Monday, February 09, 2009


Saying Goodbye

I have not had the time nor the energy to attempt to write anything here before today. The past week has been one of the most painful and most holy of my life, and it will take me a very long time to deal with all that has happened. Looking back, I guess that I lived in denial for a very long time about Steve's possible execution. When you have known someone for 10 years, it just seems too incredible that one day, the state will strap him down to a gurney and kill him.

In the days leading up to the execution, I continued to believe that someone would intervene...the courts, the Governor, someone would look at all the serious problems with this case and stop this execution. But, no one did. And so I was faced with helping my friend to prepare for his death and helping his suffering family to endure it.

As most of you have probably now read, Steve was the most at peace I had ever experienced him in the hours prior to his execution. We spent the hours from 9-11 p.m. sharing stories, talking about God's presence in suffering, reading Scripture, praying, and sharing the Lord's Supper together. When it was time for me to go, we tried to hug through the bars that separated us, and I gave him a kiss on the cheek. I told him that God had given me some measure of peace by the way he was facing his death, and he told me not to let this whole ordeal scar me.

Then, a few hours later, I watched my friend attempt to lighten the mood in the execution chamber as he made a joke about how pitiful we all looked and stuck his tongue out at his kids. After his heartfelt words about his concern for the Stafford family, for the pain Fred and Edna Stafford has gone through, and after again, asserting his innocence as he had for 23 years, Warden Bell said, "Proceed."

Steve lifted his head and said, "I feel it coming." As his head feel back and he began to make a loud snoring sound, I grabbed his sister sitting next to me and reached my hand over her to put it on his son's shoulder. I closed my eyes tightly and the words of the Lord's Prayer began pouring out of me as I struggled and as Steve struggled. I wanted Steve to hear those familiar and comforting words over the wailing of his kids, and I wanted to drown out any sound coming from that room where my friend was dying.

We buried Steve on Saturday at his home place in Gainesboro. He was buried next to his beloved grandparents and his brother David who was murdered while Steve was in prison. I, like Steve, hope that this horrible nightmare brings peace to the Stafford family, but I am hard pressed to see how so much suffering inflicted on the Henley family can possibly bring anyone any peace.

For now, I will try to heal and remember my friend by telling his story and through the work that I am doing to end this awful death penalty. The last thing I said to Steve before the poison flowed was, "Steve, I am never going to quit." He raised his head with a smile and said, "I am counting on that." Steve, none of us will quit until the death penalty is abolished. And yes, you can count on that.
Comments :
Of course, this paean to Mr. Henley says nothing about the Henley gun that mysteriously disappeared or the fact that the defendant's truck was spotted near the crime scene. But hey, them's just details . . . .

But here's something to ponder--was Henley profoundly evil for letting his kids believe that he was innocent?

Tennessee, thankfully, put an end to a killer's life. Without question, executing another human being is a somber event. But when people murder the innocent, they choose their fate. And that fate can be death.

I am hopeful that Tennessee will soon execute other cold-blooded killers like Henley.

I am thinking of you often these days. I, too, didn't really believe this was going to happen and was in denial. I can only imagine what you must be going through.

What a blessing for Steve to have you in his life, and what a blessing for his family. I know he was a blessing to you, too. He was to me. Love you much.

Here's a blast from the past:

Sarah, I don't mean to make light of your suffering, but the idea that a convicted murderer was a "blessing" seems a bit, shall we say, weird. And, it's not like this guy has the cachet and faux je ne sais quoi of a Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Oppose the death penalty, if you must, but understand that most people think it strange to talk in terms of a brutal killer being a "blessing". It puts you dangerously close to being a death row groupie.
I attended the service for Steve Henley and you have nothing to hang your head about! What an awesome job you did! You are correct when you said Steve was a blessing, those of us that knew him, spent time with him can understand that. Those whom never meet him and just go on hearsay have no idea what kind of person he was.
Stacy we will always have our memories of Steve and in our hearts we know the truth and really what a blessing he was.
Guess Who?
I have a good idea of what kind of person he was--a man that went to his grave without releasing his children from the awful belief that the state killed their innocent man. That's evil.
I can't begin to imagine what you went through that night. You are right -- healing and processing everything will take time. I don't think the the State should execute anyone period, but especially if there are ANY questions about his/her innocence. The service at Brookmeade was very special and I was amazed that you got through it. Thank you for your dedication to this ministry and for setting such a wonderful example for the rest of us. Love, LeAnne
Stacey, what a beautiful reflection and remembrance. sending prayers for you, Steve's family, the Stafford family and all those who are hurting.

grace and peace.

Albert Camus said, "To assert that a man must be absolutely cut off from society because he is absolutely evil amounts to saying that society is absolutely good. No one in his right mind will believe this today." Jesus said, He that is without sin among you,let him cast the first stone."

