February 15, 2003
Sixteen months ago an event occurred which has forever impacted my life, and which ended the life of a brother in Christ Jesus. Terry Clark, a convicted child murderer, was put to death at the Penitentiary of New Mexico. Years earlier, while serving as an Assistant Chaplain at the prison, I had studied with and counseled this man, and after several months was able to immerse him into Christ upon his confession of faith. As the days of his life drew to an end, I was chosen by the state of New Mexico to serve as his official Chaplain for the Execution. I counseled with him for several months prior to the event, and then spent the last couple of days with him in the death house. As this man died for his crimes, the Warden and I stood inside the death chamber at his side.
I truly hope and pray I never have to face such a challenge again in my life, but am thankful God used me to minister to a man whose life had gone horribly astray, but who, through our Father's matchless grace, found his way at the end to the throne of mercy.
The following article appeared in the December, 2001 issue of the publication Rocky Mountain Christian. I share it with you today as an encouragement and testimony of the good news that our Lord Jesus Christ came to save sinners ... even one some might consider "undeserving." After all, in the final analysis, are we not ALL undeserving sinners saved by grace? May our God be praised for His awesome mercies extended through His Son Jesus Christ!
ALAMOGORDO, NEW MEXICO ---- On Tuesday, November 6, 2001, at 7:10 pm, at the Penitentiary of New Mexico just outside of Santa Fe, Terry Clark was put to death by lethal injection. This was the first execution in New Mexico in almost 42 years. Terry Clark, who was 45 years old, was convicted of the 1986 kidnapping, rape, and murder of nine year old Dena Lynn Gore of Artesia, New Mexico. This was one of the most brutal crimes in state history, and many in New Mexico breathed a sigh of relief when the sentence of death was finally carried out.
But there is more to this story than many realize. Terry Clark died a Christian, and standing by his side in the death chamber was Al Maxey, the man who baptized him on death row. Al is currently the Pulpit Minister and one of the Elders at the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ in Alamogordo, New Mexico. How this dramatic turn of events in Terry Clark's life came about is truly a tale of deliverance which God's people need to hear, and for which they then need to give thanks.
Shortly after Terry Clark's conviction for murder, and his sentencing to death, he was moved to the Penitentiary of New Mexico to await his execution. Terry's uncle, who is a preacher for the Lord's church in Texas, called Al Maxey in Santa Fe and asked him to go visit Terry. His nephew had never obeyed the gospel, and Al was asked if he would seek to study God's Word with Terry. Maxey willingly complied and over the course of several months Terry came to the point where he requested to be immersed into Christ.
It took some time to get the official approval for such a baptism, but the day finally came in the Spring of 1987 and Terry was led in chains to a back hallway on death row by the prison guards. With the help of the prison chaplain (a Catholic priest), Al filled a large plastic laundry cart with water using a garden hose attached to an outside faucet. Terry was unshackled and climbed into the laundry cart, and Al Maxey immersed him into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.
Over the next several years, Terry struggled with himself and the crimes he had committed. There were times he had lapses of faith and moments of doubt. But Maxey, as well as others who sought to bring him comfort over the years, helped him to continue that walk in the light with his Lord.
During those intervening years, many appeals were filed in an effort to overturn his death sentence. This past year, however, Terry chose to end the process of appeals, and he asked the courts to carry out his execution. The courts granted his wish. He requested that Al Maxey be appointed by New Mexico to be his "Spiritual Advisor." The person holding this official position would be allowed to have contact visits with Terry inside his prison cell and would be the person who helped him prepare for his execution. A few months before the execution, Al Maxey was approved for this position, and he immediately began counseling extensively with Terry for what was to come. Maxey made several trips to Santa Fe and spent numerous hours in the cell with Terry. He also stayed in contact on the telephone and through letters. They studied God's Word and prayed together. Terry was also sharing the gospel with his attorneys and fellow inmates at this time, encouraging them to accept Christ Jesus.
The day before the execution, which was Monday, November 5, 2001, Al and his wife Shelly left for Santa Fe. Al's wife of 28 years proved to be a tremendous source of encouragement and strength to him during those very stressful days. Maxey spent that entire afternoon and evening with Terry in his cell at the death house. Terry spent the time confessing details of his crimes to Al Maxey (details never before revealed), and then they would kneel, hold hands, and pray together. Maxey shared Terry's last meal with him that evening in his cell. They had jumbo shrimp, French fries, fried okra, peach cobbler and ice cream, and Coke. Al stayed with Terry until late that night.
The next afternoon, the day of the execution, Al returned shortly after lunch and remained in the cell with Terry until the very end. The time was again spent in discussion of God's Word, in prayer, and in thoughts of death and what lay beyond. Terry repeatedly expressed tremendous shame and remorse for his crimes, and struggled with feelings of unworthiness to be in God's presence. At 6:15 the guards came for Terry, and before he was led away, Al and Terry knelt, held hands, and prayed. Then they stood, embraced, and Terry said, "I love you, brother!"
Al Maxey and the Warden walked with Terry to the death chamber and stood there at his side as he was prepared for the execution. At 6:54 pm, the chamber was cleared of all persons except for Terry, Al and the Warden. These two men stood at Clark's shoulder and Al led them in prayer. At 7:01, the Warden and Maxey opened the curtains to the witness rooms and the Warden read the death order. Terry's official last words were "Fifteen minutes." This was a reference to a statement in Karla Faye Tucker's book "Set Free," in which she likened the brief time until "old things have passed away" and "new things have come" to 15 minutes. Terry hoped in just "15 minutes" (that is, a brief instant, relatively speaking) to be at home with his Lord.
As the execution began, Terry turned his head and faced Maxey. He took a few deep breaths, grimaced a couple of times, and whispered to Maxey, "It burns a little." Several seconds later he stopped breathing. At 7:10 he was pronounced dead. He told Maxey before being led into the chamber, "When you see me take my last breath, remember --- your brother has gone home!" Before being led away he also handed Al his Bible. Inside was this handwritten inscription --- "To: Al Maxey. Thank you my brother! May God's grace and love rest on you always!! Love, Terry."
On the Sunday following the execution, at the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ, the congregation sang, at Terry's request, "Amazing Grace." Terry died feeling shame and unworthiness to be in the presence of His God, but nevertheless with the blessed assurance of God's amazing grace that even one such as he could be accepted. It was Terry's prayer that his death would help the family of his victim begin the process of healing, and he prayed that they too would find the peace in God he had.
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