by Al Maxey

Issue #554 ------- November 2, 2012
Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party
it injures, so that society has to take the place
of the victim and on his/her behalf demand
atonement or grant forgiveness; it is the one
crime in which society has a direct interest.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

Chaplain at an Execution
Reflecting on a Difficult Choice

The photo which appears to your left was taken immediately after Terry Clark was sentenced to death for one of the most brutal crimes in New Mexico history. Little did I know that our paths were soon to cross in a way that would alter both our lives. Following is my personal testimony of one of the most difficult choices God has called me to make in almost 37 years of fulltime ministry. This personal reflection first appeared in the October issue of New Wineskins, and the editor of that publication, Keith Brenton, graciously granted me permission to share my testimony with all of you on this anniversary of Terry Clark's execution. I thank Keith for his willingness to do this, and also encourage each of you to become regular readers of New Wineskins. It is a fabulous publication, and you will be richly blessed by visiting it often and reflecting on the articles presented. Keith has provided a much needed, and high quality, service to the Body of Christ, and the studies submitted by the well-known writers he has assembled truly challenge our thinking and uplift our spirits, motivating us to greater service to the cause of Christ. Again, may your hearts be touched by this sharing of my own personal struggle with respect to God's calling of me to minister His grace to a murderer and to serve as the chaplain at our state's only execution in half a century.


On November 6, the first Tuesday of the month, the people of this great nation will be asked to make a momentous choice. I pray we all take that choice seriously, and that it is preceded by much prayer and reflection. But this article is not about the election. Rather, it is about an event that also occurred on a November 6, but in the year 2001. This event was the culmination of the most difficult choice I have had to make in my almost 37 years of fulltime ministry. On that day I stood inside an execution chamber at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe at the side of a man who was being executed for one of the most horrific crimes in our state's history.

In 1986 he had kidnapped, raped, murdered and dismembered a little 9-year-old girl named Dena Lynn Gore of Artesia, NM. I stood only a foot away from the table upon which he was strapped, looking into his eyes, as he paid the price for his crime. His name was Terry Clark. He was 45 years old. A Navy veteran. My friend. My brother-in-Christ, whom I had baptized. And also the only man to be executed in our state in over half a century. Let me share with you this compelling account of this life-altering choice God called me to make.

In 1986, I was serving as the Pulpit Minister for the Church of Christ in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I served this congregation for eight years (1984-1992). The year before, I also took on the responsibility of being one of the Assistant Protestant Chaplains at the Penitentiary of New Mexico, a maximum security facility. I served in this capacity for seven years, and was authorized by the Corrections Department to visit the inmates in their cells, offer counseling, and to conduct worship services there each month. It was at this time that the people of our state heard the terrible details of the fate of the little girl from Artesia. As you can imagine, people were outraged. It was a crime that was so brutal it left people wondering how anyone human could do such a thing to someone else, much less to a precious little girl. I was as furious as anyone. My own sons were about that age at the time, and I remember thinking about how I would love to get my hands on the person who did this.

As I was soon to find out, our God certainly works in a strange way, for He literally placed this man in my hands. To make a long story short, the rapist/murderer was captured, tried and found guilty. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection (the method of execution in our state). He was then transported to the Penitentiary of New Mexico. Just before he arrived, I received a phone call from a Church of Christ preacher in Texas. He informed me that he was Terry Clark's uncle. He knew that I was authorized to minister to the prisoners, and he asked me to please visit Terry and share the gospel with him. Terry had never accepted Christ, even though his family members were all very involved in their congregations within the Church of Christ fellowship.

I will have to be honest with you: the last thing on earth I wanted to do was visit Terry Clark and tell him of the love of God. I wanted him dead as much as anyone. Yes, I was struggling with my feelings, and I was hurting for the family of the little girl. But the family of this murderer had also reached out to me.

I had to make a choice!

I promised to visit Terry once he arrived on death row. In my mind I doubted it would go too far past that first visit. I couldn't imagine how anyone who had done what this man had done would have any desire to have someone like me in his face. But, I kept my word and met with Terry. It was a tense first meeting. I was honest with him and told him what I was feeling about him. He said he understood. When the meeting was over, he said he would like for me to come see him again. I did. In fact, over the next six years I met with him regularly, and our visits turned into discussions about God and His Word. About a year after our first meeting, Terry told me one day he would like to be baptized. It took some time to work through the "red tape" to get this approved by the Corrections Department, but the day finally came.

To a hallway outside the execution chamber on death row, where a plastic laundry cart was set up, being filled from a garden hose, Terry was led in chains by several guards. The Catholic chaplain assisted me in helping Terry into the cart, at which time Terry gave a moving confession of Christ Jesus and I immersed him. He was then led away, dripping wet, back to his cell.

Over the next several years, Terry struggled with himself and his crimes and his faith. He had serious doubts as to whether, and how, God could really forgive him for what he did. We would study and pray together for hours as I helped him work through these issues. Adding to his, and my own, frustration was the fact that I was strongly condemned by several other preachers in the state for ministering to and baptizing Terry Clark. They not only wanted him to be executed, but to "burn in hell." How dare I take Jesus Christ to such a man. To this day there are some who still condemn me for sharing the gospel with a child rapist and murderer.

