-death penalty protesters who were holding candles outside the prison.
He thanked the group and gave a rambling speech of sorts that included a warning to stay away from drugs because Ernest had been using drugs at the time of the killing. Standing over a dozen burning candles, James pulled three sheets of paper from his pocket on which he had written down the words to the Beatles song, "Let It Be." He sung the song before going back inside the prison where he was allowed to sit in a waiting room.
Basden's brother, Guy, who witnessed his brother's execution said: "We felt we had it. It's rather mean-spirited with holidays coming up. We're at peace. His strength is our strength. He went peacefully and courageously."
Not everyone who witnessed Basden die was saddened. Crammed into the small viewing room were three members of Billy White's family. Son Stephen White spoke for the family at a news conference after the execution. White thanked "the state of North Carolina and Gov. Easley" and everyone else involved in Basden's prosecution. White, who wore a T-shirt with his father's picture on it, said the last 11 years had been hard for his family.
"We now can hopefully have some closure in our lives knowing that the murderer that killed our father has been executed."
White's closure was the Basden's family's grief.
(Editor's note: On Monday, Easley also refused to commute the death sentence of 35-year-old Desmond Carter. Early Tuesday morning, Carter became the 23rd person executed by the state since executions resumed in 1984.)