Reporter’s Notebook: Witnessing the execution of Patrick Hannon

Witnessing the execution of Patrick Hannon

By: Greg Angel

Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Florida State Prison, Raiford, Florida

It is the inside of a razor wired world, most would not imagine ever stepping foot inside. For thousands, this is “home”. Until they’re evicted by the Death Warrant signed by a Governor.

Such is the case on this Wednesday, November 8, 2017 for convicted killer Patrick Hannon.

 

THE CRIME

He was convicted by a unanimous jury of helping to murder two men in 1991 in Tampa.

Prosecutors say Hannon, and two other men, Ron Richardson and James Acker, were focused on revenge when they went to the Tampa area apartment where their victims lived.

Patrick Hannon

When Brandon Snider, then 27, opened the front door, he was attacked. Stabbed in the chest, then stabbed again and again and again. Prosecutors say that wasn’t enough. Hannon took it a step further, slicing Snider’s throat, nearly decapitating him.

Snider’s roommate, Robert Carter, then 28, imaginably scared for his life, ran as the attack started, hiding beneath a bed in the bedroom. Cops say Hannon dragged Carter from beneath the bed, and shot him multiple times, leaving both Carter and Snider to die agonizing deaths.

Hannon arguably received the most severe sentence out of the three. Ronald Richardson did a five-year prison sentence as part of a plea deal to testify against Hannon and Acker. James Acker is serving out a life sentence in a Florida prison.

 

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

Nearly three decades later, family members of Carter and Snider gathered in a small room, with a large window, to watch the man who took the lives of those young men, in turn lose his own life.

The order was signed by Governor Rick Scott, and the Florida Supreme Court had given way for the lethal injection to proceed. There was a pending appeal with the United States Supreme Court.

It must have been a restless night for Patrick Hannon, who knew all too well about his time on earth quickly coming to an end.

 

THE DAY HAS COME

Hannon reportedly woke up at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, the day of his execution.

In a grass field across the street from the prison, the media gathered for a 3:30 p.m. press conference with Florida Department of Corrections’ Communications Director.

She told us Hannon was in “good spirits” throughout the day.

Like other condemned inmates, Hannon was given about a two-hour final visit with his wife. In that time, he had his final meal.

 

THE LAST MEAL

Beef short rib
Fried potatoes
Bacon
A roll
Peach cobbler
Vanilla ice cream
Sweet tea

Inmates can request just about anything they want as a final meal – to a limit. It can’t be more than $40, and it has to be able to be prepared on site, at the prison.

Unlike the past two inmates whose executions I witnessed, Hannon declined a final media interview earlier in this week, and he did not have a spiritual advisor of any sort.

Presumably after saying his final good bye to his wife, his only visitor, he was left to wait out the final hours, alone in his cell.

At the same time, the family members of Robert Carter and Brandon Snider were making their own journey to Florida State Prison.

I often wonder what they’re thinking. How their years of anguish and pain puts the entire process into focus? Is there any defined meaning of justice or peace from this?

There wasn’t much insight to give during that 3:30 p.m. media conference. I’m told Patrick Hannon has often kept to himself.

 

MEDIA ESCORT

About 5:00 p.m. rolled around, one hour before the scheduled execution. Two white DOC passenger vans pulled into the grass media staging area.

Four reporters are on the list to view tonight’s execution.
Greg – WPEC West Palm Beach
John – Florida news service
Josh – Tampa Bay Times
Jason – Associated Press

We show our IDs, hop in the van, and make the short drive to the aging 1960’s brick building in the middle of this razor wired compound. Silver letters scroll the top of the building “Florida State Prison.”
This is my third execution as a media witness in about as many months. Florida Governor Rick Scott has kept his hand on the throttle since being allowed to restart executions this year.

The death penalty was paused in 2016, and much of 2017, because the U.S. Supreme Court told Florida that it needed to require a unanimous jury recommendation for the death penalty, a judge couldn’t just sentence someone to death willy nilly, without a unanimous jury recommendation.

In early 2017 the law was fixed, and by August – away we go.

Walking through the maze of gates, guard towers, and fencing, there is a thought that stays weighted in my mind like a brick. How would it feel to walk through these gates, but never allowed to leave? At least with your freedom?

I also ponder often on these assignments, ‘How would you spend your last day on Earth, if you knew the date?”

 

A NOTE YOU SHOULD KNOW…

As I have shared in my past two reflections, witnessing the executions of Mark James Asay on August 24, 2017, and Michael Lambrix on October 5, 2017, I reflect on the process and observations. No opinions or swaying one way or the other.

It is not my job to enter that debate. That’s a debate for government and society.

 

THE CLOCK KEEPS TICKING

5:05 PM | DOC employees escort the four male media witnesses in what has become an all too familiar place. The prison canteen. A large room, about 30 feet by 100 feet in size, with grey-white walls, and a dull blue outlining the windows and floor of the room.

This is a room where inmates can often visit with family during prescribed times. There are rusted blue windows on one wall, overlooking concrete benches and razor topped fences.

