In an interview last week with Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young, sheriff’s department attorney Rick Davison and investigator Ulysses Jenkins, the three men talked about witnessing the execution of death row inmate John Henry on June 18 at the Florida State Prison (FSP) in Starke.
Sheriff Young said the experience had been an eyeopener for him. He was able to walk the halls of death row and later witness the execution of John Henry.
“In my 26 years in law enforcement,” he said, “I never thought I would witness the likes of it.”
Even after all of the experiences over the years of working murders, suicides and traffic fatalities it did not prepare him for the execution.
As witnesses the three men got to hear what the condemned man had to say before he was put to sleep and then died.
“We met him for three minutes and heard him speak (in the death chamber) and three minutes after that he was dead,” Sheriff Young said. “He was a healthy man of 63 years of age.”
Henry fatally stabbed his wife and her 5-year-old son from a previous marriage in December 1985. He had also been convicted of a previous murder.
The execution had a profound effect on Sheriff Young, he explained, and is one of the worst things he has experienced in his life. “I can say death row is real,” he said.
The experience has brought about a revelation for Sheriff Young. He now understands the ramifications of what death row represents.
Sheriff Young said he sees the tension in the county and has seen a lot of the homicides that have occurred in the last 25 years.
“Even now, looking back over the last 50 years, at least a third of the homicides meet the requirements of sentencing to death row,” he said.
In a press release after his attendance at the execution he wrote, “In recent weeks we have seen a violence within the surrounding communities escalate to the point where four law enforcement officers were involved in shootings in our general area. Our neighboring city is second in the state, by only seven tenths of a point per capita, behind the City of Miami in violent crimes.”
“John Henry’s crimes did not start with the murders he was executed for, they started a long time before that,” Sheriff Young stated, and he sees much the same patterns among criminals locally.
Sheriff Young sat near the family of those slain by Henry and it was watching them, he stated, that helped him through the process of thinking how they felt after someone took their family members away from them in a violent way.
Sheriff’s attorney Davison gave the details of the execution. He had previously been a deputy director for the Florida Department of Corrections.
This was his first time witnessing an execution and he stated the process was very solemn and formal.
Davison said that Henry acknowledged what he did and asked for forgiveness by the family and God.
There are now three men on death row who were sentenced in Gadsden County.
Jenkins said he saw the execution as being professional and solemn, but it was justice. The time between the sentencing and the execution was an issue for Jenkins.
He said 24 hours later he was at a grassroots meeting at a church about how to prevent violence.
“For me it is what can we do to stop the violence,” stated Jenkins, who said he is now telling this story. “I want to talk to the parents and tell them they could very well be raising a person headed to death row.”
After one particular murder, he said, he could not understand why this individual killed four people. “There are a lot of factors like drugs that led to this type of life.”
Davison said there are a number of people in prison today from this county who are serving life sentences for murders. “There’s a culture of violence; people are desensitized to violence,” he said. “We want to resurrect the message that every life is of great value.”
“We have to get back to looking out for our neighbor’s kids and looking out for our own kids,” Jenkins said.
The experience has created a new need, Sheriff Young stated. He is now looking to find answers and provide solutions to the escalation of violence in the community.
Gadsden County has seen a decrease in crime, and he plans to continue the trend. He will be working on stopping violence with education and awareness within the communities.
As part of the interview, Sheriff Young spoke about the over 37,000 individual criminal records stored at the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office since the mid-1980s compared to the 47,000 people who now live in the county.
Another staggering number he mentioned was the approximately 9,000 active warrants that include writs, traffic, misdemeanor, and felony classifications.
“We are looking to engage the communities of Gadsden County with proactive and collaborative programs that will help make Gadsden County a safer community,” Sheriff Young said of his experience and dedication to curbing violent crime.
(You can see this interview in its entirety at havanaherald.net. or at The Herald’s Vimeo site at https://vimeo.com/98969303)