Death Row in Livingston, Texas

60 Minutes cameras go inside the busiest death row in America where Bill Whitaker talks to condemned men who have been given execution dates

CBS All Access
This video is available on Paramount+

The following script is from "Death Row in Livingston, Texas" which aired on March 6, 2016. Bill Whitaker is the correspondent. Robert Anderson and Aaron Weisz, producers.

Texas executes more prisoners than any other state. At a rate of more than one a month, Texas kills almost as many inmates as all the other states combined.

All the condemned men in Texas, about 250 of them, are held in one place -- death row in Livingston. At some point almost all of them will be told the exact day -- the exact hour -- of their demise. And that has an impact on their view of life and death, and where they find themselves.

60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker and pr... 06:23

Once inmates get to death row, they are rarely seen again. But the prison let us inside to speak with several condemned killers, just weeks before their executions. What they're thinking in their final days may surprise you. Most surprising to us was Daniel Lopez, who told us he welcomes his execution.

Daniel Lopez CBS News

Daniel Lopez: I just turned in my 14-day notice for my, my death papers.

Bill Whitaker: You know that in 14 days you are going to die.

Daniel Lopez: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: What was it like to sign those papers?

Daniel Lopez: I felt really relieved to finally get this over with.

Daniel Lopez, unlike almost all the other inmates here on death row, did not fight his sentence. Instead he asked to be executed as soon as possible.

Daniel Lopez: I got no dignity, you know what I'm saying? There's-there-there--it doesn't matter to me. You know, dignity does not matter to me. It's just, you know, I'm worried about myself, my family and the victim's family. And I want everybody to move on, that's it.

Bill Whitaker: Is embracing the death penalty for you, is that the easy way out?

Daniel Lopez: That, I see it as a yes and no. You know, yes to finally get this over with. No, 'cause I don't want to die. Nobody wants to die.

"I'm worried about myself, my family and the victim's family. And I want everybody to move on, that's it."

Lopez, was a crack dealer, when he killed Police Lieutenant Stuart Alexander during a high-speed chase seven years ago. It began as a traffic stop, when another officer pulled him over for driving through a stop sign. After a scuffle, Lopez drove off. Police put spike strips down on the road to puncture his tires. When Lopez veered to the right to get around the spikes he hit Lieutenant Alexander. Lopez said he didn't see the officer in time to avoid him.

Bill Whitaker: Did you know that you had hit him?

Daniel Lopez: Yes, I did.

Bill Whitaker: You didn't stop?

Daniel Lopez: I didn't stop.

Bill Whitaker: Why not?

Daniel Lopez: Why would I?

Bill Whitaker: You hit somebody.

Daniel Lopez: OK, OK. And I'm running from the police, right? I'm trying to get away, right?

Bill Whitaker: But you're compounding it. You're making a bad situation worse.

Daniel Lopez: I was trying to escape for this little incident. And now that it got bigger, I was even more inclined to escape.

After police finally caught him, he was charged with intentionally driving into Lieutenant Alexander, a highly respected 20-year police veteran.

Bill Whitaker: You say this was an accident?

Daniel Lopez: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: Jury didn't think so. Took 'em less than an hour to convict you.

Daniel Lopez: Does that make them right, 'cause the jury didn't think so, does that make that right?

Bill Whitaker: You think that was an accident.

Daniel Lopez: No, no. I know it's an accident, there's no "thinking." I didn't mean to kill him. He didn't mean to kill himself. And so this was beyond our powers, right. And, that's why I believe there's a greater power out there.

Bill Whitaker: Do you blame God for the accident?

Daniel Lopez: No, no, no, no, no.

Bill Whitaker: So who's responsible?

Daniel Lopez: I find myself responsible for fleeing in the first place. Ultimately, I feel responsible for it. But it was never intentional. And I wish I coulda done things different. And I guess the only way for me to do that now is, you know to finally pass over to the next world and you know, be forgiven by Jesus and God.

Bill Whitaker: You have said that no amount of pain will be punishment enough for killing that fine officer.

