An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  - Gandhi

“Observing a Murder” by Dane Gill

Dane Gill 
is a former OK-CADP Board Member and Spiritual Advisor for Charles Warner.

On January 15, 2015, at 7:28 p.m., Charles Frederick Warner (Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) No. 273669)) was executed at Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) in McAlester, Oklahoma. I was there.

For nearly four years previous to that night, I was Charles’ pen pal, his confidant, and his minister. No, I am not an ordained pastor, nor a deacon; merely one person corresponding and occasionally visiting with him, man to man. Charles was an avid LA Lakers and Dallas Cowboys fan. So I made a point of including some recent internet articles* in my letters to him. He always thanked me for those articles. Together, we wrote or talked about our families and meaningful life experiences. I included the scripture of the day** in my letters, and we would pray in our face-to-face visits.
[Aside: As a volunteer minister to OSP, I have visited with many death row and general population prisoners since 2010.]

Charles was tried three times for terrible crimes (rape and murder of an infant), and he ultimately was convicted and sentenced to die. Charles always had maintained his innocence to me, but I suppose many death row inmates would declare their innocence as well. Only God knows for certain. When I visited with Charles and others, I never would inquire about the cases or appeals. Guilt or innocence did not matter to me; I was only reaching out to the prisoners to show that someone “on the outside” cared about them as people and was willing to spend some time listening and praying together. But I digress.

As the New Year began, I received a letter from the Oklahoma Director of Corrections on January 5, 2015. Essentially, the letter stated that Charles wanted me to witness the execution and described what actions by me needed to be done in order to be present for “the event.” Let me state for the record that I have been a long-time opponent of the death penalty, and I had been on the board of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OCADP) for a few years. Therefore, to witness an execution was inconceivable and was nowhere on my “wish list.” However, over time, I had built up a bond and spiritual connection with Charles, and I considered him a valued friend. To refuse his last request, I felt, would be selfish and inconsiderate. So I notified the OSP officials that I would be present for the execution and that I intended to visit him on Sunday, Jan. 11th.

[Aside: I received a similar letter in April 2014, when Charles’ execution was previously scheduled. That event was postponed when another execution scheduled for the same day was botched.]

On the way to OSP that Sunday, I was at a loss as to what I should say to Charles. So I prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance. I heard a voice say, “Just ask him if he is ready.” I was not sure what that meant, but I trusted the Holy Spirit with this explicit reply. It happened that my visit on this particular Sunday coincided with an NFL playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and his beloved Dallas Cowboys. The game had already started when I arrived. Nevertheless, the guards on “H-Unit SW” (otherwise known as Death Row) removed Charles from his cell and brought him to the visitation windows where I waited. Irrespective of the game in progress, Charles was glad to see me. We chatted about the game and his family for a few moments. Then I told Charles that I wanted to speak to him from my heart. I said that the Holy Spirit told me to ask him if he were ready. Charles immediately replied, “Yes!” Furthermore, he stated that he had been talking to God quite a bit over the previous days, his sins had been forgiven, and he was fully prepared to meet his Maker. I simply stated, “In that case, Charles, your destination is secured, and if the event does take place on Thursday, we will meet again in Paradise.”

[Aside: There was a last minute appeal submitted to the US Supreme Court on Charles’ behalf requesting that the execution be halted due to the amount of one drug, Midazolam, which had not been used at that dosage level for sedation in the execution drug protocol. Unknown to me at the time was that there was another execution scheduled for same day, January 15th in Florida. A similar appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was submitted on behalf of another inmate for the same reason.]

Charles and I talked for another 30 minutes, and then I prayed, asking God that strength, courage, and peace be given Charles, his family, his attorneys, the victim’s family, and me in the days ahead.

Between Sunday and Thursday, I went to work in Oklahoma City, praying periodically. Charles’ mother, his sister, and his attorneys were visiting with Charles each day at OSP. Normally, there is no direct physical contact between visitors and death row inmates, but Charles was actually permitted to hug his mother and sister during a lengthy visit the day before the scheduled execution.

I was required to be at OSP on Thursday, Jan. 15 by 3:30 p.m. I arrived and was cleared at the main gate at 3:00. I was told to park my car alongside the offender’s family escort van, Team Three. Two very courteous and respectful OSP guards, Mona and Judy, took me to the offender’s family holding area, a large room in the main building. (This room is normally used as a training room for the correctional officers.) Charles’ mother, sister, and attorneys arrived shortly after me. As one can imagine, the air was thick with tension and anxiety. All of us were hoping for the Supreme Court to delay the event, or better yet, to rule that the drug dosage and the new execution protocol were cruel and unusual, thereby, negating the entire execution process.

