On Feb. 21, Karl Chamberlain received a rare greeting card from his half-sister, Liberty Chamberlain: “Happy Death Day,” it read. “Glad you’re still with us.”
Karl Chamberlain grew up in Chimayo, New Mexico, but was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, on June 11, for the rape and murder of a young mother in Dallas. Initially, he was scheduled to die in February but, as the US Supreme Court considered the legality of lethal injection [Outtakes, Jan. 23: “Shot in the Dark”], Dallas prosecutors withdrew the execution date. The Supreme Court upheld the technique in April and, as the last man to receive a temporary postponement, Chamberlain also was the first to receive an execution date once the state of Texas reopened the execution chamber.
Those four months of extra time were a godsend, Liberty Chamberlain says, but her half-brother had long prepared himself for the date that would inevitably come.
“Even when he got the February date, we had been talking about it for years,” she tells SFR. “We had gone over the details, the nitty-gritty, what was going to happen.”
Liberty Chamberlain witnessed her half-brother’s execution and is currently in possession of his extensive collection of paintings and writings, which will return to New Mexico in the coming weeks when Liberty’s family relocates from Irving, Texas, to Albuquerque. Karl Chamberlain’s ashes were split between Liberty, their mother Mu’ina Arthur, who lives in Las Vegas, New Mexico and his European pen pals.
Although Chamberlain committed the crime in 1991, he wasn’t apprehended until several years later when fingerprint evidence emerged that tied him to the scene. He confessed to the rape and murder of Felecia Prechtl. During the years in between, Liberty says she had no clue that her brother was tormented by the burden of a secret crime.
“It was kind of like being told not only that Santa Claus didn’t exist, but that the Tooth Fairy murdered the Easter Bunny,” Liberty Chamberlain says. “I didn’t believe it. I was convinced he had been framed, that there was just some horrendous mistake.”
She has since come to accept it and has full faith in her brother’s final statement of repentance before facing the needle.
Because it was the first execution in Texas since the Supreme Court decision, a crowd of more than 20 protestors gathered outside the Huntsville Unit that evening. The first to arrive on the scene was Andre Latallade, the “raptivist” known as Capital X [Cover story, June 11: “Walking for Dead Men”], waving a sign that read “Execution Is Not The Solution.”
“It was one of the most difficult things that I ever experienced,” Latallade says. “A car pulled up, a woman got out and asked me, ‘Are you Capital X?’ She just bear-hugged me and said ‘I’m Karl’s mother.’ She just squeezed me for I don’t know how long. It seemed like an eternity.”
In January, SFR uploaded a video interview with Arthur (sfreporter.tv). In the months between his executions dates, viewers from as far as Argentina have responded with increasingly hostile comments.
“If you don’t like the penalty for murder in Texas, then go somewhere else to murder someone, douche,” one anonymous commenter writes.
Although anti-death-penalty activists reacted online with disgust at the insensitivity to Chamberlain’s family, the comment brings up a fundamental disparity in the criminal justice system. More than 350 inmates sit on Texas’ death row, while only two face death sentences in New Mexico.
“Jurors in Texas clearly are less reluctant to impose the death penalty than jurors here in New Mexico,” First Judicial District Attorney Henry Valdez says, adding that he can’t recall the issue of capital punishment coming up during his election campaigns. Valdez predicts an end to the death penalty within a matter of years.
But, “even if the death penalty is repealed, whether it’s statewide or national, I don’t think the debate will go away,” Valdez says. “I think there’ll always be a case where somebody will, for instance, rape and murder a young girl, and the people will clamor for the death penalty again.”
Web extra: Video footage of the protest outside the Huntsville Unit and details of Chamberlain’s last meal and final statement at sfreporter.com. Visit SFR’s election blog, Swingstateofmind.com, for reactions from US Senate candidates US Reps. Tom Udall and Steve Pearce.