We Were in Huntsville last night…

Published: November 08, 2007 12:02 am

Concert tour promotes death penalty dialogue

By Robbie Byrd and Jessica Hamilton
The Huntsville Item

Sara Hickman isn’t about picket signs and chants.

However, that doesn’t make her word against the use of death penalty inTexas any weaker.

With guitar in hand, Hickman has joined professors and authors on their
Music For Life tour around Texas, a tour brought about by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

“The Coalition came to me and asked what we could do,” Hickman said. “We
figured out what was missing was a dialogue in Texas. I suggested a series of
monthly concerts around Texas to get that dialogue started.”

For the past 15 years, Hickman has been writing songs. Some are more
upbeat while others concern domestic violence, rape, war and the human

“I feel pretty comfortable with that,” she said. “We live in a very
oppressed society. People live in fear and it’s important that they shake it off
and speak out about what concerns them.”

One of the more popular of Hickman’s songs is written about Seung-Hui
Cho, the Virginia Tech student who opened fire on his classmates and then turned
the gun on himself.

“I sing the song from his mother’s point of view,” she said. “Most people
remember it because it’s so raw with just mostly my voice. I’ve gotten a lot
of positive feedback though in the e-mails people send me.”

The Music For Life tour kicked off October 3 as the group gathered at the
First United Methodist Church in Austin.

“I was expecting a lot more hostility, but Huntsville is our second show and
it almost seems like we’re preaching to the choir,” Hickman said.

However, Hickman doesn’t view the tour as a recruiting tool.

“My thought was that this isn’t a ‘you must join the anti-death penalty
movement’ so much as it would open and start the dialogue,” she said.

The year-long tour is set to hit the larger Texas cities of San Antonio,
Corpus Christi, Houston, El Paso, Dallas, Fort Worth, and then back to
Austin for the finale.

“Most people have the mindset of ‘that person did something wrong, they
deserve it,’ but other people are affected by this,” Hickman said. “If I can
get people to see that, then that’s all I can hope to do through my music.”

Speakers provide insight

Along with music, Huntsville residents spoke about their experience inside
and outside of the death house.

Carroll Pickett, a former chaplain at the Huntsville Unit, spoke of his 95
experiences inside the death chamber.

“I remember the first one,” Pickett said, recalling the execution of Charles
Brooks in 1982, the first execution carried out by lethal injection in the
nation. “Nobody had ever executed by lethal injection. The inmate was
scared to death, and not only him.”

Finally, the stress of his time with the inmates wore on him, and in 1995
Pickett retired from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, quickly
changing his stance on the death penalty and becoming an outspoken critic of
the process he was once involved in.

Dennis Longmire, who has stood in vigil just outside the death house at nearly
every execution since he came to SHSU in 1984, spoke about the current state
of lethal injection and what the future holds for the nation’s busiest death penalty state.

“This is an extraordinarily important moment for Huntsville and Texas,” Longmire said.
“But to think that we’ve seen the last execution is a hopeful dream from an old man whose been
standing at the corner too long.”

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