Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

Jan. 14, 2002

Every Monday morning I picket the Nueces County Courthouse here in Corpus Christi, Texas, with a sign that says "Stop the death penalty."

Monday is the day new jurors are summoned for the upcoming trials in the week ahead, and it is in the hands of the jurors that the power of imposing the death penalty lies.

It's common knowledge that Texas executes half of all those executed in the entire United States each year, but don't blame Texas. Blame Texans.

About 500 jurors are called to report each week. Their names are randomly selected from the roll of registered voters in Nueces County.

I started out picketing as a crusade for life and sanity, but now I do it for my own enjoyment. I get to watch a parade of Americans - the best people watching in town.

Before 8 a.m., I get to see some of the gentlemen trembling from weekend hangovers, many ladies decked in their Sunday best, workers in their uniforms (whether it's Exxon or McDonald's or whatever), people in wheelchairs, old men with canes, longhaired people, shorthaired people, smiling people, scowling people, people who give me a thumbs-up or people who give me dirty looks.

All of them are living signs that America is diverse, and in some ways equal, and I have started to wish that I knew each of them in their joys and sufferings.

Some of them are carrying books to read and chewing gum, even though they were warned not to do either in their jury summons. Sometimes there is a real treat to watch - a bride all gowned up, with her wedding party trailing behind, all of them incongruously decked out in tuxedos and bridesmaids dresses on an early Monday morning to be married by the judge.

I haven't won any converts. I have taken to shouting back in a most road ragey sort of way at anyone who says or shouts anything at me. I am likely to retort, "Ah, go back to bed." Or "Why don't you go take your meds?" Or sometimes simply, "You're nuts!"

To one man who politely said softly as he walked by, "I don't agree with you." I answered "All right, sir, why don't you go get your own sign?"

An attorney asked me last week what I was hoping to accomplish, and when I told them I hoped to make people think, he said, "In Texas?"

Then he had a hearty laugh for himself before he trudged into the courthouse with his briefcase swinging by his side.

Sometimes people timidly approach me and ask if this is the county courthouse. I have all I can do to be respectful and not make a remark such as "A jury is composed of 12 people too dumb to avoid jury duty."

I am happy to report that the uniformed law enforcement people who go by on their way to work, either in the jail or in the constables offices or from the Corpus Christi Police Department, are universally respectful and usually say "Good morning." None of them stop to argue or to tell me not to push my luck at picketing.

One time Carlos Valdez, the district attorney, came out to reassure me that he and his staff take the death penalty very seriously, and agonize over their decision as to when to push for it whenever they have to prosecute capital crimes. They even take a secret ballot before their determination.

The first sign I used said "Stop the killing" but I switched it because too many people thought I was picketing against abortion. I would gladly picket against abortion, but there isn't anything they can do about abortion at the county courthouse. Jurors can stop the death penalty if they so choose, but I don't know how abortion can be stopped without a moral conversion.

Yet, there is surely a similarity between the killing of the innocent and the killing of the guilty. The phrase "legal abortion" and "legal execution" both carry an irony approaching oxymoron status.

Also, there is the irony of someone wearing a cross who passes me by on their way into serve on a jury and yells at me, "Fry 'em all," not seeming to realize they are wearing around their necks the very symbol of Jesus Christ . . . who was, in fact, legally executed.

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