In 1992, my family and I moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where I would serve for the next six years as the Minister for the Honolulu Church of Christ on Keeaumoku Street (just a mile from Waikiki Beach). During this time I wrote to Terry a number of times, and he would write and share his continuing struggle with his faith.

In 1998, we returned to New Mexico. I took on the work as the Pulpit Minister, and later as one of the Elders, of the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ in Alamogordo, NM, where I continue to serve to this day. I made a couple of trips to see Terry, at which time he informed me that he had instructed his lawyers to cease all efforts to "beat the death penalty." He said he was ready to pay for his crimes, and ready to meet his Lord. He also stated that he simply wanted to give the family of his victim some peace, and he knew that this would not happen until he was gone. His only request of me was that I serve as the Chaplain for the Execution. This is a state appointed position, and involves some heavy responsibility. I told him that if the state agreed, I would serve in that capacity.

Terry made the request, and the state agreed to appoint me. A date was set for the execution -- Tuesday, November 6, 2001 at 7:00 p.m. As part of my duties, I was to meet with Terry regularly to prepare him spiritually and psychologically for his execution. I made several trips up to Santa Fe to meet with Terry, with Shelly coming along as moral support for me. Terry and I talked about death and what lies beyond. We talked about his crimes, and he shared with me in great detail what had led him to do what he did. He also shared in great depth the details of his crime. It was hard to listen to, but he needed to unburden himself of it all. He revealed details that had never come out before.

As the day drew near for his execution, Shelly and I went to Santa Fe and got a hotel. I spent the last few days prior to his execution in the cell with him on death row. We sat for hours with open Bibles studying. We would pray fervently. I even ate his last meal with him (jumbo shrimp, French fries, fried okra, peach cobbler and ice cream, and Coke). I should also point out that during his last months, Terry spent much time sharing the gospel with his guards and his attorney. Indeed, most of them had become his friends.

The day of the execution I spent the entire time with Terry in his cell right next to the execution chamber. I had been instructed by the Warden to tell Terry that 6:00 p.m. was the final opportunity for him to halt the execution. I had been given a cell phone, from which I could call the Warden. At 6:00 p.m. I informed Terry that he must make his choice. Would he live or die? He thought about it for a minute, we prayed about it, and then he said to tell the Warden to proceed. At 6:54 the guards came to the cell and said, "Terry, it's time." I asked them to give us a couple more minutes, at which time Terry and I knelt on the floor, held hands, and I offered a prayer for him. The guards stood there with bowed heads as well.

He was led to the execution chamber and strapped down. The Warden and I went into the chamber with him. All the guards left the room and locked the door. It was just the three of us. We spoke for a moment, I said a prayer again, and then the Warden and I opened the curtains on the windows for the witnesses. The little girl's family was there, and I know this was a horrible moment for them also. You could see it in their faces.

The warden read the sentence, then asked Terry if he had any last words. His official final statement was "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 fifteen minutes. Terry hoped that in just "fifteen minutes" (i.e., a brief instant, relatively speaking) he would be at home with his Lord.

As the execution began, as the chemicals began coursing through his veins, Terry turned his head and faced me. He had previously asked if he could look at me instead of the victim's family as he died, as he didnít want the last thing he saw to be their hatred. He took a few deep breaths, grimaced a couple of times, and whispered, "It burns a little!" Several seconds later he stopped breathing. At 7:10, he was pronounced dead. He had told me as he was being led into the execution chamber, "When you see me take my last breath, remember -- your brother has gone home!" Before we had left his cell, he had handed me 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."

The warden and I closed the curtains, and then we left the execution chamber. The half dozen guards were standing outside at attention ... weeping! I had a few words with them and a prayer, then left the facility. Outside the news media were gathered, and a state police officer showed me where the TV news anchors were set up, as they wanted a live TV interview with the Chaplain. I appeared on a couple of the stations' evening news, telling what had happened. Then I returned to the hotel where Shelly, my wife, was waiting to offer much-needed comfort, support and perspective. She was a godsend in the whole matter.

On the Sunday following the execution, at the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ, the congregation sang, at Terry's request, "Amazing Grace." What made all of this even more amazing is that the little girl's cousin was there -- she is a member of this congregation. Yes, she struggled for a time with my choice to minister to Terry, but in the end came to appreciate God's grace and forgiveness and mercy.

