Texas Executes 400th Inmate, Celebrates with Cake, Balloon Drop

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- State corrections officials yesterday put a record 400th person to death in the state's execution chamber, a record that surpasses South Africa's 30-year record and puts the Lone Star State on track to top China's record.

Johnny Ray Conner, 32, who was convicted of shooting a convenience store owner in Houston in 1998, was put to death by lethal injection in the state's execution chamber here.

The event was preceded by the cutting of a large sheet cake with the number "400" spelled out in icing, and a speech by Gov. Rick Perry, who said the event "underscores Texans can-do attitude."
Conner, who was strapped to a gurney with one arm extended and a catheter running into his veins said he was "just proud to be part of this big day for the state I love. Oh, yes, and I'd like to say goodbye to my wife and kids." Moments after a prison doctor announced Conner dead a band broke in with "Yellow Rose of Texas" amid a balloon drop and cheering from witnesses and corrections officials."

At this rate, I think we're on track to surpass China and maybe even the Soviets," said Gov. Perry, who deflected allegations in last month's Prison World Monthly that accused prison officials here and attempting to tweak the record by including injections of steroids along with the sodium thiopental, potassium nitrate and heavy barbiturates.

Other states, notably Louisiana and Florida have accused Texas of "juicing" the prisoners and insist they will be able to overtake the 400 mark once state legislators there pass laws rescinding most forms of conviction appeals. Additionally, Florida also predicted it will have an available crop of executable inmates since its legislature passed a bill adding music downloading to its list of capital offenses.Despite the criticism, officials here said the execution record sets a new standard for the prison industry.

"This isn't just a man we're executing here," Gov. Perry said. "It's a whole mindset. There was a time Texas didn't even have an effective death penalty and now we're well on track to killing one out of every 150 of our citizens."

The governor said Mr. Conner's remains will be dipped in bronze and set up outside the prison yard as part of a display commemorating the new record.

"I think an awful lot of the credit goes to Mr. Conner, who, frankly, made so much of this possible," Gov. Perry said. "But this sort of thing requires a full team and I want to also recognize Mr. Conner's public defender who slept through much of the trial as well as the prosecutors who made the call that this man could be found guilty and put to death. Truly, this is a day for all Texans to step up and take some of the credit."