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Witness To An Execution: Part Two

Execution chamber

Stephen Lich Tyler drove to Texas last week to witness the execution of his father’s killer, Ramiro Hernandez Llanas. Before he left, he spoke on The State of Things about his struggles with the decision to attend and his expectations of the execution. He returned to the studio today to talk with host Frank Stasio about the experience and how it shaped his perspective on the death penalty.

"I hadn't realized this but coming into the room I realized just how confrontational it felt," he said. "I was stepping up to a fight and I had to confront, face-to-face, this person who had done so much to affect my life."

We all dread... stepping up to our fears and stepping up to things that cause us anxiety.

It was the first time Lich Tyler had seen Hernandez Llanas in person. "We all dread... stepping up to our fears and stepping up to things that cause us anxiety," Lich Tyler said. "And I hadn't fully anticipated how much he himself distressed me and how much I was stepping up really to one of the worst things in my life, one of the worst experiences of my life, in a physical form."

Hernandez Llanas gave a statement just prior to his death. In it, he asked for forgiveness from Lich's family and referred to Lich as "my boss." He blew loud kisses towards the witness rooms. "It was one of the most grotesque things that I've seen," Lich Tyler said. 

"I felt angry. I felt upset. I felt offended that he spoke to the family of 'his boss,' not his victim." he said. Lich Tyler made vulgar gestures in response. "I hope he saw. I hope he saw how I felt," he said.

Lich Tyler spoke about how witnessing an execution might help a victim's family restore a sense of control. "Someone exerted power and changed your life. It makes us feel helpless to know the event was not within our control, that the world is not within our control," he said. "At least to see that this one person who had hurt us was gone, to me it made that sense of being controlled go away."

Laura Lee was the managing editor of The State of Things until mid February 2017. Born and raised in Monroe, North Carolina, Laura returned to the Old North state in 2013 after several years in Washington, DC. She received her B.A. in political science and international studies from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 and her J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2007.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.