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Sunday, June 09, 2002

Napoleon Beazley's family remembers son---700 attend burial of executed man

Ireland and Rena Beazley on Saturday buried their oldest son, executed for committing a fatal carjacking.

Nearly 8 years to the day after he graduated with honors from Grapeland High School, Napoleon Beazley was executed Tuesday for the 1994 slaying of Tyler civic leader John Luttig, sparking worldwide criticism of the Texas death penalty.

More than 700 people showed up at Mt. Zion Baptist Church for Beazley's
funeral, but few tears were shed during the upbeat, 2-hour service.

With hands interlocked and eyes squeezed shut, the crowd belted out hymns
and prayed for Beazley and his family. Even the sticky heat in the tidy,
clapboard church didn't sap the enthusiasm.

After the service, the family cheerfully greeted mourners. The mood was
generally upbeat this weekend at the Beazleys' quaint brick house, though
there were some tears.

As darkness descended on this East Texas town Friday night, the husband
and wife of more than 30 years playfully teased each other and dozens of
guests who came to lift their spirits with hugs, and sometimes, flowers.

"At least he's free," said Napoleon Beazley's mother, Rena Beazley. "8
years is a long time to battle. It was just too much. It was tearing us
up inside. Now, we're going to celebrate his life."

In the days before Beazley's execution -- which sparked widespread
criticism of Texas' capital punishment system -- his family said they
attempted to suppress their grief so they wouldn't worry their condemned
son.

"He was carrying a lot of responsibility," Rena Beazley said. "He knew he
disappointed us in April 1994 and he's been trying to make up for it.

"We got 2 hours with him on (last) Saturday and it was just a regular
conversation. He was not afraid of dying. He had prepared himself to
die."

During their final visit, the Beazleys said they were finally able to
have a "contact" visit with their son. They hadn't touched their son in
more than 7 years.

Defense attorneys argued that Beazley's execution violated international
law because of his age and said race played a role. Beazley is black, his
victim was white and he was convicted of capital murder by an all-white
jury.

A former high school class president and star athlete, Beazley had been
dealing drugs for several years but had not been caught. His parents said
they had him tested for drugs twice, but the results came back negative.

On the night of April 19, 1994, Beazley was carrying a .45-caliber pistol
and had stowed a shotgun in his mother's car before he and two companions
went to Tyler, about 60 miles north of Grapeland, to steal a car.

After shooting Luttig, the 63-year-old father of U.S. Circuit Court Judge
J. Michael Luttig, evidence showed Beazley stepped through a pool of
Luttig's blood to go through his pockets. After retrieving keys to the
Luttigs' 10-year-old Mercedes, Beazley hit a wall while driving away and
was forced to abandon the vehicle.

His 2 companions, Cedrick and Donald "Fig" Coleman, received life in
prison.

Beazley's father, wiping tears away, said Friday that he's coming to
grips with the execution.

"Our hearts are still grieving," he said.

Beazley's mother said the execution has, in some ways, been a relief.

"We put our lives on hold for eight years," said Rena Beazley, who has
been hospitalized twice for depression in recent years. "I never thought
I'd ever go to a prison, let alone death row. Every weekend we went down
to death row to see Napoleon."

Their youngest son Ireland Jamaal, who graduated from Grapeland High
School with honors, is soon to go away to junior college.

With time to mull over their eldest son's death, the Beazleys say they
plan to join the fight to against Texas' death penalty.

That next step, they say, will be proof that Napoleon Beazley didn't die
in vain.

"It was a huge eye-opener for us," Rena Beazley said. "We were the
perfect family. We did everything by the book. If it can happen to us, it
can happen to anyone.

"Napoleon was a good boy. I'm so proud of him. He touched a lot of
people. His life will speak for itself."

(source: Associated Press)

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