Daniel Lopez: Yes. Not only did I end his life, I affected his whole family's life. And, and, and they become, they become the victims too, right. And so it's just, it's just there's just no amount of pain that I could suffer to make up for that. And I think the best way for, for it to end is for, for them to go ahead and execute me and the family gets to have their closure, and my family gets to, you know, finally get that relief this is finally over with. And we could all move on in life.

Perry Williams: Lock 'em up for the rest of their life.

But another Livingston death row inmate, Perry Williams, said he wants to keep on living. Williams killed a medical student, shot him in the head, after taking his wallet which only contained 40 dollars. Williams was just weeks away from his execution date when he got a temporary stay. He told us the countdown had been terrifying.

Perry Williams CBS News

Perry Williams: It's one thing to know exactly the hour and the time that you're going to die. It does a lot to you. Shakes. It's like waking up in cold sweats -- having dreams about being executed.

Bill Whitaker: You actually had shakes and cold sweats.

Perry Williams: Yes sir.

Bill Whitaker: Why do you think you were reacting that way?

Perry Williams: Fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the death.

Bill Whitaker: Should Texas have the death penalty?

Perry Williams: I don't think they should. Because I don't think nobody should have the power to take another person's life.

Bill Whitaker: But yet you did.

Perry Williams: Yes, I understand that. And I'm sorry for the pain I caused.

Bill Whitaker: Who do you blame for your being on death row?

Perry Williams: Can't blame nobody else. I blame myself.

Many death row inmates blame themselves, but not Elvis Wesbrook.

Bill Whitaker: So who do you blame for being here on death row?

Elvis Wesbrook: My wife.

He said his ex-wife invited him to a small party. But at the party, he felt threatened. And his ex-wife was having sex with another man. He grabbed his hunting rifle and killed all five people there.

Elvis Wesbrook CBS News

Elvis Wesbrook: I'm a victim in this as well as everybody else.

Bill Whitaker: It sounds like you don't quite get the gravity of your crime, when you call yourself a victim as well. You're still here. They are not.

Elvis Wesbrook: Well, I'm not gonna be here much longer now am I? Come March 9th, I won't be here.

Bill Whitaker: Is there any chance that date will be postponed?

Elvis Wesbrook: No. Nothing else is going to be filed in my case.

Bill Whitaker: Do you want that time to pass slowly or quickly?

Elvis Wesbrook: I'll tell you what. If you got a pill I'll take it right here in front of ya, and we'll get it over with right now.

Bill Whitaker: You would take a lethal pill?

Elvis Wesbrook: Yes, I would.

"If you got a pill I'll take it right here in front of you, and we'll get it over with right now."

Bill Whitaker: You don't think Texas should have the death penalty?

Elvis Wesbrook: No. Even though these people may execute me, they have to meet the man upstairs too.

Bill Whitaker: You have a 28-year-old daughter?

Elvis Wesbrook: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: Will she be at your execution?

Elvis Wesbrook: No.

Bill Whitaker: Do you want her there?

Elvis Wesbrook: No, not really. Don't you think that's pretty horrifying to sit there and look at? To watch somebody die?

Former warden, Tom O'Reilly, who we interviewed in front of the state's old electric chair, told us he presided over about 140 executions.

Tom O'Reilly CBS News

Bill Whitaker: What sort of impact do you think that's had on you?

Tom O'Reilly: None. I don't feel bad about it or anything. If you commit those kinds of crimes, I can execute you and I don't have a problem at all.

He told us, by the end, the inmates are resigned to their fate and almost all of them agree to walk into the death chamber and lie down on their deathbed.

"If you commit those kinds of crimes, I can execute you and I don't have a problem at all."

Bill Whitaker: Do they ever resist being strapped down?

Tom O'Reilly: A couple did, but it's a futile gesture.

Bill Whitaker: It's gonna happen.

Tom O'Reilly: It's gonna happen.

Bill Whitaker: I read one description that it's like a horizontal crucifixion, the way he's laid out on the gurney.

