Gary appeared to be strong and tough on the days before his terrible killing on Tuesday, August 20, 2002. Gary repeated over and over that he's cool and okay, but I knew him better than that. Although Gary gladly was at peace and strongly believed that he will be saved and in Heaven I also know that Gary was not really ready to die. How could he ? In one of his final letters he wrote that he is at peace and will not leave this world as an angry man as he would have if they would have killed him in November 2000, but he also wrote that he's not ready to die. He doesn't want to leave this world so early, but most of all not in this terrible and senseless way.
Even on our very final visit on Tuesday morning Gary was still a little optimistic and told me about a few future plans " ... if we get another stay", but after the visit with his lawyer who told him that the US Supreme Court denied him, I saw the change in his eyes. Now he had absolutely no hope left anymore. Gary knew that they will kill him in only a few hours, but he still tried to make me laugh, tried to tell me some jokes, tried to cheer me up. But how could I laugh again ? When I cried Gary could not look at me anymore, because he doesn't want to break down. He doesn't want the guards or other inmates to see him cry. Gary was a very vulnerable and sensitive man who even cried when he heard a romantic or sad country song. He often wrote to me ... can you imagine ... all these people who are hating me ... what would they think if they would know, that the man they think is an animal or monster, a cold-blooded killer, that he sits in his cell and cries, just because of a sad country song. That was the way Gary was, strong and tough on the outside, but weak, vulnerable, sweet and so easy to hurt inside.
Even when we needed to say goodbye Gary still told me that he's okay, but he also said, that if he would show his true feelings, then he would break down and cry and never could stop crying again. Already at 11:50 AM they picked him up and made me leave the visit room. Btw ... during the visit a guard came and honestly asked Gary what to do with the money that's left on his trust fund account. They filled in a form, did plenty of paper work, Gary had to sign a form and they acted as if this would be very important. Well, they were talking about 0.01 dollar ! We always knew that this prison is stupid, but how can they do paperwork for one single cent ?
Later in the afternoon Gary was allowed to call me at the Hospitality House and we could talk on the phone for about 20 minutes. To my surprise his brother Ellis Michael Etheridge, who's the actual killer of the victim and who recently wrote me a letter, mentioning that he's so scared that Gary will tell in his final statement that he's the killer and this could hurt his own parole made a call into the Walls Unit to talk to Gary. (Michael is serving a life sentence for killing his own baby.) They were able to talk together for the first time after 12 years. When I asked Gary what the hell Michael wanted from him Gary told me that he has no idea at all. They only talked for a few minutes, just "casual stuff". Gary said that Michael did not especially mention it, but he felt that the only reason, why Micheal called him was, because he's still so scared that Gary could do anything that would hurt his parole. What kind of brotherly love is this? Gary dies for him and this coward only thinks about how to save his own butt.
Gladly Gary also was able to talk to his sweet angel daughters. This meant so much to him. He was so happy to hear their little voices one more time. Brittany gave him strength in reminding him to think about Jesus, Brandi cried on the phone as well as his ex-wife Teresa.
When I entered the witness room a little after six Gary was already lying there. He wore a dark blue shirt and his body was covered with a sheet. You only could see his face, his arms and his chest. He was strapped and the hands were bandaged. I don't know why they do this, you could not see his hands or fingers anymore. The needles were not visible because they were covered by gauze or something like that. Gary was already waiting for me, looking at me from the moment I arrived. The warden stood at the side where Gary's head was, by his feet there was a prison chaplain standing. The chaplain laid a hand on Gary's right leg during the entire procedure.
Gary told me that he loves me and he blew a few kisses, then he asked if I can hear him but the microphone was not on yet. He seemed to be a bit lost and did not know what to do. What a surprise, he never before was in that terrible situation. From the moment I saw Gary (don't ask me how I managed to do so), but from the moment I saw my darling, until he was pronounced dead, I smiled at him. I smiled and cried, both at the same time. I smiled at him tenderly because I wanted Gary to see the face he loved so very much before he died. I wanted to make him believe that I am okay, but of course I was not at all !!! It was so terrible and sad to see my beloved Gary strapped down. He was so worried and confused and did not know when to begin with his statement etc. Gary was always such a strong and proud person, so self-confident and it hurt me to see him so helpless and I could not do anything for him anymore.
Gary asked the warden if he should talk now and if the mic is on. When it finally was on he turned his head a bit to the victims family, but did not look at them, only turned the head a bit and he said "To the victim's family. I'm sorry for what was taken from you. I hope you find peace." I was very surprised to hear him saying so because even in our final phone call Gary said that he will not leave any message for the victims family, because he has nothing to say to them. Gary said since he did not kill the girl, there's nothing he could say. I even suggested him to not say anything to the victims family because I felt they either would take it as a confession, that he killed the girl or they maybe even would hold it against him ... not believing him that he is sorry that a life was taken. I told Gary ... you don't owe them anything, you already give your life for them ... what else do they need from you, but anyway, last minute Gary has decided to address a few words to them. I think he did it because he wanted to leave this world at peace with everyone.
