The final stop of our tour was at the Governor’s Office, just a couple of days before the impending execution. John, Matthew and I, along with former NC Supreme Court Justice Harry Martin, who had become a supporter of Ernest’s cause, met in the rotunda of the North Carolina Capitol. We were joined by Rose, Denny, Sonya and Ernest’s older brother Leonard. As we waited, I saw the lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office arrive. They were there to meet with the Governor as well, to argue for going forward with the execution.
I had been in this inner sanctum twice before, once before Easley. Two years earlier, Larry Moore and I had sat in the same room and urged Easley to commute the death sentence of Willie Fisher. The Governor was not convinced, and Willie was executed. I wondered if the Governor remembered that meeting, as I smiled and shook his hand.The Governor took his seat behind his desk; I quickly assessed the most appropriate seat for me. One by one we argued as lawyers do for sparing a man’s life, a perverse conversation that should never be had. We then brought in the family.
Rose did not hesitate. She stepped up to the Governor and pleaded for mercy for her brother. Leonard summed it up, “The judicial system in this just hasn’t been fair. The man without money is the one on death row.” The Governor looked uncomfortable. Our time was up.
As I passed the Governor going out the door, he shook my hand and said “Good luck.” “Luck? What does luck have to do with this?” I screamed to myself.