Tom O'Reilly: That's a good way to describe it. It's--He lays on the gurney on his back with his arms out in either way. We put an IV in the left arm and the right arm.

Bill Whitaker: Sounds almost business-like.

Tom O'Reilly: It is. It is. After he's tied down and everybody else is cleared the execution chamber, then I'll open the curtains. To where the witnesses can see him.

Michael Graczyk: We watch through a glass.

Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk has probably witnessed more executions than anyone in the country -- more than 350.

Michael Graczyk: You hear the description of it as being routine. I, I hope it never becomes routine when the state decides to take someone's life. I think it's significant.

Unlike other states, Texas says all executions have gone smoothly and it has no shortage of lethal drugs. Also, in Texas condemned inmates can no longer choose their last meal.

Bill Whitaker: Why is that?

Michael Graczyk: People on the other side would say, well, you know, my loved one didn't get an opportunity to pick their last meal before they were killed. So why should he have that sort of opportunity?

Inmates make a brief final statement. Then, on the warden's signal, the deadly drugs begin flowing.

Michael Graczyk: There's a reaction of breath, take a few deep breaths or a cough and they start snoring. The snores get progressively less and then there's no movement at all.

Bill Whitaker: But it generally looks like they're just falling asleep?

Michael Graczyk: Yes.

Most inmates, he said, die within 10 to 20 minutes. When we spoke to Daniel Lopez, it was just 14 days before his death. He told us something you don't often hear on death row...about the death penalty.

Daniel Lopez: I'm kind of for it and against it.

Bill Whitaker: I would think someone on death row would be opposed to the death penalty.

Daniel Lopez: You know, certain people will still go out there, rape people and kill people. And they enjoy doin' that. And so, I'm for it for some people. But it's just the people that refuse to change.

Bill Whitaker: Are you a better person now for having been on death row?

Daniel Lopez: Of course, of course. I've changed. I matured back here. I'm not no Bible thumper or anything like that. But I have learned to accept Jesus in my life.

Bill Whitaker: When our viewers see this, you will be dead. What would you want them to remember of you?

Daniel Lopez: I just tryin' to bring light to the situation back here. We're people. We're people. And we are people. We do have hearts. We do love. We do change. We do care. And they need to know that, you know? That's what I want them to understand that, you know, you're not executing the same person that you convicted 10, 20 years ago. You know, you're executing a changed man--most of us.

Tom O'Reilly: Change in prison is inevitable but that does not forgive the act they committed to be there in the first place.

Six o'clock church bells mark the hour as Daniel Lopez' relatives walk to the death house to watch him die.

Behind these walls, strapped to a gurney, Daniel Lopez made his final statement. He told his relatives and the family of the victim that he was sorry. Then he said, "I am ready." About a minute later the lethal drugs began flow into his veins. After about 30 seconds he lost consciousness.

At the same time, in dueling demonstrations, off-duty police revved their motorcycles to show support for the fallen officer. Death penalty opponents responded with a wailing siren.

These were the last sounds Lopez heard. Lieutenant Alexander's widow, Vicky, watched Lopez' execution.

Vicky: Our eyes met and I felt something different than I had ever felt. I think he was genuinely trying to connect with me and let me know it's OK. This has nothing to do with revenge. This has to do with the law. And when you break the law, there's punishment for what you do. He broke the ultimate law and he had to pay the ultimate price, as my husband did.

After Lopez paid the ultimate price, his children came to his funeral. He had talked to us about them, two weeks before he died.

Daniel Lopez: The time to go is now instead of to get my kids more attached to me. I want the best for them.

Bill Whitaker: And your death is what's best for them?

Daniel Lopez: No, my death's not best for them, it's for them moving on is what's best for them. This is my fate. And I accept it. I want to start over and this is my way of starting over.

Bill Whitaker: What do you think you'll be thinking?

Daniel Lopez: If I'm gonna go to hell or heaven. If I'm gonna go to hell or heaven.