After this Gary again looked at me, tried to smile, blew one more kiss and said "To my sweet Claudia. I love you. Stay strong, keep building and be careful. Be careful. I love you." I was not aware that Gary was done with the statement since he did not say "I'm ready warden" or something like that. Everyone seemed a little bit confused, Gary looked at the warden, a woman came from the room where they press the buttons to let the poison flow into his veins and she asked something and because Gary began to talk again I still was not aware that the killing process already had begun. Gary blew me a final kiss and said with a still strong voice "I hope there's closure for the victim's family and everybody." While talking and looking at me Gary has turned his face towards me, but when the poison hit his veins I think in a natural reflex he turned his head back and because of the confusion and because I did not know if he's finished with his statement and maybe because I still did not believe that they really will do it, I only was aware that they really already had begun to kill him was, when Gary was laying there and softly closed his eyes. Even during the killing process Gary spoke again. It broke my heart when he said "I feel it burning now" and "I'm getting really dizzy" and I hope so very much that he finally did not feel the pain when the lungs collapsed. The last sound that was heared from Gary, sounded a little bit like snoring and just as if he tried to take one more deep breath, but could no longer.
From the moment I entered the witness room until Gary closed his eyes he had tears in his eyes. I am glad that he did not look straight to the victims family and you could not hear it in his voice, that he felt like crying. I was glad that only I could see the tears in his eyes. The media people did not see it (at least they did not mention it in the papers) and the victims family could not see his tears, because Gary did not turn his head that far. I was so happy for him, that he did not break down while laying on the gurney, saying his final words because he would have hated it to break down in front of the victim's family, in front of the police officers who investigated against him and in front of the people who kill him.
At 6:22 PM a doctor pronounced Gary dead, nine minutes after they began to kill him at 6:13 PM. Gary was so hoping that the victims family will find closure, although he did not kill the girl, but I do not hope so. I know that there was a life taken from them as well, but I can't believe that the senseless killing of my Gary will help others to survive or cheer up them. And I hope that they are better than that. How can they be satisfied or happy now, when another life is taken, when another mother cries, when two innocent little girls (12 and 13 years old) need to grow up without their daddy ? How can they find something like "closure" ? What exactly is closure ? Gary's killing will not bring back the victim, so how could it ever ease their pain ? I fear that sooner or later the victims family will find out that nothing has changed in their life ... that there is no closure at all, because they still will miss their loved ones terribly.
It's hard to describe what I felt. As frightened as I was before to watch my beloved husbands killing ... the act itself was not as horrible to me as I expected it to be. I never understood and hated it when people said ... the men only are going to sleep ... but it indeed at least appeared to me in this way. When Gary closed his eyes and was laying there with his eyes closed ... I could not believe that it is over now ... that he never again will open his beautiful eyes, never again smile at me ... never again tell me that he loves me ... but at least it appeared to me that it was a "peaceful death" ... if there ever is a way to call killing a young and healthy human being "peaceful". At least it appeared to me that Gary is at peace now and safe in God's hand. Gary was a Believer until the very end. He even became very angry when I told him in the morning of his last day, that I will not believe in God anymore, when they kill him tonight. How can I believe in a God that allow this senseless and terrible cruel killing ? But Gary told me that there is a God and that he will face God tonight and he knew that he will be saved by the grace of God and that he will go to Heaven which will be paradise because he's a good man. Gary knew that he did wrong plenty in his life, but we all know that he paid for it even much more than a man should. Gary did not fear to face God because he knew that he will be saved. Gary begged me to still believe in God. When I asked him if he think that it is God's will that he will die today after 6:00 PM Gary said "no, this is not God's will, this is what Texas wants, this never ever in life is God's will".
Straight after the execution, when I could view his body at the funeral home, Gary's face looked terrible because of the change of the color of the skin. Although I was told so, I was not really prepared to this since I never saw a dead body. I was frightened and worried that Gary did not find peace because he did not look very peaceful. But on Wednesday and Thursday after the execution the expression on his face appeared much more relaxed and peaceful. On Friday in the morning I could view Gary one final time and after this they cremated his body and I took the ashes with me to Germany, since it was Gary's urgent need and strongest wish to go home with me, dead or alive.
