During the two years Steve Woolford drove to Raleigh's Central Prison from Silk Hope to visit death row inmate Sammy Perkins, the pair never discussed the reason why Perkins was on death row. It wasn't until after Perkins' execution date was set for Aug. 24 that Woolford read that Perkins was sent to death row for the 1992 rape and murder of 7-year-old Lashenna "Jo Jo" Moore.
"I really didn't want to know a whole lot about that because I wanted there to be at least one person who knew him as someone other than the person who was convicted of this crime," Woolford said during a prayer service last Thursday night at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church just hours before Perkins was lethally injected; the first person executed in the state this year.
While the public image of a death row prisoner is that of a "horrible monster," Woolford said Perkins was "the opposite of that." Perkins was polite, gentle, kind and "easy to get along with," Woolford said. Often the two spoke about sports, especially their mutual support of Duke basketball.
While on death row, Perkins wrote and received a lot of letters. For his 51st birthday (Oct. 1), Perkins said he received more than 50 cards and letters.
At the prayer service, Woolford read excerpts from his final letter from Perkins dated Oct. 4, just four days before his execution.
The three-page missive shows a politically astute person who is also resigned to his fate.
"You know how this execution thing is," Perkins wrote. "If I had money for some good lawyers, I would never had got death. ... I'm hoping for some help, but I'm expecting the worse."
In his final hours, the U.S. Supreme Court voted, 5-4, to allow Perkins' execution to go forward. Gov. Mike Easley also denied clemency.
"Pray for my soul," Perkins wrote. "I made mistakes in my life because of the drinking and drugging I did. I'm just like the next person, I love my Mom, my children, my grandchildren, my family and sports ...
"I did wrong, but I didn't do everything they said."
Perkins also expressed his views on the war in Iraq. "If anyone need to be in prison, it's Bush. All our young people over there dying because Bush want to play God. Bush is one of the biggest killer in this world."
WRAL-TV news anchor David Crabtree was one of three media witnesses who watched Perkins die. An Episcopal deacon who is personally opposed to capital punishment, Crabtree said he witnessed the execution "both as a person of faith and as a journalist."
"In the four executions I've witnessed, I've never seen any joy come from anyone," Crabtree said. "I'm personally so passionate about the fact that the government should not be in the business of killing people, but as long as it is, someone needs to be here to watch, to monitor and to report on how this is carried out."
Crabtree said his hope is that his reporting will force "people to think about the issue of capital punishment, not to advance my own beliefs about this, but to find a way to write about it, to present this, and maybe someone who is either on the fence or pro-death penalty would just stop and think maybe there's a better way to administer justice."
Perkins, who was from Greenville, had more than three dozen friends and family members who gathered at the prison during his final hours. At 2:19 a.m., just five minutes after Perkins was pronounced dead, several of his family members hugged each other and wailed loudly as anti-death penalty protesters held candles on the Western Boulevard sidewalk in front of the prison.
Wrote Perkins: "Where ever I go when they kill me, it got to better than C.P. ... One last thing, to make this world a better place we need a lot more love. All the bad things going on all over the world are because it's not enough love. Peace Brother, Sammy Crystal Perkins."
Despite having enough votes to pass, the N.C. State House failed to take a vote on the moratorium against the death penalty this year. The vote was procedurally blocked by House co-speaker Richard Moore. Had the moratorium passed, Sammy Perkins would still be alive.
On Oct. 22, the state has scheduled the execution of Charles Wesley Roache, who was sentenced to death in April 2001 in Haywood County Superior Court for the murders of Mitzi and Katie Phillips. Roache has dropped his appeals.