There is a great deal of evidence that would lead one to believe that Steve Henley is innocent of these crimes. But what about those on death row who are guilty? Are they beyond redemption? Even St. Paul, who wrote the majority of the New Testament was, prior to his conversion, a murderer.

Stacy, I am humbled and encouraged by your commitment to Steve and those like him who have been rejected by our society. I am also encouraged by your commitment to see the death penalty abolished. I am with you. We will never stop.

Grace and Peace,

I recently witnessed the State of Ohio kill my friend. I understand when you say Steve was a great blessing. After specifically referencing visiting those imprisoned, Jesus said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these ... you did for me." I swear, Stacy, this whole idea of doing for the least of these is a God trick. You can't give to them and not come out ahead. I gave my condemned friend a typewriter and he gave me poetry. I gave him a daily newspaper and he gave me engaging political conversation. I gave him paint and brushes and he gave me art. I gave him books and music and he gave it all back to me with a broader appreciation and understanding of the world. I gave him time and he gave me friendship. You can never get even. Steve's life was no doubt enriched because of you -- but I know that your life was enriched more because of him. Some of the limited blood-thirsty people that responded to your blog will never know or experience that. I pity them because Jesus also said, "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me". So, Stacy, according to Christ himself, you're on the right side of this issue.
Because we believe in capital punishment and question sappy paeans to cold-blooded murderers, we are bloodthirsty--ok got it.

Why can't people here admit that there are troubling questions about Henley's innocence arguments and that it is beyond question that if he in fact did it (something which seems patently obvious) that it is evil to let his children think their father was erroneously killed by the state?

Perhaps real friends would have pushed "Steve" to tell the truth about his involvement in the murders of the Staffords.
No, dear Anonymous -- your comment that you are "hopeful that Tennessee will soon execute other cold-blooded killers" indicated your thirst for blood -- not your questioning of sappy paeans. You hope for the death of others? Really? It seems an odd thing to hope for. Have you ever witnessed what you hope for -- the meticulously planned and scheduled killing of a human being? I'm not asking rhetorically -- I'd really like to know. If you haven't (and I suspect you haven’t) I hope for your sake that you never do.

Stacy was apparently there for this man for 10 years -- to the end and beyond -- and yet you somehow question the quality and sincerity of her friendship and advise us what "real friends" would have done. I have another hope for you, Anonymous -- and it's a hope for me too. I hope that you and I are so fortunate in our lives as to have one friend like Steve had in Stacy.
Hoping that justice is done is not bloodthirstiness, nor is a belief in capital punishment. It's simply expecting that after years and years, the judgment of courts will be carried out.

I have seen someone die. Not an execution (and by the way, I am as sure as I can be that I would not really be all that affected by an execution--I just don't think it that big of a deal, giving death to a killer).

Stacy's post reminds me of Helen Prejean's minimization of the guilt of Sonnier. Weak.
By the way, dkc, check out this thread:

You can dismiss me all you want as bloodthirsty etc., but I notice that no one here can rebut the points I make, as was the case in the other comment string.

Henley let his kids believe that the state was killing their innocent father. He needed to man up and either admit his guilt or answer hard questions about his truck and the gun linked to him. Stacy, supposedly a good friend, probably didn't push him. Too blinded by the ideology to recognize guilt.
I looked at the Holton link you referenced earlier when you first mentioned it in one of your early postings to Stacy's blog. I don't dismiss you, Anonymous -- nor do I suspect that you dismiss me as a liberal. I hear your viewpoint as legitimate and know that it is shared by many. I just adamantly disagree with you -- that's all. Our State government here in Ohio can't be counted on to timely and efficiently fill the potholes in our streets, and our elected officials at every level are political cowards. I can't imagine these same people have the wisdom and discernment to fairly decide which of its citizens lives or dies. Calling it justice because an elected judge (many of whom couldn't make it as practicing lawyers) ordered it is very disturbing. I truly don't know if Steve Henley was guilty or innocent -- and frankly, for me, it's not outcome determinative. I simply don't think our faulty government should have the power to kill one of its own citizens except in immediate self-defense or defense of others.

I’m glad you have the courage to post on a website where your views are predictably adverse to many of the readers. Debate is always good to refine my thinking on any given subject.
dkc--don't forget, the citizenry (a jury) is involved in a death sentence

You have to admit--I do pack a pretty mean (rhetorical) punch.
Remember you are in my thoughts & prayers daily! You were there for Steve for 10 years and a true friend you were. Steve was blessed to have had you in his life as he was a blessing to you. Steve was an innocent man and those that knew him have no doubt. God will give you the strength you need to heal. Thanks for all you did for Steve and all you do for others, what a ministry you have. God Bless You!!!!!!
"Steve was an innocent man . . . ."

And Tammie is a true believer.
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