Today’s blog is about Randy Gardener and Curtis McCarty.
Randy’s brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, was executed by firing squad by the good people of the State of Utah on June 18, 2010 after spending 25 years in prison. About six months after Ronnie’s death, Randy did a google search about the death penalty and called the Journey of Hope office. He told me he wanted to get active in the movement to abolish the death penalty. He wanted to tell people what he seen and what he had heard. He felt that if people really knew what was going on with executions, they would withdraw their support of this barbaric practice. One of the things Randy saw was the bullet holes in his brother’s chest. When he describes what he saw when he viewed the body and the way he forms his fingers picturing the bullet holes in the heart area, like the holes in a bowling ball, he puts himself right back to that moment.
It is a sight that he will never forget.
It is a sight that he hopes no other brother, sister or loved one has to see again. Ronnie Lee went through a transformation while in prison. He was guilty of the crime of murder, but he changed and did his best to pass on to Randy what he learned. He encouraged Randy to do the right things and impressed on him the importance of forgiveness. Randy told me he wanted to be able to help make a difference in the abolition movement and asked if the Journey could help him? Of course I said yes.
We talked about the Abolition Action Committee’s Annual Fast and Vigil at the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC June 29-July2. I have been going since it began in 1994. Randy began to make plans to attend. When Babu Bill Babbitt and I started planning to go to Africa in 2011, I asked Randy if he wanted to go with us.
At that time, Randy’s daughter worked for an airline and Randy could fly anywhere that her airline or their partners flew. We just had to pay 10% of the ticket, and the tax. The trip to Africa opened a new world to Randy and he made the best of his opportunities. He did make a difference.
In 2012 I asked Randy if he was interested in joining the Journey of Hope Board of Directors. He was and the board unanimously elected him. I know that Randy has been a bit disappointed lately because of the lack of speaking opportunities. To have a powerful story to and not have a platform to share it can be very frustrating. I knew that a trip back to Africa is just what Randy needed, so I helped give him a boost. I knew that Randy is struggling financially. His daughter no longer works for the airline so we lost that perk too. I told Randy his expenses would be covered through the Journey or by me but that he was covered.
Another driving force that Randy also hits home with is how it affected Ronnie Lee’s daughter Brandi. Babu Bill and Randy both have nieces whose father was executed. It affected both daughters greatly when the state killed their daddies. Love and compassion for all of humanity applies to Desiree and Brandi too. If you have love and compassion for all of humanity you will not want to see anybody put into the death chamber and their life taken from them. It is impossible. Don’t kill anymore daddies. Don’t kill them; let the daughters visit their daddies in prison, not the death house.
Randy is from Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the high ranking officials in the Mormon Church there took a special interest in his brother’s case. The Bishop’s counseling was a great source of inspiration, comfort and peace for Ronnie Lee.
Randy has 40 acres of land in a remote part of Utah that he plans a “Back to Basic’s Ranch” for troubled youth in Ronnie’s memory. Ronnie Lee was to say the least, a troubled youth. I hope the Journey will someday see him fulfill his “Back to Basics Ranch” dream.
I know the thought of going back to Africa has been very stimulating for Randy. He knows the answer is love and compassion for all of humanity. I love his philosophy.
One of my fondest memories of Randy in Africa at was at Edward’s school in Uganda. We spent one afternoon there and Randy was having the time of his life with all the children. Randy would be sitting in the grass with the kids playing with the kids, grinning ear to ear. The next minute he would be carrying one or two little kids around and showing them each love and affection.
Randy is raring to take his message of love and compassion for all of humanity back to Africa. He knows we can, and will make a difference.
Bill and I selected Randy as 2014 Team Africa member number three and Curtis McCarty is number four. This is how we became the core of four.
“I am free physically, but mentally I am not. I am always there and I am always with the men I left behind and the men who died there, men whom I am certain are innocent.”
Curtis McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after serving 21 years – including 19 years on death row – for a 1982 Oklahoma City murder he didn’t commit. McCarty was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on prosecutorial misconduct and testimony from forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist.
When 18-year old Pamela Kaye Willis was raped, stabbed, and strangled in her Oklahoma City home on December 10, 1982, Curtis McCarty became a suspect because he was acquainted with her. Soon after the murder in 1983, forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist examined hairs from the crime scene and found they did not match McCarty’s. Police interviewed McCarty several times over the next three years, but he was not arrested until 1985. During the three years of Police questioning, Gilchrist secretly altered her notes to declare that the crime scene hairs could have been McCarty’s. Attorneys for McCarty did not discover the change in Gilchrist’s notes until 2000, when she underwent investigation for fraud in other cases. When the defense requested retesting of the hairs, the evidence had either been lost or destroyed deliberately. Gilchrist, implicated in two other cases that sent innocent men to death row, was later fired from her job with the Oklahoma City Police department.
I met Curtis in San Jose, CA at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Annual Conference in January, 2008. It was eight months after his exoneration and release from death row.
I will always remember that conference. It was my fourth and final conference as Chair of the NCADP Board of Directors. They honored me with a plaque for my service to the board as Chair. Many of my Journey friends were present at this conference and it included a number of exonerees. It was there that I got to know about Curtis and the man he has become. Curtis is the first to admit that he had done some terrible things in his life, for which he is very sorry. He is very honest and transparent about his past life.
When he came to the conference he was amazed and thrilled when he realized that there were so many people in the outside world trying to end the death penalty. He had been unaware of that support while he was on death row. It was a matter of life or death for Curtis. He takes it very serious. Curtis was also intrigued with our message of love and compassion for all of humanity.
Curtis joined us for the Montana Journey in 2008 and Texas in 2010, and we have traveled to Switzerland and Italy and several other ventures in Chicago and Texas together.
Exoneree Curtis McCarty with Angie Agapetus and Green Party candidate Art Browning on Texas Journey
Edward Mpagi and Curtis have a unified message, “No matter where you live in this world, human beings are going to make mistakes, and when it comes to the death penalty there is no room for mistakes.”
Babu Bill Babbitt, Randy Gardner and Curtis McCarty have all been to Alaska on behalf of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty and the Journey of Hope. They have all stayed at my house at one time or another when they were here. They are my friends, I love them all dearly. What a great team to go to Africa with!
The four of us were the first to commit to going to Africa and we have asked the following nine people to join us: SueZann Bosler, Marietta Jaeger Lane, Therese Bartholomew, Kristi Smith, Terri Steinberg, Delia Perez Meyer, Ann Stendel, Scott Langley and Colleen Cunningham. They all want to come.
This is the African Team of 13 members.
Over the next several weeks I will be blogging about each of the nine and why they were asked to join us. If you can’t wait, feel free to google any of them.
The next blog will be about SueZann Bosler.
Randy Gardner, Ronald Katongole, Babu Bill Babbitt, Edward Mpagi, Papa Bill Pelke in Rwanda 2011