It has been 11 years since the execution of Terry Clark, and 26 years since God called me to make a choice. At the time, it was a difficult choice for me; my emotions and feelings got in the way of God's calling. Looking back, I know I made the right choice, even though it led to a great deal of personal sacrifice and pain. I learned, however, that when God calls us to make choices in life, He doesn't promise they will be easy ones. What He does promise is to give us the power and strength to meet the responsibilities and challenges of those choices. I pray I never have to go through such an experience again. But, if I do ... if God calls me to such a choice in the future ... I know He will be with me every step of the way. What an awesome God we serve!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From an Elder/Mayor in Texas:

Brother Al, after our discussions on politics last month, I formulated an email and titled it: "A Christian's Call To Action." I sent it out over my personal email to over 500 people both in and outside of our church. As a church leader, and also as an elected official, I believe that it is my duty to stand up and speak Truth -- not politics, but the truth, as I see it, regarding sin -- sin that has become a part of the Democratic Party, and which has been accepted and endorsed by them. The feedback was swift. Almost all supported what I wrote, and they were thankful that someone in a leadership position finally stepped up and stated the obvious. Remember, I did not mention the church I help lead, but, as you well know, we are who we are -- wherever we are! There was some serious backlash from a specific group who called me a couple of names, turned me in to the IRS, and raged against my stand against abortion and gay rights. That is what pained me the most: knowing that there are good people, professing to be Christians, who do not believe abortion or the gay lifestyle are sinful. In any event, I stand firm. No Christian should ever have to compromise their stance on sin. I have enclosed the email I sent out. I would appreciate it if you would send this to all those who need to hear it. I guess that makes us members of the Black Robe Regiment -- circa: 2012.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Please send me your two-CD set on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. My check is enclosed. I've been studying the subject of eternal punishment, along with Preterist theology, and your study will make a great addition to the mix. I am looking forward to the fruits of your study on this topic. God bless you.

From a Reader in Texas:

I found your Reflections Web Site a couple of months ago while I was researching the topic of divorce and remarriage. Needless to say, it was a profound discovery for me, because you have put into words many of the feelings I had growing up in the Churches of Christ. I generally agree with much of what you have said in your writings on this subject.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

I am blessed to be one of the elders at the ------- Church of Christ in -------, New Mexico. Because God has blessed this congregation in so many way, Satan is really in attack mode against us. His target is our families and marriages. Not the marriages of the "fringe people," which might be normally expected, but he is attacking heavily-church-involved, prominent-in-the-community families. Our youth ministry is particularly hard hit since most of these families have teens. I am sending you a check and a request for a copy of your book Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace. I plan on studying it and passing it along where it might be helpful. Thanks for your time and ministry!

From a Reader in Hawaii:

I just finished reading your book Down, But Not Out. Thank you so much for writing this!!

From a Missionary in South Africa:

I am native to South Africa, am married to an American girl, and we have two children (born during my 10 years studying in the USA). I am now back in South Africa doing missionary work. My biggest struggle has come from those close to me who are being influenced by an American missionary who has been here since the 1970's (he is viewed as virtually "the pope" by many here who are dear to me). Their problem with me is my interpretation of Gal. 6:10 and the fact that I had been studying at "an institution" (although, of course, Florida College is okay with them). I have a question for you: was Daniel Sommer behind the Non-Institutional faction's interpretation of Gal. 6:10 and their opposition to institutions that teach the Bible?

From a Reader in Alabama:

Oh, how I appreciate what you do! I really enjoy your thinking and writings, and I look forward to reading and studying your Reflections every time they come out. Your take on things is so uplifting and "out of the box" from the traditional, rules-oriented Church of Christ I grew up with. Now, at 74, my wife and I are seeing many things differently, which would cause us to be withdrawn from in most Churches of Christ down here in Alabama. Today, here in the heart of conservative "Church of Christism," to think like you, and especially to teach as you do on many subjects, would get you withdrawn from or simply asked to leave. Keep on pushing forward, brother. I encourage you with all of my being!! God bless your efforts.

From a Reader in Arizona:

I just finished reading Reflections #553: The Meaning of "Do This" -- Seeking the Significance of Christ's Command during the Last Supper. Once again you have gathered meaningful words from a number of careful writers. You provide us good service repeatedly.

From a Reader in New York:

I enjoyed reading your paper on the KJV on the Internet (Reflections #88 -- The Bible Used By Paul: Analysis of the King James Version). I have some friends who are KJV-only, and I have actually seen them kiss their Bibles many times. In fact, they will not fellowship with me because I don't hold to their rigid faith in that version. I've tried every sort of logic I can to get them to come out of the mental "dark ages" and realize that insisting on this version being the ONLY "Word of God" is doing nothing but creating an unnecessary hurdle to those who do not yet know the Lord or who are coming to new faith. To insist that if they use some other version then they are not saved, and that they remain in spiritual darkness, is such nonsense! Anyway, I have tried what I can in love to open their eyes, and I have been throttled and rejected by them. Oh, well. It is what it is. God bless you and your ministry! And thanks for taking the time to put all that information together about the KJV and making it available to the public.

From a Reader in Canada:

Paul's Anticipated Departure: A Study of 2 Cor. 5:8 and Philp. 1:23-24 (Reflections #551) was a great article on what happens when we die and what is in store for us (believers) in the future (at the resurrection when Jesus returns). I remember talking to my brother (who was dying of cancer and had recently come to believe in Jesus), and he asked me to tell him what would happen when he died. I explained that when he died it would be like going to sleep, and then when he woke up it would be in the resurrection and Jesus would have returned. I told him that no matter how many years passed, he would not be aware of time passing; that he would be asleep in death. He seemed to be relieved with that explanation. A week later I closed his eyes after he passed. I miss him very much. We were only eleven months apart in age. I can't wait to be with him at the return of the Lord Jesus. May He come soon!

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