JACKSON – Christopher Parks came here to watch a man die.
He sat on a pew Thursday night in the small death house at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. He watched as state workers gave Marion Wilson, 42, a fatal dose of pentobarbital. The inmate was on a gurney, IV lines releasing the drug into his veins, slowing his breath.
The execution was punishment for the 1996 murder of Parks’ brother. Donovan Parks, 24, was an off-duty corrections officer in Milledgeville, studying to become an inmate counselor, when a sawed-off shotgun blast to his head ended it all.
A flurry of last-minute appeals couldn’t save Wilson.
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As death drew near, his 23-year-old daughter, Tykecia, was huddled outside with a group of anti-death penalty protesters. She began screaming, “I want my daddy, I want my daddy back!” A man picked her up and carried her away as she wailed and wailed.
In the death house, Wilson released his final words.
“I ain’t never took a life in my life,” he said, suggesting his co-defendant had pulled the trigger, according to the Associated Press.
Wilson’s words, of course, meant basically nothing to Christopher Parks.
Parks, who was 18 in 1996 and now works in cyber security for the U.S. government, came here not caring what Wilson had to say. He came here, he said, because seeing Wilson dead was the best chance for him and his family to begin recovering after 23 years without Donovan.
Death penalty abolitionists often speak of how difficult years of delays are for victims’ families. Parks has heard those arguments, as well as arguments that the state shouldn’t kill even people who’ve done unspeakable things. Opponents also call it wrong to allow killers’ families to suffer because of what the killers have done.
But Parks said he figures the opponents haven’t been through the type of torment his family has.
His life is worse in so many ways without Donovan — the writer, the artist, the kindhearted soul who seemed to mint grace.
Surely, the brother thought, life without Wilson breathing would be better.
When Christopher Parks was little, he had nightmares.
He asked his brother if he could sleep in the bed with him. Donovan — 6 years older, the gentle type — told Christopher to climb into the twin bed. Christopher instantly felt safe, that night and many others, because of Donovan.
Donovan helped Christopher believe in the goodness of people.
But Christopher still had nightmares. On March 27, 1996, he woke up from one about something happening to Donovan.
Shaken, he walked into the den and found Donovan stretched out on the couch.
“Donovan,” Christopher recalls saying, “I’m so glad to see you because I dreamed someone murdered you.”
“I’m fine,” Donovan reassured calmly.
Hours later Donovan really was dead.
The gang, the helper
As Wilson’s attorneys tried to halt the execution, they asked the Board of Pardons and Paroles to consider the inmate’s childhood. The lawyers said myriad traumas had left Wilson with neurological damage hampering his decision-making skills.
His mother Charlene Cox, who declined to comment but asked the parole board for mercy, used drugs and drank in the four or five months before she realized she was pregnant, the clemency petition said. She took little Marion around South Georgia as she bounced between toxic and abusive boyfriends, who made Marion live in filth. The boy often ran away just to find food.
Eventually he roamed the streets and joined the Folk Nation gang. In early 1996, his girlfriend was pregnant with Tykecia, but the girl would never meet her father as a free man.
On March 28, 1996, Donovan Parks went to Walmart to buy cat food after Bible study. Wilson was at the store with fellow Folk member Robert Butts. Butts knew Parks because they’d worked together at Burger King.
Butts said they needed a ride. Parks said OK.
As Parks drove, Butts pulled a sawed-off shotgun from inside the sleeve of his black Colorado Rockies jacket. Someone — Wilson claimed Butts, prosecutors claimed Wilson — pulled Parks’ tie and forced him out of the car. As Wilson would later tell it, he only thought Butts was going to rob Parks.
Someone — it still isn’t clear who — fired one shot into Parks’ head.
The motive to kill, prosecutors said, was elevated status in the gang.
After the men drove away in the Acura, Parks’ father, Freddie, pulled up. His girlfriend’s house happened to be nearby. The pellets in the shot had so badly mangled Donovan Parks’ face, the father didn’t recognize the son.
‘I haven’t been the best’
Christopher Parks has been to the death chamber before.
It was in May 2018. He sat with his wife, Crystal, and saw Butts on the gurney, IV lines in his veins, eyes closed.
Butts did not apologize. His last words were a mumble: “It burns, man.” It looked peaceful to Parks. That made him angry.
“I think about how my brother was snatched from his car by his necktie, and his necktie was so tight he probably couldn’t breathe or speak to beg for his life. I think about how he was laid down on the cold asphalt and he was murdered — for being nice,” Parks said with contempt. “What I saw in that execution was humane. It was a man being put to sleep as if he were getting a root canal.”
It bothered Parks that Butts didn’t apologize. But he eventually decided it didn’t matter, and it wouldn’t matter if Wilson did. Words, Parks said, can’t help.
In the past year, knowledge that Butts is dead hasn’t helped Parks either, but he said that’s only because he wanted Wilson dead too.
The murder hurts Parks, a father of four, every day. It has made him less of a believer in the goodness of the people. It has made him angrier, sadder and more cynical.
He admits: “I haven’t been the best son I could’ve been. I haven’t been the best father I could’ve been. I haven’t been the best husband I could’ve been.”
He wants to change.
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As Parks prepared for Wilson’s execution, he grew angry again.
He thought about how much the government had spent to keep Wilson alive and fighting. He thought about seeing his brother in the hospital. His head was wrapped in a bandage to hold in his brains, and his face seemed frozen in the last expression it held in life: he looked terrified, the brother thought. Parks wishes he could go just one day without seeing that image in his mind.
But Parks liked to imagine the execution, one part in particular.
The “real justice,” he said, would come right before Wilson entered the death chamber, knowing he would die. It’s a blessing for most people not to know when they’ll die, Parks said, but he liked that Wilson would be deprived of that blessing because Wilson and Butts took it from his brother.
After that moment passed for Wilson, the 42-year-old was on the gurney, not apologizing, just like Butts. Parks was watching. Tykecia Wilson was somewhere hurting, wishing her dad didn’t have to go, wondering why the Parks, Butts and Wilson families all had to know death like this.
The last breath came at 9:52 p.m.
Parks had decided many years ago that his recovery from his brother’s death required the deaths of the men responsible for his brother’s death. Now he had his wish.
He left the death house for the last time, hoping to heal.
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