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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 14:16 GMT
'This place is absolute hell'
Tracy Housel
Tracy Housel: Days to live
Barring an 11th-hour reprieve, Tracy Housel, a British citizen, will be executed next week for the crime of murder - the first UK national to be put to death in America in seven years. Through his lawyer he talks to BBC News Online.

Tracy Housel is waiting to die. It's been a long wait - almost 17 years since the death penalty was passed on him for the murder of Jeanne Drew.

Now that ultimate deadline is looming large. He is due to be executed by the state of Georgia on Tuesday, with a lethal injection.

It has been said hell is the impossibility of reason. [Death row] is absolute hell

Tracy Housel to BBC News Online
There is nothing unusual about America's use of the death penalty, which has claimed more than 760 lives since it was reinstated in 1976. Last year the total was 66. Already this year, it stands at 12.

But Tracy Housel's case is different because he is a British citizen and the UK government stands resolutely opposed to the principle of the death penalty.

With time running out, campaigners for Housel believe his only hope is for Tony Blair to intervene personally. And they believe they have a strong case - pointing to alleged irregularities in his initial murder trial as grounds for leniency.

The date of Housel's execution was confirmed last week, after the US Supreme Court turned down his final right of appeal.

Living in hope

However, Housel told BBC News Online he still clings to the hope of an 11th-hour reprieve.

Tony Blair and George Bush
Britain has strengthened its ties with the US, but will Tony Blair intervene?
"I believe in God and I believe in an afterlife, so I am not necessarily afraid of dying. But I have a strong will to keep living," he said.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court's decision was a devastating blow.

"I felt like I had been kicked hard. Although I have known for months that this day was coming and have been living in fear of this day since I arrived on Death Row, I still wasn't ready," he said, speaking through his lawyer, Beth Wells.

"It made everything I had experienced in my life run through my mind instantly. It's a bizarre thing to know the exact date and minute of your death in advance and be totally powerless to stop it."

Clear minded

He describes the experience of living on Death Row for so many years as "absolute hell" and yet, despite the intense pressure, Housel exhibits a remarkable clarity of mind.

Executions in the US
Fellow Georgia Death Row prisoner Alex Williams was granted clemency in February
He is spending his final days in a cramped cell, 6' x 9'. It is where he eats, sleeps and exercises.

"My things are always folded and put away. My bed is always made if I am not in it. It has to be as clean as possible or I would go crazy."

His thoughts are occupied by his family and the family of his victim, Jeanne Drew, a hitch-hiker who he beat to death.

"I worry about what life has been like for [my children] and how my actions have made their life so much harder than it should have been.

Unfair trial

"I also worry about how my actions have hurt others and constantly replay the events that led up to Jeanne Drew's death. It's hard not to play the 'what if' scenario. If my dying would bring her back I would happily go to my death tomorrow."

Nick Ingram
Nick Ingram: John Major refused to intervene in his case
There has never been any question Housel committed the crime. But his current lawyers argue that his initial trial was unfair because the jury heard evidence of three other crimes allegedly committed by him even though Housel had never been convicted of these "offences".

He was also represented by a young and inexperienced lawyer, who wrongly advised him to plead guilty, say his current lawyers, depriving him of the defence of insanity.

It has since been found that Housel, who suffered an abusive upbringing and suffers from hypoglycaemia - a medical condition which can bring on psychosis.

Housel's team say he killed while suffering a psychotic episode. The lawyer who acted for Housel at the time has since admitted that, had he known of this condition, he would not have advised Housel to plead guilty.

Plea for clemency

But time is fast running out and campaigners are now looking to Downing Street for action. Although Housel has never lived in the UK, he is a British national by virtue of being born in Bermuda, while the island was still a British territory.

Jobson's Cove, Bermuda
Housel was born on the holiday island of Bermuda - a UK territory
It has been seven years since a British prisoner was executed in America - Nick Ingram was put to death in 1995, also in Georgia. Despite pleas at the time, the prime minister John Major refused to seek clemency for Ingram.

But since Labour came to office, the UK has toughened its stance on the death penalty, abolishing it at home outright in 1998 and pledging more forceful intervention in the cases of British nationals on Death Row abroad.

Last week Foreign Secretary Jack Straw telephoned Georgia's governor to ask him to commute the death sentence on Housel. But only the state's parole board can lift a death sentence.

Now protesters are calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to make a last ditch personal appeal. On Thursday, Amnesty International is staging a demonstration against the execution outside Downing Street.

Meanwhile, Housel is planning to spend his final days writing to family and friends.

"I imagine a lot of my time will be spent reading my Bible as well," he said. "Other than that, I can only wait."

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