Inside the white-tiled floor, there are 15 steel, blue, and white 4-seat tables. Two Coke machines and a vending machine that has more cheese products than anything else.

We expect to be in the room for an hour, but with a pending appeal with the United States Supreme Court, there is, as we would find out, no guarantee how long we would be quarantined for. Holding in another room down the hall are the 18 victim family members and witnesses.

In no way humanizing Patrick Hannon, or dismissing the heinous crimes he committed, I still can’t help but think, what is his day like? He had a visit with his wife? At the end of that, how do you simply say good bye and walk out of the room, knowing the fate of that day’s evening?

The reporters share stories, nothing significant, just stories to pass the time as the clock keeps ticking.

I take the time to jot down a few mental notes on the notepad we’re given. When we come into the prison we can only bring five $1 bills (for the vending machines) and our ID. We’re given a manila envelope with a palm sized notepad and two #2 pencils.

At 7:27 p.m. I write: “It’s interesting, being locked in a razor wired world, confined to a space with no access to the outside world; yet, I feel — free.

No worries, no stress. Everything at this point is out of my hands. There is absolutely nothing at the moment I can control. It’s freeing. What a weird feeling to have this kind of feeling… in a prison.

There is no connection to the outside world in here.

 

TIME IS UP

8:20 PM | Two and a half hours eventually go by before the word comes, ushering a rapid movement of the few DOC minders we have watching over us. We have just found out what the outside world found out moments before. The United States Supreme Court has rejected Patrick Hannon’s request for a stay of execution.

We are guided down that familiar hall of tall beige walls. There are cell bars, floor to ceiling. We walk through the corridor, through an opened back door, down a ramp and back into the awaiting white passenger vans. We hope in, and make that same familiar 45 second drive, a swing around campus to that blue door. There’s a small window, with a small curtain. It pops open just slightly enough to see the eyes of a woman behind the door check to see who is there.

There is a quick clank of a key turning as the door opens. Behind the blue door is a small holding area – and a man’s fate.

As I glanced upward at the sky on my way in, I remember it being a cool, crispy, clear night. The stars looked amazing.

8:30 PM | The four media witnesses are led into the small white walled witness room. The room is rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 feet by 30 feet. There are four rows of chairs, 10 seats in each row. As we walk in the two front rows are packed.

18 witnesses already seated, their gaze locked forward on the 4.5 foot by 12 foot reflective glass window. The black curtain is drawn and it’s easy to see the reflections of their faces on the glass.

I count 6 men and 12 women, all white, among the witnesses. We’re not sure who is who specifically, but we do know they are the families of Robert Carter and Brandon Snider.

For most, it would be easy at this point to be overtaken by emotions as the realization sets in of what is about to happen. As a reporter, we are focused on capturing every single detail, and scribing it on our provided notepads. No detail is too small.

A woman two rows ahead of me, to my right, blond, shoulder-length hair, aviator style glasses – catches my attention. She is fixed on observing each person in the room. Later, I will not to be surprised how she reacts to what happens in the moments to come.

Despite a small room, now with more than 20 people, it is silent – with the exception of the buzzing of the window-unit air conditioner.

It buzzes as the clock keeps ticking.

 

THE UNVEIL

8:36 PM | As abruptly as we were called from the holding room and whisked into the witness room, is as quickly the dark curtain rises on the witness room window. It is a one-way mirror.

As it rises, it reveals the sterilized white room.

There is Patrick Hannon, a white man, 6’03, short, trimmed hair, and a short, trimmed beard. He is tethered by thick leather straps to a gurney in the center of the room. His body covered in a white sheet, with only his head, neck, and forearm exposed.

On the forearm you can see the IV already hooked up where his fate of lethal drugs will be pumped into his body in just moments from now.

Patrick Hannon’s head tilts up, his eyes shift left to right as he tries to assess the room. The only thing, from his vantage point, all he sees is reflective glass. He has no way of seeing into the witness room, who is there.
We can see him. I see the other witnesses in the room slightly moving their heads around, assessing the room.

Joining Hannon inside the execution chamber is the Team Warden, a secondary DOC employee, and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent with a clipboard in hand. Dressed in suits, they each have clear ear pieces.

The FDLE agent’s job is to record the ongoing events, at least every two minutes.

Like the media’s role in ensuring the death penalty is carried out in a humane process, the FDLE agent has the same job. So does his FDLE colleague in an adjoining room, standing next to the actual executioner.

8:36 PM | Before the process begins, the Team Warden picks up a beige phone on the wall of the execution chamber. The phone is connected to the Governor’s office. He’s likely getting officially clearance to carry on with the death sentence. He exchanges a few words with the person on the phone, and then turns toward the Hannon.

Do you have a final statement, Hannon was asked.

“Yes sir,” Hannon replied.

Hannon declined a final interview, so it’s hard to say where his head was at. Anything he wanted to express, this was his moment to share it. It’s his peace, but not one the family of his victims would likely accept.

 

THE FINAL STATEMENT

“I hope this execution gives the Carter family some peace. I wish I could have done more to save Robert.”

