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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 06:49 GMT
Chatting as he went to the 'chair'
Gary Proctor and Walt Britt
Shocked: Housel's friends shortly after his execution
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By Jonathan Duffy
In Atlanta, Georgia for BBC News Online

Time finally ran out for Tracy Housel shortly before half-past-seven on Tuesday evening.

Strapped down to his death bed, with intravenous tubes plugged into both arms, feeding a cocktail of lethal chemicals into his bloodstream, it took some minutes for him to die.

The first injection, of the sedative sodium pentothal, was administered to Housel in the execution chamber at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison at 1917 (0017 GMT).

There were no signs of panic

Gary Proctor
Friend and witness
There followed a dose of pavulon, a drug designed to paralyse the lungs, and finally potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Housel, who had been sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Jeanne Drew, was eventually declared dead at 1928 (0028 GMT).

He had fought his case almost to the last. Having failed to disentangle himself from the clutches of Death Row by asserting his British nationality, Housel went to the courts claiming a violation of human rights.

But when the United States Supreme Court turned down his appeal at about 1730, all his options had run out.

Old stories

It had already been a deeply harrowing day for Housel's friends and family - his mother, Lula Mae Pellerin, and 20-year-old son, Randall Housel, were with him until mid-afternoon.

"There were no signs of panic," said his friend Gary Proctor. "Tracy did most of the talking. His eyes lit up with old stories of driving Harleys through Dakota."

But by the time his final appeal was refused, Housel was on his own, waiting in the holding room immediately next door to the death chamber.

Tracy Housel
Housel refused a sedative
He had already eaten most of his last meal - at his request, steak, baked potato, corn, salad and a milkshake - and was sitting quietly with the prison chaplain, while the TV flickered in the background.

"Very nervous, very edgy," was his mood at the time, according to Michael Light, of the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Housel had turned down the offer of a sedative and "resigned himself to his fate", said Mr Light.

Whether it was nerves or something else, by the time the 43-year-old Housel entered the execution chamber his mood had lightened a little.

Last words

The room was filled with people: six prison officers, two nurses, a doctor, the chaplain, and the execution warden. Housel chatted to the warden and even winked at him, as he was strapped to the gurney.

As his eyes darted around the chamber, Housel seemed to be absorbing details of his environment. The prison chaplain addressed him with two readings - Psalm 23 followed by the Second Corinthians, chapter five, verse 17.

Then the small group filed out to an adjoining room while selected witnesses, including two friends of Housel's - Walt Britt, his original trial lawyer, and Mr Proctor, took their seats behind a window. The family of Housel's victim were not at the prison.

Gary Proctor (r)  hugs Walt Britt after the execution
Friends witnessed Housel's execution
After his death warrant was read out, Housel spoke his last words.

"To the family of Jeanne Drew, I'm sorry from the very centre of my heart. My family, my friends, to my brothers, you take care of yourselves and may God be with you."

As dusk turned to darkness outside on a chilly and damp Georgia evening, two prison staff remotely administered the series of lethal injections.

A quarter of a mile away, by the gates of the jail, a huddle of about 10 Amnestey International protesters staged a silent candle-lit vigil. "Georgia, the world is watching," read a placard held by one of the abolishonists.

With the fluids now seeping into his circulation, Housel smiled at the chaplain and fixing his gaze on his two friends, he lifted his head and appeared to mouth the words "I love you".

His eyes closed, and as his chest went into violent palpitations his body appeared to gasp desperately several times for breath. Shortly afterwards Housel was declared dead.

About half-an-hour later, Gary Proctor emerged from the witness room to face the press. With eyes rimmed red through tears and speaking with a thin, despondent voice, he tried to convey the experience of just having witnessed his friend's execution.

"It's so pointless," said Mr Proctor. "Tonight no one rose from the ashes like a phoenix."

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"Tracey Housel sang the Lord's Prayer"

Time runs out

Key stories

The death penalty: Is it ever legitimate?



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See also:

12 Mar 02 | Americas
Death-row Briton denied clemency
12 Mar 02 | Americas
Hopes fade for death row Briton
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