A week ago, Paul Howell was put to death by lethal injection at the Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida. For those that don’t recall the name off the top of your head, Paul Howell was one of the people who had a hand in the murder of Florida State Patrolman Jimmy Fulford in 1992.
It was a day of really mixed feelings for me, and caused me to have some serious objective introspection. I knew Jimmy Fulford growing up. He played basketball for the Greenville High School Pirates where my Uncle Wiley Selman was the coach. I used to be the waterboy for them at all of their home games and some of the away ones. Jimmy was one of the guys that I remember used to be on the team. He was always laughing and joking, even with that little kid that was always hanging around.
Jimmy Fulford was also the man who stopped me for speeding one month after my sixteenth birthday. The ink was not even quite dry on my license, and he caught me doing seventy across the Madison-Jefferson line on the way to school. He took a quick look at my brand-new license, and simply asked what my father would do if he found out.
“He’d kill me.”
“Well, then I don’t suppose you’re going to be speeding any more anytime soon, will you? I’m gonna be keeping my eye out for you Greene.” I am not sure if I ever drove over fifty for the next six months.
I saw Patrolman Fulford many times after that over the next few years of my high school career, however it was never again in the shadow of a flashing blue light. And while he never mentioned that day at the Aucilla River, it was always a reminder to me. I believe Jimmy Fulford taught me more than a lesson in safe driving that fateful morning. He taught me that truly great power comes from not wielding what power you have when things can be solved otherwise.
I was at the scene the day he was killed. I was fresh out of the Navy and working for my Dad with the Carrier. I responded as a reporter to the call. When I arrived, and found out who it was, the officer beside me looked at my face and said, “You really did know him?” I suppose my eyes told the tale. All I was thinking about was, “I’m gonna be keeping my eye out for you Greene.”
His children James and Ashley grew up with my oldest two. Ashley graduated with Thomas, and James played football with Noland, albeit a few years ahead. I watched them grow up with the memory and knowledge of what happened. I watched as Ashley found her father’s name on the wall of fallen officers in Washington DC on the school trip.
In 1993 I was an official witness for the execution of Larry Johnson who killed Madison County resident Mac Hadden. My father (who had also witnessed Spenkelink’s execution in 1979) was there with me that night, and listened to me discuss the pros and cons of capital punishment with those outside the prison before and afterwards. I was interviewed by ABC, and told by friends that I was on a brief clip shown in South Florida.
I have always wondered about capital punishment.
Do I agree with it? No, I cannot say that I do. Do I feel that it is necessary at this point in our society? Unfortunately, yes I do. Why? Because we cannot seem to get the justice system right any more than we can healthcare or welfare or war on drugs or anything else. Killing is killing. Killing in war is still killing. Why do you think people have PTSD? Because their basic conscience tells them it is wrong. I cannot disparage others from wanting their loved one’s killer executed because, thank Almighty, I have never had to make that choice, and do not know what I would do. If I were put to that test, God help me I truly believe I would pull the switch myself.
Someone who was a role model to me, cut down so needlessly, now finally avenged. Yet, I am still saddened that this must be the solution we seek. Why must our only recourse be that we induce death to avenge death?
I don’t have an answer. But maybe we should…
Think about it.