June 16, 2022

The Terrible Process of Execution and Its Peaceful Confrontation by Anthony (Frank Atwood - Monk Ephraim)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

In previous posts I referred to the issue of Anthony's death sentence and asked for a prayer for Anthony, so that he could deal peacefully with the fact of his execution. His execution took place on June 8th in Arizona.

The well-known story of Frank Atwood, who was sentenced to death for a murder which he himself claimed until the last moment that he did not commit, who while in prison under the highest security was baptized Orthodox with the name Anthony, the patron of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Anthony in Arizona, and shortly before his execution was tonsured a monk with the name Ephraim, after the founder of the Sacred Monastery, Archimandrite Ephraim the Hagiorite and Arizonite.

Frank, being locked up in the highest security prison, completely isolated for 38 years, would have either gone mad or been spiritually reborn, that is, to go to Hell or go to Paradise. The latter happened to him, because he waged a great theological struggle in prison, with the help mainly of a woman, Rachel-Sarah, who later married him and she became an Orthodox, and of the abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Anthony, Father Paisios.

Arizona Republic journalist Jimmy Jenkins published an article in the newspaper and recorded his experience from the execution, because he was present throughout the process. The title of the article is: "Behind the Black Curtain: Republic Reporter Describes 'Surreal' Frank Atwood Execution".

This article shows the tragedy of the execution in the 21st century, but also the greatness of the confrontation by Anthony-Fr. Ephraim, similar to the martyrs of the Church. He himself instructed the executioners on where to put the intravenous injection, he was calm, basically praying, as I had pointed out to him in the last letter that I sent him, and when they asked him to offer his final words, besides expressing words of gratitude to those who helped him, he said: "I want to most of all thank the Lord Jesus Christ for allowing an unfair judicial system to be the cause of my eternal salvation. I pray to the Lord to have mercy on all of us."

Because many people showed a special interest in the execution of Anthony-Fr. Ephraim and prayed at that time, I will republish the text of the journalist, so that on the one hand we may pray for Anthony-Fr. Ephraim, and also to imitate him in the way of dealing with the hour of death.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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Behind the Black Curtain: Republic Reporter Describes 'Surreal' Frank Atwood Execution

Jimmy Jenkins
Arizona Republic
June 8, 2022

On June 8, Arizona completed the state's second execution since the botched execution of double-murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood in 2014. Reporter Jimmy Jenkins was a witness, but not as a media pool reporter. What follows is his account of what he saw.

I have witnessed life. And I have witnessed death. But nothing could have prepared me for the surreal spectacle I witnessed during the execution of Frank Atwood. People told me I might experience shock, but watching the state of Arizona put Frank Atwood to death for the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson did more than stun me — it changed me, fundamentally, as a person.

A large group of people gathered outside the state prison in Florence to be processed through a security checkpoint early Wednesday morning, hours before the scheduled execution. It was not unlike the airport: provide name and ID, take off belts and put watches into a plastic tub. Walking through a malfunctioning metal detector, getting wanded and proceeding along.

We were separated into groups. The Arizona Republic was once again denied a request to be a media witness for the execution, so I asked Atwood’s attorney if he would consider listing me as one of his witnesses. He agreed and so I was with the rest of Atwood’s witnesses throughout the day. However, because I was not an official media witness, I was not allowed to bring a pencil or paper. Nevertheless, the details of the day remain clearly and vividly imprinted in my mind.

His wife, Rachel, was there in a black dress, red hair pouring down her face along with a steady stream of tears. Also present were two spiritual advisers wearing long black, flowing robes who had known Atwood for many years. Two members of his church were also present, as well as several of his attorneys.

Prison officials kept Atwood’s witnesses separate from other witnesses and ushered us into a sparse visitation room in the Florence Prison Central Unit where we waited for almost an hour.

As we waited, prison officials brought in an ice chest full of bottled water and dragged in some chairs, which we circled around Rachel and listened to her talk about the more than three decades she knew Atwood.

Rachel visited her husband in prison for 35 years. They had been married for 30. She said she reached out to him after watching his trial and they began exchanging letters.

She talked about how she spent years typing out his handwritten correspondence into work that would eventually become his thesis, as well as several self-published books.

She said she learned about the Greek Orthodox faith through his letters, and she eventually converted to the faith herself. “It was not a physical relationship, but a deeply spiritual one,” she said.

Members of Atwood’s congregation talked about how the press in Greece and other parts of the world seemed to be paying more attention to his case than the media in the U.S.

They said there were hundreds of members of their congregation gathered at their church praying for him and many more across the country and world.

