Monday Mournings: When Your Son is Executed. A Mother's Story

My name is Mary Puckett, I am 56 years old and I am the mother of 4 boys.  I live in Vicksburg, MS, where I was born and raised.  My husband and I lived in Texas for a time when our boys were small. My youngest son was born in Houston.  In 1986, we moved back to Mississippi.  Soon after moving back, I obtained my GED as I had dropped out of high school years before. In 1994, at age 38, I enrolled in Computer Programming at a local community college.  At that time, my son Matt was a senior in high school and my son Trey was a junior.  I wanted to do really good in this program because I wanted my boys to be proud of me.  

In October of 1995, the year that Matt graduated and as he was preparing to leave for a stint in the Navy, he was arrested and charged with capital murder.  In August of 1996, Matt was tried and convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection. He was 19 years old and innocent.   I don’t plan to go into the details of the crime and the trial on this blog right now because it would take forever and this blog is about death.  Matt’s death.

In the time that Matt had been incarcerated, we always believed in him and his innocence and knew that one day justice would prevail and Matt would come home. I worried what type of man he would be then, after all the years that he had been subjected to MS’s penal system.  But, Matt was a good man who also believed that one day he would come home and he planned to do good things when he was finally on the outside.  He read and he educated himself on the law.  He wrote stories and essays and letters and he made friends.  He wanted to be a writer and he wanted to make this world a better place. 

Unfortunately, Mississippi’s “legal” system was determined that Matt would die.  On March 20, 2012, the guards at Parchman Penitentiary walked my son down a hallway and into the death chamber and strapped him onto a gurney and killed him.  They put needles in his arms and pumped poison into his veins and they “murdered “ him.  In the name of “justice”, they “murdered” him.  Matt left this world and obtained his “freedom” that day. We had prayed for his freedom for all those years and that day our prayers were answered, just not the way we had expected.  He was 35 years old and he was FREE

Matt and I talked as much as we could in the months leading up to his death.  We knew that our legal options were running out but we were still hoping for a miracle.  About two weeks before, Matt called me and tried to prepare me for the worst. I could not begin to acknowledge that the worst could happen and that I would lose my son. He told me that he was prepared and that the biggest mistake that he had made was not to prepare me. He told me how much he loved me and how thankful he was that I stood by him all those years and believed in him. I only did what any mother would do.  I loved him and believed in him no matter what the rest of the world thought about him.  He was my son and NOBODY knew him like I did. 

We went for a visit two weeks before the date that the State had scheduled to kill Matt. How strange that sounds – a date scheduled to KILL someone… so barbaric and horrific.
During this visit, Matt told me that he needed me to go to the funeral home and take care of arrangements for his body.  I stared at him and resolved not to break down and cry. I assured him that I could do whatever he needed me to do. The State was requiring him to do this and to have all final arrangements on paper and notarized by the next day or they would not let his body be released.  We were still in the Supreme Court but the State was forcing us to face Matt’s death whether we wanted to or not.  He apologized for asking over and over.  Matt was facing death but he was more worried about me than he was himself.

That afternoon, we made those arrangements and I emailed them to the prison chaplain the next morning. 

We were allowed a final visit on the day he was to be executed.  There were six of us.  We sat in a circle around a glass partition and talked about anything and everything.  We talked about the fact that we had three chances left to stop this and that surely the odds were in our favor.  The US Supreme Court still had not ruled on the latest filings, Matt had actually handwritten a filing to the MS Supreme Court and the Governor of MS had a petition for Clemency that had been filed with over 6000 signatures pleading for Matt’s life to be spared.  I put my hand on the glass and Matt did the same on the other side and I told him that I loved him no matter what.  I looked into the eyes of the kind, bright, compassionate and good son that I had raised and told him goodbye.  He smiled and told me “I got this”.  I knew he was at peace and that I would in all probability I would never see him again.

We were turned down by all of the Courts and the Governor refused to commute Matt’s sentence.  The lawyer called and delivered that news to me while we were still in the van driving back home. Matt called while I was talking to the lawyer and I had to tell him the news that we had lost and I was powerless to stop it. I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was that he was my son and that there were so many people that loved him and that he had taught all of us lessons about forgiveness and living.  He asked me to tell them not to squander the lessons they learned.  He told me that I had to learn to forgive the people that had done this to him so that I could be with him when I died. He told me he would be there waiting on me.  I will always treasure his last words to me. He left this world knowing that I loved him and that his brothers and his family loved him and I know that he loved me.  What a blessing in the midst of all this tragedy that I was able to tell him that one last time. 

Matt’s body was brought back to my hometown and we were allowed to see him away from that prison for the first time in many years. I was allowed to touch him again, something that I had been forbidden to do for too long . The next morning, he was cremated as he had asked to be.  When Matt and I had talked about what he wanted, he just said he did not want to be left at Parchman. Anything else we did would be fine with him.  The following Saturday, we held a memorial service.  Many of Matt’s friends from school and even some of his pen pals came to the service. Our family and friends were there also.  Father Tim Murphy, Matt’s priest from the prison and Bro. Wayne Whiteside, Matt’s friend and pen pal delivered the most uplifting and inspiring service that I have ever heard.  If you were in that room and did not really know Matt, you did when you left. Those two men described their relationship with Matt and the things that he had taught them and you knew without a doubt the affection they felt for him. The room was filled with people who loved and mourned for Matt but we all knew that he was in a far better place. 

Our family picked the music that was played at Matt’s service.  I grew up hearing the old hymns, so we played, The Old Rugged Cross, How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace.  They are my favorites.  I also had sent Matt the words to a song by Rascal Flatts, I Won’t Let Go, as an encouragement, so we played that one.  The last song, I Can Only Imagine, by MercyMe was recommended by my sister. I thought it was perfect.  I have them saved on my ipod and listen to them often.  I know that Matt would have been pleased with the decisions we made.  Matt’s ashes are still with me, in a box on my bookshelf.  One day soon, we plan to scatter them in the Mississippi River so that he can float to the Gulf and then to infinite points beyond.

I have been to many funerals of both family and friends. My Mother died in 1995, just a few days before Matt was arrested.  Matt was a pallbearer at her funeral and that was also one of the last times that I saw him as a free man. I remember how proud I was that he and his brothers were willing to do that for their Grandmother.  Matt’s Dad died in 1998 of a heart attack. We all believed that his heart was broken over Matt and he never recovered.  My oldest son, Jason died in 2007 of a heart attack. He had a weak heart but we never knew. He would have been 33 years old that week.  I grieved differently for all these people as I loved all of them differently.  I thought I would never recover but I have to a point.  I will always miss them but I also believe that I will see them again once I leave this earth. 

All of these deaths have impacted my life but none as much as Matt’s. His death was senseless and accomplished nothing but creating more victims and grief.  It did not magically bring back the victim in this case and the death of the true “murderer” won’t do that either.  I do not want this State or this country to commit “murder” in my name whether the accused is guilty or innocent EVER…..