TRANSCRIPT: “Very Few People Get off of Texas Death Row Alive”

Michael Hall’s exclusive interview with Ernest Willis.

You’re one of the only people to know what it’s like to be an innocent man on death row, but everybody else thinks you’re guilty. What did that feel like to you? When you had those two days left—we’re trying to put ourselves in the mind of [Cameron Todd Willingham] and what he was going through. What did that feel like?

Like I said, you know, I had prepared myself for it because I know on Texas death row very few people get off of Texas death row alive. And I had myself prepared pretty well for if that time come, I would just lay down and go to sleep and that would be it. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I wouldn’t be hollering and screaming. I don’t really know what my last words would be. I don’t know whether I would have said, “Well, you’re killing an innocent man” or what. But I can only imagine what Todd Willingham was going through because I come within two days of execution myself. But to be strapped down on that gurney it’s hard to say what a person would say. I know that I wouldn’t be rambunctious and yelling and all that because I prepared myself for that. But at the same time it would be really, really tough because you spend all these years knowing that you’re innocent. And that’s the hard part of being in there. If I would have been guilty of this crime, I could have took it real easy. It wouldn’t have bothered me like it did. And Todd’s case was so similar to mine—I didn’t know Todd really well, but I had talked to him several times out on the rec [recreation] yard. We discussed a little bit about our cases and found out they was nearly identical. I believe in my heart and soul that he was an innocent man. I believe Texas killed an innocent man.

The thing of it is I could have been in the same position he was in but I had the New York attorneys and had the capital to do all that. All he had was these appointed attorneys and they don’t get enough money to bring forth what it takes. If he could have hung on just three or four or five more months he would have been in the same shape I was—he would have walked out of there a free man. Because he had the same evidence I had. There was very little—you know, of course, the prosecutors make us look like animals and all this stuff. I’ve been out five years now and I’ve had no problems. I’ve started my own business. I retired about two years ago. I think I’ve been a productive person ever since I got out. I’ve helped a lot of people. With the money I got I was able to help my kids and [ex-wife] Verilyn’s kids and do a lot of things I wanted to do.

I know Governor Perry is trying to sweep this under the carpet, like hey, he was guilty as sin. Well all of us does things. They called him a monster and everything; they called me a monster. That’s the way district attorneys do. They’re exempt from prosecution. The only way the death penalty can ever be fair is to hold these district attorneys liable for the things they do. They drugged me during my trial, and I’m sure that the district attorney had something to do with that. I’m sure he ordered the medication, and I was like a zombie the whole way through my trial. But unless you have the capital and they do something about these district attorneys, it will never be that way. I mean, they can say and do whatever they want to do and they don’t have to worry about lawsuits and prosecution or anything. It needs to start there. It needs to follow up with enough money for representation. I mean, these lawyers—there are a lot of good lawyers out there. They get $20,000 or

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