Entering the execution chamber

When it was time to leave the visitation room and go to the execution chamber, we lined up at the doorway. Prison officials tried to prevent Atwood’s attorneys from taking pencils and paper. They refused, saying they needed them to take notes on the timing of the execution, and they were finally allowed to bring them after our handler contacted someone else who approved. While published protocols of executions specifically note that media witnesses should be allowed paper and pencils, they do not specify whether others should be allowed writing materials.

The walk from the visitation to the execution chamber took 10 minutes. Bookended by prison officials, our group walked the path through the recently decommissioned Florence prison. It was more than 100 degrees out as the Arizona sun baked down upon us. We walked past empty guard towers, empty medical units, and empty warehouses that were once filled to the brim with prisoners.

All we could hear were our footsteps and Rachel’s sobs. We passed a solemn group of saguaros standing guard in the middle of the prison yard.

When we arrived at Housing Unit 9, the building that contains the execution chamber, a prison administrator opened the door and ushered us into the observation room.

We walked to the far wall and I climbed a set of risers, sitting in a spot against the wall where I could see into the execution chamber through the glass. Three media witnesses arrived next, followed by witnesses for the prosecution, law enforcement officials and the victim’s family, including Vicki Lynne's mother, Debbie Carlson.

We were all repeatedly instructed against speaking or making any outbursts. From where I was seated, I could not see the victim's family or their reactions.

Surrounded by instruments of death

There were three monitors above the window into the chamber, which was covered with a drawn black curtain. Two of the monitors displayed the same top-down view of the gurney. The third monitor showed a view from above of the execution drug vials and the instruments used to push them into the tubes that would be connected to Atwood’s body.

We did not see Atwood enter the execution chamber, as is required by a federal court injunction. The curtain parted as the execution team lifted his frail body onto the gurney, presumably from a wheelchair.

The black curtain to the execution chamber was pulled back revealing a side view of Atwood as he lay on the gurney. He was surrounded by four execution team members wearing black shirts, black hats, black gloves, black masks hiding their faces, and black sunglasses.

We watched on the monitors as the execution team restrained him. A pillow was placed under his head to help him deal with pain brought on by an ongoing spinal condition. He was shackled in several places, arms spread out on either side of the gurney.

Atwood was wearing a black head covering called a skoufo in the Greek Orthodox faith with a red cross on it. As the execution team unbuttoned his orange prison jumpsuit to place a heart monitor on his body, a black cross was revealed to be hanging from his neck.

I braced myself, mentally for what I was about to see, and physically against a cold steel wall next to me, which I realized was the recently refurbished gas chamber. I was quite literally surrounded by instruments of death.

Prisoner tells executioners where to place IV

Like Clarence Dixon, because of when his crime was committed, Atwood had a choice of dying by gas or lethal injection. Atwood requested to be put to death by nitrogen gas, but Arizona Department of Corrections protocols call for cyanide. His request was determined, legally, to be a non-selection, and therefore the state’s default method of lethal injection was used.

Two men in blue medical gowns and hair nets entered the room pushing a disorganized cart full of medical supplies necessary to insert IVs into Atwood's body.

The IV insertion process for Dixon, the most recent man executed in Arizona, took more than 40 minutes, and resulted in the team having to cut into his femoral vein. This time, they started with Atwood's left arm, swabbing his skin and feeling for a vein.

After a few minutes and what appeared to be several attempts, the execution team inserted an IV and catheter into Atwood's left arm. Then they wheeled the cart to the other side of his body, and told him they were going to insert an IV into his femoral vein.

"Why?" Atwood asked. "They draw blood from my right arm with no problem all the time," he told the team.

Atwood already appeared to be grimacing and in some pain from the time spent strapped to the gurney, appearing to not want the process to go on longer.

The team members did not say why they wanted to put the second line into his femoral vein in his groin area. But they told Atwood they would try and insert it into his right arm — as he had suggested.

“My god,” I thought to myself, “the execution team is taking direction from the man they are attempting to execute.”

Atwood, who has continually maintained his innocence, spoke softly to the execution team members. He seemed somewhat frustrated, but continued to offer guidance to the men working to take his life away.

The execution team tried and failed to get the IV into his right arm several times. One of the execution team members shook his head in frustration. "I don't understand," Atwood said, "they've never had this problem before."

Again the execution team suggested going into Atwood's groin to put the second IV into his femoral vein. "Could you try the hand?" Atwood suggested, nodding to his restrained right hand and wiggling his fingers. "They have been able to go in there before as well."

The IV team members looked at each other, looked at Atwood, looked at each other again, and said "Sure, we'll give that a try."

