Witnessing the Unthinkable

Written by Erin Nust
Art by Donald Tong

The day was Monday, October 12. The clouds were impregnated with rain and I dragged my feet to the Fool’s Asylum—Libeton’s biggest prison. I would like to inform our loyal and new readers that not many of the reporters out there are determined to undertake such journalistic prompts. Watching a criminal leave his last breath was not and still is not part of any academic branch. “Why would someone in their right minds do such an awful thing to themselves?” you might reasonably ask. To this, I’m not going to answer. Not here, not in these pages, because what I would like to share has nothing at all to do with me; it’s all about the story.

The story begins on that Monday, the morning I visited another prisoner in the execution room. Writing is a lonely job, but connecting with people who have committed the most atrocious crimes makes things even lonelier. It forces you to alienate from the darkest, most sinister places in the human condition. 

The prison smelled like any other: stale and sweaty. Testosterone emanated from every hole in the walls, while screams and confusion reached my ears from every corner. I followed the steady, boot-worn steps of the guard—he paced in the corridors like a god—and they led me to the execution room. 

Donald Hopert was about to be executed with lethal injection at nine-thirty in the morning, accused and sentenced for the murder of Georgia and Jenny Hopert, his wife and only daughter. 

According to his confession, Georgia Hopert left the house with five-year-old Jenny, without previous notice. Donald came back from work to the empty apartment in Herrington Street, believing his wife had abandoned him. He claimed he had no contact with them during the weekend, although he was sure Georgia and Jenny found shelter at her mother’s. The devastated woman confirmed the fact in court. 

The reason Georgia and Jenny left never took a clear form in our understanding, as it usually happens in those cases. Hilary Farey, Georgia’s mother, described her daughter’s wedding with Donald “an awful mistake she didn’t know she would pay with her and her daughter’s life” and she added instances of emotional and physical abuse both to her daughter and granddaughter. 

We never found out why Georgia decided to take Jenny and go back to their apartment a week later. Mrs. Farey explained that she hadn’t noticed any sort of communication between her daughter and Donald. In fact, she was relieved and convinced that, soon, her daughter would move on with the divorce procedures. However, on 31st of August, Georgia Hopert took her daughter’s hand and walked all the way back to her marriage home. Was it an act of regret? Was love enough to walk her back to the abusive environment she raised her daughter for five years? No one knows. What happened for sure was that that night, Donald waited for them and in an electrified fight between husband and wife, the forty-two year old man took the life of both members of his family.

The following days are mostly known. Donald Hopert and his attorney began a campaign of winning over the public eye by stating reasons of mental unsteadiness. Indeed, Hopert, in his confession, expressed extreme sentiments of jealousy towards his wife; the couple had been fighting about the matter for months, since Donald tried to convince Georgia to leave her job and “be a proper woman, mother and wife.” It seemed he had tried to isolate his wife from the outside world, even from her own inner circle, including her mother and her two childhood friends. 

All that I heard and knew aboutDonald Hopert by the time I arrived in the injection room drew a picture of an emotionally and psychologically unstable man, who blindly obeyed the directions of his lawyer. When he entered the room, I realized I was right, but not fully: I saw a man indeed in an awful mental state, but I also recognized a sort of charisma that made him eerily powerful. Even if he was being led to what everyone thought would be the last moments of his life, he appeared as if he would cheat death. 

I have witnessed many executions during my career, but witnessing the preparation of sending a man to his death still upsets my stomach. I believed that if I collected enough horrible things and facts about the accused, I could discard any feelings of sympathy and sickness from my body. It never worked.

I touched the comforting paper of my spiral notebook and grabbed what I called my “job pen”. I turned on my recorder and watched Donald Hopert lie down on the bed and being tied by the officers. The silence was broken by a dry, awkward cough of the doctor. Donald closed his eyes and smiled as the deadly liquid travelled through the plastic transparent tubes and inserted his veins. His skinny body fell into deep relaxation.

The liquid went running and Donald’s body succumbed to the toxic substances of the injection. I won’t bore you with the medical procedures of this execution system, but the sufferer accepts three doses of three different drugs: the first aims to enter the unconscious state; the second paralyses the skeletal system (diaphragm included); the third causes death by cardiac arrest. 

The doctor, a serious, haggard-looking man, walked by the monitor to declare the time of death. His eyebrows drew together, composing an expression of confusion which evolved to surprise. By that moment, I knew something was wrong. I was going to experience something new; I was witnessing the unthinkable and I didn’t know it yet. 

The reason this article is being published now, almost a year since the execution day of Donald Hopert, is of course because the human mind is unable to accept a new reality, polarly different from the one it had already mapped out. 

I witnessed the first man unable to die. Donald Hopert after receiving three times the proportions of the lethal injection was still breathing, His body has been paralyzed and his brain has been severely damaged, but, clinically, the man was still alive. 

In what sort of world do you think I woke up the next day, dear reader? How could a man return to value his mortality when he had just witnessed a man unable to die? I am not writing this to enforce any kind of conspiracy theory. The aim of me sharing this story is personal, egotistical even. I wish to release this burden from my chest, maybe pass some of it onto your chest. Maybe now you can have restless nights like I do. Maybe you could think about, obsess over, what you are doing with your life now that you know that there is a chance that Death can’t touch you. 

This is what I did and this is what I have been doing for the past year. Of course, no paper would allow such an article to be published and you shall be certain I am writing this independently and resigning as a reporter. You can, as well, assume  that I have resigned as a human being. 

The human mind is a fragile thing. Push it too hard and it might turn against you. I have introduced to mine information that it is unable to handle, to process, so I pass this story to you to ponder.

What would your life look like if you knew that humans could no longer die?