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European Women Marry U.S. Death Row Inmates
Alan Elsner, National Correspondent
Reuters
08/01/2002

Marriages between condemned men in America and women from Germany and the Scandinavian countries, where opposition to the U.S. death penalty is strong, seem to be particularly common.

 

W A S H I N G T O N (Reuters) - Hester Patrick has been married for five years but she has never hugged or kissed her husband or even touched him. She may never do those things because Jesse Patrick is on death row in Texas with a Sept. 17 execution date.

The 47-year-old British stage designer may seem to have an unusual marriage but she is far from unique. Although there are no statistics, authorities in several states said it was not unusual for men on death row to marry, often to women from Europe.

According to Death Penalty News, a newsletter published by death penalty foes, 10 women have wed men on Florida's death row alone since 1997. Hester Patrick knows of three other women married to inmates on Texas death row, all of them Europeans.

Marriages between condemned men in America and women from Germany and the Scandinavian countries, where opposition to the U.S. death penalty is strong, seem to be particularly common.

Like many of these women, Patrick met her husband through a pen pal club that matches correspondents with some of the 3,650 men facing death sentences in the United States. There have been 37 executions so far this year.

"I go over to Texas every two months. I get a non-contact visit. You go into a visitation room and we speak on a phone through bulletproof glass," she said.

"We were not allowed to be together even for our wedding. A friend stood in for Jesse," Hester Patrick said in a telephone interview.

"I have nightmares about him being executed but if it comes to that, I will be there for him. I couldn't bear to let him go through that alone, without a single person who loves him."

Jesse Patrick, 44, was convicted of the 1980 murder of Nina Rutherford Reddan, an 80-year-old woman, in Dallas.

Police found a sock and toilet paper soaked with the victim's blood in Patrick's house. The murder weapon, a knife found at the scene, was identified as belonging to Patrick. Sperm was found in the victim's body, and an officer testified she had been sexually assaulted but the sperm was not tested.

LAWYER HAS DOUBTS

Now Hester Patrick is fighting the state of Texas to have that DNA tested at her expense. Patrick's lawyer, Keith Hampton, does not believe the test will clear his client but hopes to postpone the execution by raising other irregularities in his trial.

Even death penalty opponents say they cannot understand what would impel women to marry men on death row.

"I know of several cases but I don't know if I can explain it," said Abraham Bonowitz, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"Although some women may be looking for notoriety, most seem to have genuine feelings. They start corresponding with an inmate to provide comfort and support to someone in a terrible situation and it goes from there," he said.

One defense lawyer, who asked not be named, said some women, who might lead dull everyday lives, seemed to be attracted by the thrill of danger and the glamour of being associated with a convicted killer.

Hannah Floyd, a Danish mother of three, started writing to an inmate on Florida's death row in 1997. After a year of correspondence, she decided to visit him.

"I went home after that first visit, packed my bags and went back to Florida with my two youngest kids. I knew it was the right thing to do. It was God's will," said Floyd, a committed Christian who converted her husband from Islam and says he has "found an inner glow."

Unlike Texas, in Florida, death row inmates are allowed to meet their wives every weekend for six hours, during which they can hold hands, eat together and walk around in a room. But they are never alone together.

Floyd, who said she could not discuss her husband's case without his permission and asked that his name not be published, now runs a guest house in Stark, Florida, near her husband's prison.

"I'm over here for a million different reasons. I'm very active in the anti-death penalty movement. I'm not a crazy woman coming over here. I truly believe one day we will live a normal married life," she said.

Andrea Faust, a 37-year-old divorced mother of two living in Germany, also plans to marry an inmate on Florida's death row soon. She too is a fierce opponent of the death penalty.

"BARBARIC SENTENCE"

"I could never understand implementing such a cruel, inhuman and barbaric sentence," she said in an e-mail exchange, in which she asked for her fiance not to be named.

Describing him, she wrote: "He is not the person any more who he used to be while being on the streets. I got to know a very warmhearted, caring, honest, understanding, intelligent and highly educated man who appreciates life more than anything else ... I have to live with resistance toward this relationship from friends and family who can't seem to understand something that is normal to me."

Dagmar Polzin, a German waitress in her early 30s, saw a picture of North Carolina death row inmate Bobby Lee Harris in an advertisement on a bus stop in Hamburg. Harris was one of seven inmates featured in a $20 million ad campaign by Italian clothing company Benetton.

"I knew he wasn't a killer. I could see it in his eyes," said Polzin, who quickly made plans to visit Harris in prison and moved to North Carolina to be with him. Harris was almost executed last year but a judge set aside his death sentence, though he still faces life in prison.

Polzin continued to visit regularly though she cannot touch her fiance. "No glass, no people can destroy love," she told a North Carolina newspaper.

Even serial killers can hope for love. Richard Ramirez, known as the "Night Stalker," got married in 1996 in California's San Quentin prison to Doreen Lioy, a freelance editor. Ramirez was convicted of 14 brutal murders.

In 1998, Rebecca Torrijas, a former prison nurse, married Henry Louis Wallace, who is on death row in North Carolina for the murder of nine women and may have murdered as many as 20 across the world while he was on naval duty.

The couple exchanged vows in a small room next to the death chamber. Wallace still is awaiting execution with no date set.

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