This solicits as response from a female family member in the witness room. “Bullshit.”

Hannon continues, unaware of the comment, since he can’t see or hear witnesses.

“I didn’t kill anybody, but Ron Richardson and James Acker did. Robbie was a good man, and a good friend, and I let him down when he needed me most. As far as Brandon Snider, I think that everyone knows what he did to get this ball rolling. I’m sorry things worked out like this, the way it did.”

It would be Hannon’s final statement, but the last word seemed to go to the same female family member, who quipped in angst “fuck you”.

 

THE PENALTY PHASE

With the final statement done, the Team Warden pronounced “With the preparation phase complete, the penalty phase will now begin.”

8:38 PM | The lethal cocktail of drugs that will kill Patrick Hannon begins to be delivered through the IV hooked to Hannon’s forearm.

Hannon’s head is tilted forward, with a long stare at the glass. He rests his head, but only for a brief moment, before again tilting his head up again. His eyes moving back and forth, surveying the room the best he can.

8:39 PM | Patrick Hannon lays his head back on the gurney for the final time. His mouth is slightly open. His lips fluttering. His face will give the only clues to the process, this “journey” from life to death unfolding before our eyes. Hannon’s hands are covered in a white glove like fabric.

8:40 PM | There is minimal chest movement, but a few coughs or gasps for air. For the next minute, it remains constant, multiple coughs, but nothing alarming. Each person seems to have a different reaction.

8:42 PM | A few minutes after the process began, the Team Warden approaches Patrick Hannon. The warden uses his finger to flick Hannon’s eyes a few times. The Warden then grabs Hannon by the shoulder and vigorously shakes him. This is the assessment to ensure Hannon is unconscious, to lessen any adverse pain or effect of the soon to be delivered lethal drugs.

In Florida lethal injections, there are three primary drugs used in the cocktail, administered in stages at various doses.

The Etomidate injection is used first, to ensure the inmate is unconscious. A round of Rocuronium Bromide is then used to relax the muscles, essentially to paralyze the inmate, and the third and final and fatal drug is the Potassium Acetate. This is the drug that stops the heart.

 

LETHAL INJECTION PROCESS: http://www.dc.state.fl.us/…/lethal-injection-procedures-as-…

The link above gives you another glimpse into the preparation for lethal injection and the “day in the life” of a death row inmate.

8:44 PM | Satisfied Patrick Hannon is unconscious, the next round of drug is administered, and the process continues in a typical anti-climactic fashion. There is little movement from Hannon. However, there is a change in color in his face. At 8:44 p.m. I notice the first appearance of a darker color in Hannon’s lips; a sign of death setting in.

8:46 PM | Hannon’s face appears to become more ashy white, his lips now even darker in color than a few minutes before.

8:48 PM | We are now 10 minutes in the process. If all is going accordingly to “how it should”, we should be done in a few minutes. Mark James Asay was pronounced dead 11 minutes after the process began. Michael Lambrix’s lethal injection took 15 minutes.

 

8:50 PM | A tall, bald man, wearing a doctor’s coat and stethoscope around his neck pulls open a curtain from behind the Team Warden. The doctor walks into the execution chamber/room, and makes a quick right turn to approach Hannon’s body. The doctor begins to perform a physical exam, using a flashlight to find signs of eye movement in Hannon’s eyes. The doctor checks for any other signs of life, a pulse, breathing, anything. No signs of life are found.

The doctor mouths a few words to the team warden, and exits through the curtained entryway where he came in.

The team warden reaches over and picks up the beige phone on the wall, presumably telling the Governor’s office that the execution has been completed.

The warden hangs ups, turns to the window where witnesses are on the other side and announces “The matter of State of Florida v Patrick Hannon was carried out at 8:50 p.m.”

The black curtain then abruptly drops as quickly as it went up.

In 12 minutes, Patrick Hannon went from a condemned inmate on Florida’s Death Row to a former existent being of Earth.

The family member witnesses started to exit the witness room, ahead of the media. We are all kept separated, to ensure the privacy of the family. If they want to speak to the media they may do so afterward. Tonight, they all decline.

Gone again is the chance to ask what this means to them. Is there a sense of justice? Is there a sense of peace? Is that even possible?

It’s been nearly three decades since the heinous crime. Nearly three decades of missed birthdays, missed holidays, missed vacations. Nearly three decades of two lives that could have blossomed into something meaningful.

Can the events of 12 minutes fill any pothole in the heart that has been cracking for three decades?

There is much to digest and process about viewing an execution. It’s merits in society, again, is a debate that society and government can take up. That’s not my job.

I simply hope these observations will give you insight to better understand the full context of the process, whether you agree with the death penalty or not.

I can’t answer if an inmate feels pain, mental or physical. I can’t assess if a state carrying out an execution is a “right” thing to do or not. On the merits alone of is it humane, I can only offer an observation that I do not see anything violent that makes me believe this is an act of torture.

Whether it is “just”, I leave that to society and government to decide.