Cops, Cop-Killers, and Texas Executions

The State of Texas arguably has America's most active capital punishment system in America, and the express lane to our death chamber is to murder a cop.  This is where we come in.  This in not a specific motorcycle group.  We are all members of different law enforcement motorcycle clubs, from different agencies but today we have one common purpose.  To support the family of a fallen officer and to welcome his murderer to his final Judge.  On a chilly Wednesday afternoon, over a dozen members of the Thin Blue Line, the Blue Knights and other law enforcement motorcycle clubs gathered for a special tribute.

On Saturday March 7, 2007, Game Warden Justin Hursch was murdered by James Warden.  In November 2008, Warden was sentenced to death by a Wharton County jury and he now sits in a Texas Department of Corrections facility in Huntsville TX, awaiting his execution. 

Just past 4:30pm on January 27, 2016, we ride to a spot off of I-45 and link up.  The riders are over 90% cops, current or retired.  Like any group that hasn’t met in a while, we talk to pass the time while waiting for other members to arrive and the ride to begin. Discuss things from the last time we’ve met, the job, family, football. The conference championship games from the past weekend and the Super Bowl coming up. 

We have all types here, police from large and smaller towns, country sheriff’s deputies and constables, state troopers.  In a previous execution in January 2014 we had riders from as far as Louisiana and New Mexico.  To those not a part of the Brotherhood of Police, it’s hard to understand.  A man or woman you don’t know from a city or town you never heard of is murdered in the line of duty, it’s a family member who’s gone down.  In the excellent novel by Lawrence Sanders, The First Deadly Sin, the protagonist, Captain Edward X. Delaney, describes it:

...He knew that when a cop was killed, all cops became Sicilians.  He had seen it happen:  a patrolman shot down, and immediately his precinct house was flooded with cops from all over the city, wearing plaid windbreakers and business suits, shields pinned to their lapels, offering to work on their own time.  Was there anything they could do?  Anything?

It was a mixture of fear, fury, anguish, sorrow.  You couldn’t possibly undress it unless you belonged.  Because it was a brotherhood, and corrupt cops, stupid cops, cowardly cops had nothing to do with it.  If you were a cop, than any cop’s murder diminished you.  You could not endure that. 

We start our ride a little after 5:00pm and Huntsville is just around an hour north of Houston.

The State of Texas executes on Wednesday evenings, at just past 6:00pm. Don’t ask why, I have no idea, I guess when Old Sparky was still in operation they had a good generator.  And the evening is cold (Yes Yankees, 50 degrees is cold for us Southern Boys) and we ride up. 

Arriving in Huntsville around 5:45pm, we assemble on the east side in front of the prison.  On the west side there are a small group of protestors, counting down the names of previous death row.  They are here whenever Texas executes, but we are here only for the cop killers.  And the cop’s brothers are here.  There are dozens of game wardens and other officers present from various agencies to support the family.  They have been waiting for this night for 9 years.  And justice was not denied.


At around 6:10pm the word came down, the execution was proceeding.  If you want a good overview of the procedure, I can recommend the National Geographic special Inside Death Row.  I have no doubt there were lawyers working till this moment for a stay; it was not to be.  At least this family didn't have to wait for decades.  The family of Houston Police Officer Guy Gaddis had to wait for almost two decades for his murderer to be executed. 

And we get to work.  For over five minutes we rev our engines.  And rev.  And rev.

In previous cop killer executions officers in the death chamber told us they can hear us easily.  And the man of the hour is hearing it as justice is served. 

Just past 6:30pm people start walking out and one of the officers calls “All officers and colors!  Present arms!”  The family is walking out.  And they walk by, first to the fellow officers, then to us, thanking us for our attendance and support.  A humbling experience, knowing this mother, having experienced every parent’s worst nightmare, is now thanking us. 

And we listen to the protestor condemning Texas for her 533rd execution since late 1970.  But our task is done for the moment.  The next cop killer is scheduled for execution in April.  And we will be here.  As I said to one of Warden Hursch’s friends, this won’t bring him back.  But he may rest a little more peacefully. 

I am the police, and I'm here to arrest you. You've broken the law. I did not write the law. I may even disagree with the law but I will enforce it. No matter how you plead, cajole, beg or attempt to stir my sympathies, nothing you do will stop me from placing you in a steel cage with gray bars. If you run away I will chase you. If you fight me I will fight back. If you shoot at me I will shoot back. By law I am unable to walk away. I am a consequence. I am the unpaid bill. I am fate with a badge and a gun...

Brian Taylor:  End of Watch introduction.

The bill is settled to the sounds of the roaring engines.

Michael A. Thiac is a police patrol sergeant and a retired Army intelligence officer.