In his final letter, which Gary wrote from the death house, only a few hours before the execution, Gary asked me to try to forgive Texas and the US, but how could I ? They did not forgive him 12 years after a crime he even did not commit, why should I ? Texas made Gary's heartbeat stop, but they can't kill his spirit and they can't kill the memory. They can't steal the love away from me. Gary will live on in his wonderful beautiful little girls Brittany and Brandi. They are his flesh and blood and Gary was so proud of them and he loved them so dearly, although he was not allowed for 11 years to see them. Last year he finally was able to see the girls again after all the years and it made him so happy, filled his heart with precious joy. Gary will live on in the hearts and memories of so many people from around the world, especially in the ones of his close friends. And of course I never ever in this life will forget my Gary. I will love him until the very final breath I will take. He will be in my heart forever, because he had me from Hello.
I never can believe that this really happened, that they really did it. What I had to witness is a nightmare that never will end. I think only after the execution I understand how important it was for Gary that I was there. Gary already looked at the window, he already was waiting for me when I came in the witness room and except of the two seconds when he asked the warden if the mic is open and when he turned his head to the victims family a little, he only was looking at me. From the moment I entered the witness room until he was going to die. By the look in his eyes I felt as if I would be something like a sheet anchor to him. Probably I was. And I am glad that only I saw the fear and the pain in his eyes, the tears. It was extremely important to Gary that I was there, that he did not die alone ... that I did not leave him alone in the end as he was left alone by each and everyone all his life. I was frightened to watch the execution, but I knew that I need to go through this for him. I never would have left Gary alone. My love for him was bigger than the fear.
I hope and wish that all these barbaric killers, all the people who help our poor men on death row to be killed, that they will get their penalty as well. All the judges and lawyers, the parole board members, the governor, this serial killer called president. One day sooner or later they will face God as well and then they have to explain why they did what they did. Of course are their crimes much more barbaric, cruel, heinous etc. because they do it again and again and in a more intentional way than any of these guys on death row. Ours maybe did a terrible mistake, things went out of control or what ever. There never can be an excuse for a killing, but there are plenty of explanations why things went wrong. But what they are doing ... I mean, not even the worst serial killer would lock his future victim in a small cage for 12 years, only to drive him one lousy day to his destination and give him a lethal injection ... no man would plan a killing so detailed and even let people witness the killing and then say "Justice is done". It is barbaric, old-fashioned and perverted.
My Gary now is at peace and in paradise. I know this, because he already was in hell for 38 years and because he only deserve the best after this terrible life and I hope so very much that we will meet again. How could I go on in life without the hope to at least meet my darling again ? I think Gary is with me in everything I do. I can feel him, he's watching over me, just as he promised me to do if God allow him to. I still talk to Gary each day. I think about him each second, no matter if night or day and I know that he can hear each word.
I like to thank all my friends and family, the attorneys ... all the new friends from around the world I found while fighting this battle. Thank you for your help and support, for being there for me in this terrible time. It's terrible and a shame that we could not save Gary's life ... as we could not save the lives of so many other men and women before ... but we cannot allow this to give up hope. One day they need to stop the madness, one day sooner or later they need to abolish the death penalty. I never will understand how these people in Texas and the United States can live with the guilt ... how they can find a good night sleep. How they can call it justice to take a life. How they can tell people by killing, that killing is wrong. How can they do this and go on with their own lives. A life means nothing to them. They ain't interested if someone committed the crime or not, they only are interested in killing one person for a certain killing, no matter if this man is guilty or not. They are taking lives just like this and call it justice. They even think that they are the good ones. But they are not.
I often told Gary that he's better than them. Sure, Gary was a petty criminal and ended up in prison many times ... but he was not a bad person. He was the man with the biggest heart I ever have known, in desperate need of love and a little attention which he never ever got in life before we met. Yes, he did wrong often, but only because no one ever believed in him. Gary never felt love in his heart ... he did not get love from his parents and not from his ex-wife or ex-girlfriends. He had a cold and empty heart and became an angry young man, because he never got the deep, true and honest love we both shared for 2 years. Lack of love was the only reason why his hand reached out to these damn drugs so often. He needed to fill a hole and he tried to resolve problems by taking drugs. Unfortunately only too late Gary understood that drugs don't resolve anything.
I thank God for putting us together in life. I thank God for the 2 wonderful years we had together, most of all for the precious additional time we had together after the stay in November 2000, where our love could grow stronger and we even got married. I thank God that he allowed me to meet and know Gary. And I thank Gary for loving me. Thank you for sharing your little world and your precious life with me for 2 years and thank you that you let me slip into your heart. You once told me that you wasted your life and that your life had no meaning, but this is not true, my darling. How could a life have no meaning when you will be not forgotten by so many friends and while living on in my heart ? I love you and we will meet again. Adios, God bless, until we meet again. Yours Claudia