Arizona Department of Corrections protocols require that several members of the IV team have some kind of experience, licensure or medical training. They are supposed to practice the procedure at least once before the execution. Whether these two men had any formal training is unknown, but I could not get over their willingness to drop the plan they had apparently been practicing in favor of Atwood’s suggestions.

I thought of the former Arizona Department of Corrections executioner Jim Klein, who told me they used a prosthetic arm to practice on before lethal injections, before eventually inserting IVs into one another.

Klein said execution team members were told the prison medical staff did not participate in executions because they had taken the Hippocratic oath. That meant the complex task of performing the executions was left up to a group of prison employees who usually had no medical background whatsoever.

Atwood’s suggestion to find a vein in his right hand proved effective. They were able to get the second IV in and secure the catheter. They taped everything down, attached the tubes that connect to the drugs, and left the room. By my estimate, the process took about 30 minutes.

'I pray the Lord will have mercy on all of us'

At this point, Atwood’s Greek Orthodox spiritual adviser, Father Paisios, was allowed to enter the execution chamber. Paisios’ presence, a first for executions in Arizona, was the result of an agreement between Atwood and the state. Execution protocols previously only allowed a spiritual adviser to be in another room; however, Atwood’s attorneys said this violated his constitutional rights, and demanded Paisios be able to be in the chamber during the execution.

Like Atwood, Paisios wore a black skoufo and a long grayish-white beard. He placed a piece of ceremonial cloth called a epitrachelion over Atwood’s head, and held it in place with his hand. Paisios leaned close to Atwood’s face and talked to him in hushed tones. Atwood smiled and nodded his head and seemed comforted by Paisios’ presence.

A Department of Corrections official entered the chamber and read Atwood’s warrant of execution, and invited Atwood to make his last statement.

Atwood looked at the gallery with a peaceful and knowing countenance.

Atwood thanked his wife, Rachel, his legal team and his spiritual advisers, who he said had brought him "here to the edge of paradise.”

"Thank you, precious Father, for coming today and shepherding me into faith,” Atwood said. “I want to thank my beautiful wife who has loved me with everything she has. I want to thank my friends and legal team, and, most of all, Jesus Christ, through this unfair judicial process that led to my salvation. I pray the Lord will have mercy on all of us and that the Lord will have mercy on me.”

The DOC official left the room, and on one of the monitors, we could see an execution team member begin to push a syringe of pentobarbital into the tubes connected to Atwood’s body.

Atwood almost immediately turned his head toward the gallery, closed his eyes and began exhaling loudly, making a snoring, snorting sound.

His breathing became more shallow, and then totally inaudible.

Paisios kept his hand on Atwood’s head the entire time. He seemed to shake his head in sadness at one point, looking at the drugs as they flowed into Atwood’s body, and then looking away.

“The inmate is sedated,” a DOC official said after entering the room again a few minutes later. More time went by, and Atwood was completely motionless. Entering the room again, the DOC official pronounced, “The execution is complete.”

As the black curtain began to close, the two elderly men in religious garments — one alive and one dead — were framed against the white background of the execution chamber, slowly exiting from public view.

Witnesses were escorted from the chamber in groups, in reverse order from before, leaving Atwood’s witnesses to sit longest with what they had just witnessed.

Several were sobbing; others seemed to be in a state of shock.

“The love of my life is dead,” Rachel Atwood said, collapsing into the arms of an attorney.

The true nature of capital punishment

As we walked back into the sunlight and across the prison yard, I tried to process what happened.

The Department of Corrections protocols ensure that few people see an execution, and there is little public awareness of this most serious and final act of justice. The death penalty is presented as a clean, sterile, administrative procedure carried out flawlessly and by the book. Now I know what they were trying to hide.

I have looked behind the curtain of capital punishment and seen it for what it truly is: a frail old man lifted from a wheelchair onto a handicap accessible lethal injection gurney; nervous hands and perspiring faces trying to find a vein; needles puncturing skin; liquid drugs flooding a man’s existence and drowning it out.

I have written extensively about Atwood’s case. I listened to the victim’s family talk about the pain and suffering the murder of Vicki Lynne, and subsequent court case, caused them — the generational trauma it left with their family and the community of Tucson. I talked with every attorney I know about the process and asked questions about what I was about to witness.

But I was not prepared to see the act of capital punishment carried out in front of me.

The state of Arizona conducts executions in all of our names. I thought I understood the weight of that process, but now I feel the reality of it. We killed a man today. I killed a man today. And I will live with that realization for the rest of my life.