The conversation in the holding room was stilted, but we tried to be positive and cordial with one another. Our escorts read a prepared statement of how the execution process would occur. This was a step-by-step description of: reading the death warrant, allowing the offender to give a last statement, injecting of the three-drug protocol, and ultimately declaring that the execution was complete. Moreover, as witnesses, we were warned not to make any outbursts during the execution, or we would be removed from the facility immediately. I presume that by reading this statement, ODOC believed that it would prepare Charles’ family for “the event,” and thus, lessen the shock of what was to transpire. I can only report that the statement had the reverse effect. Charles’ sister was particularly upset and asked one of the officials how he would like to hear a detailed description of how his wife would be killed. The official shook his head in the negative but said nothing.

The execution was scheduled for 6:00 p.m., but when that time came, we still had not been escorted to the execution chamber (located in H Unit, a short drive north and west of the main building). Moreover, none of us nor the guards seemed to know how long a delay there would be. However, the guards did state that if the execution had not taken place before midnight, the death warrant would expire, and by law, the execution would have to be postponed for at least 30 days. Our feelings were mixed. We did not want to witness the execution that day, nor did we want to go through the agony of coming back at a later date and endure another waiting game. Likewise, we felt that the continuous execution schedules, and postponements had to be torturing to Charles, aggravating to the victim’s family, and annoying to the OSP officials. Anyway, we sat; we made small talk; we waited for a decision.

At 6:55 p.m., we were directed by the OSP staff to get into the escort van. Before we left, I offered a brief prayer for the family and the attorneys. Mona and Judy drove us to H Unit, and we arrived at the death chamber viewing room at 7:00 p.m. Nothing was said to us about the U.S. Supreme Court decision, but we assumed that the appeal had been denied. (I found out later that it was a 5 to 4 decision to deny the appeal with the majority opinion written by Justice Scalia). There were three witness groups present in the viewing room: five for the family (including the attorneys and me), six for the media, and two men, who I could only guess represented the Oklahoma State Attorney General’s office. I did not see the victim’s family or their representatives. At 7:05, the curtain to the death chamber window opened. Charles was strapped to the gurney with intravenous tubes extending from both arms and with electronic sensors attached to his chest. An official read the death warrant, and then he asked Charles if he had any last words. Charles first said to his attorneys, “This feels like acid going into my veins; it’s not sodium; it’s acid. I’m not the monster that they think I am.” Then he looked at his mother and sister and apologized for putting them through this process and said he loved them. Likewise, he told his mother to tell his other family members (not present) that he loved them as well. He thanked his attorneys for the appeals, and finally, he thanked me for being his minister and friend. His final words were, “I love everybody.”

After the last statement, Charles continued to mumble inaudibly, and he fidgeted on the table for a few minutes. Gradually, he stopped moving and, although his eyes were open, he seemed to be asleep. At 7:15 a man, dressed in surgical gown and mask, entered the chamber; he checked Charles’ eyes, pulse, and breathing. He left the room, and the official, who had read the death warrant stated, “I can confirm that the offender is sedated.” In spite of the warning not to make a scene, Charles’ mother and sister were crying uncontrollably. I was numb; so I just whispered the Lord’s Prayer. Charles’ attorneys and a few of the media representatives took notes throughout, but none of the other witnesses said a word. Finally, Corrections Director Patton came into the chamber and said, “The execution is complete. The time of death is 7:28 p.m.” The curtains were closed. The viewing room guards asked the witnesses to leave. The same three groups departed in reverse sequence as when we arrived. Our group (Charles’ family) was taken by Team Three to our cars. Charles’ mother again thanked me for being there and for supporting Charles these last years. I said goodbye to her and to Charles’ sister and said that I would continue praying for their peace and comfort in the days ahead. At 7:40 p.m. I drove out of OSP and was on the road home.

I don’t remember much of the trip back, and I have been depressed ever since that night. I pray often for peace and understanding and for Charles’ family, the victim’s family, and the OSP officials that are required to perform this extraordinary duty. To their credit, the OSP guards and ODOC officials were professional and made the witnesses feel as comfortable as possible, considering the circumstances. However, my main impression of the execution was that the procedure had been well rehearsed and that the execution staff took their duties seriously but without emotion. I’m sure that this was no accident. For me, it was like watching a well-oiled machine in operation, dispassionate and mechanical. Maybe that’s what a person has to do in dealing with a nasty job that nobody should have to perform. It was an event that will remain fixed in my memory for a long time, possibly forever.

*From Dallas Cowboys website, and Los Angles Lakers web site,
**From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website,


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