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Holton case one of too many tragic memoriesPosted Monday, September 10, 2007, at 10:37 PM
The impending electrocution of Daryl Keith Holton is yet another in a long series of crimes that will stay with me forever.
While I was officially listed as sports editor of the Times-Gazette from September of 1965 until my retirement in December, 1998, I also covered the police beat.
From 1966 until my retirement I also took crime scene photographs for city and county law enforcement. That was an unpaid 24/7 job.
Shortly before I retired, while talking with a top law enforcement official, we figured up the number of murder scenes where I had taken the photographs to be used in court. The figure came well over 100 homicides.
The Holton case was one of the last, and certainly the worst, of those cases. Four innocent children. If the execution goes through as scheduled might we not look at this entire situation as a few minutes when Daryl made a tragic decision that claimed the lives of four children and almost 10 years later that figure rose to five lives.
Many have and will continue to put their own spin on what caused him to commit such a heinous crime. My first thought is only Daryl can answer that question and I'm by no means sure even he can explain it.
He walked into police headquarters and admitted his guilt. Almost immediately thereafter he told investigators he was guilty, there was no reason to have a trial and said "go ahead and execute me."
While many may believe that request should have been carried out immediately, the justice system, love it or hate it, just doesn't work that way. While many of us may make such statements in the heat of the moment, would we really want it that way?
During hearings before Holton went to trial he often expressed his opinion there was no reason to have a trial and at one point remarked, "The State of Tennessee doesn't have the decency to go ahead and execute me."
Daryl essentially represented himself with court-appointed attorneys to more or less assist him. He was no help to them at all. A jury selection expert came in here and he ignored her advice. In fact, he ended up with a jury almost certain to convict him.
He showed no emotion throughout his trial, including when the jury first found him guilty and shortly thereafter came back after the punishment phase with the death penalty.
As near as I could determine his only request was that he die by electrocution rather than lethal injection. He's only a few hours away from getting his wish.
When I mentioned earlier taking pictures of well over 100 homicide scenes, I wasn't making light or the Holton case of any other case.
Those who have known of my involvement in the photographs at such scenes have often asked me questions about how this has affected me. Listed below are a few examples:
Doesn't it bother you to take such gruesome pictures? Yes, but I've always been able to put those feelings aside until the job is done correctly. I'm not ashamed to admit a few times it was hard to focus the camera through tears. It really got to me when I was in the darkroom, all alone with no prying eyes to see the scenes, and saw it all again.
Isn't it unusual for a newsman to take crime scene pictures for law enforcement? Yes, it is unusual, but it seemed almost as if I wasn't working for the Times-Gazette but rather for the people of Shelbyville and Bedford County at the time. No one was immediately available or had the equipment to do it when this all started. This was on film, before photography went almost entirely digital.
Do you like to see your pictures being shown to the jury during murder trials? I wish there had never been a reason for me to take the first picture. Of course I've watched the reactions of the juries. Some trials have gone as I anticipated. Sometimes our laws have managed to keep some of the basics from the jury until those trials practically resembled a bad third grade play.
Those things being pointed out I can only say I tried my very best to do what was right for the victim or victims and their families.
From all the way back to 1966 some of those scenes undoubtedly have become a little hazy, but they all remain with me and certainly have changed my life in a way I wish had never happened.
Speaking of 1966, in a few days I'm going to mention one of those crime scenes, a conviction and the person responsible who has served a long prison sentence. Believe me when I say the law-abiding citizens of Shelbyville and Bedford County are going to be upset with what is very likely to happen in less than two years.
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Bo Melson is a retired sports and police beat editor of the Times-Gazette.