The Rev. Caroll Pickett, who, as prison chaplain on Texas’s death row, witnessed 95 executions, died earlier this month. He was 88.
He told the New York Times in 2017, “People don’t realize that you never get over it, unless you’re just cold and calculated. I’ll never forget it. Not a day goes by. Not a day goes by. And I don’t expect it to. If it does, then I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, as a Christian and as a chaplain and as a human being,” he said.
Pickett also described the toll witnessing an execution takes on every person present. “The victim’s family is hurt, and the family of the individual. You’re not just killing a person. You’re killing his whole family. There’s a lot of people involved in this, not just the poor kid lying on a gurney.”
He later wrote a book about his experiences, Within These Walls, and was featured in the documentary film “At the House Door.”
“Rev. Pickett was a man of tremendous grace and courage,” says Kristin Houlé Cuellar. As the longtime executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Cuellar worked closely with Pickett over the years. “One of my most vivid memories is his testimony before the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee about the toll that witnessing executions had taken on him and others. It felt like we were all holding our breath as he spoke; you could hear a pin drop in the room as he concluded his powerful remarks.”
TCADP honored Pickett with its first David P. Atwood Founder’s Award in 2011 for his “tireless efforts to educate Texans about the realities of the capital punishment system. We will continue to honor his witness and his legacy as we work to end the death penalty in Texas,” Cuellar says.
Pickett earned a BA in psychology from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and a BD, Doctor of Ministries, at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. He began working as a prison chaplain in 1980 at the Walls Unit. In 1982, when Texas began executing prisoners after reinstating its death penalty, he began ministering to those imprisoned on death row.
It was a calling for him, but it deeply affected him and compelled him to speak forcefully and eloquently about the barbarity of state killing and its brutalizing effect on everyone involved.