News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Snapshots From Death Row: Journalist Who’s Witnessed Over 400 Executions Looks Back

In nearly 46 years of reporting for The Associated Press, Mike Graczyk has seen at least 429 Texans go to their deaths in Huntsville.

That's almost a third of all the inmates executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reaffirmed capital punishment in 1976.

Graczyk announced his retirement this summer. He sat down with KERA's Rick Holter for this week's Friday Conversation from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville to talk about covering Texas executions for almost half a century. 

Interview Highlights

On his approach to covering executions 

You never want to lose sight of why you are there ... Without being insensitive, I compare it to covering an athletic event, where somebody does something at the end, at the last second, and it's very emotional for all the fans involved. You watch what goes on and take notes of what's happening. You do your work, write your story, and you move on. 

On moments he remembers most

There were two instances where the needle popped out of the inmates arm. The first time, I'm standing like 3 or 4 feet away from him, and there's no separation other than a rail. I saw this liquid come spurting out, almost like a water fountain. 

You wonder: "What if this touches? Is it dangerous?" 

There was an inmate who spit out a handcuff key that he'd been hiding in his mouth all day apparently. He gave his final statement, and the key came dribbling out of his mouth. 

Credit AP
Retired Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk

On talking to grieving families 

The challenge is trying to get families to talk about the case. 

I made the mistake once of talking to the widow of a slain police officer. I said "I think I know what you're going through," trying to get her to talk. She fired back at me: "No, you don't." 

On balancing his Catholic faith and his coverage 

That's a struggle. I try to keep them separate. There's a biblical passage that says leave to Caesar things that are Caesar and leave to God things that are God. I can be comfortable with that, and that's kind of how I deal with it. 

Interview responses have been edited for clarity.

Miguel Perez is an assistant producer at KERA. He produces local content for Morning Edition and KERA News. He also produces The Friday Conversation, a weekly interview series with North Texas newsmakers.
Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News has earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.