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An Atheist Chaplain and a Death Row Inmate’s Final Hours

U.S.An Atheist Chaplain and a Death Row Inmate’s Final Hours

“God, that chicken.” Devin Moss has a voice that rumbles, low and slow like distant thunder, but this morning it was softer, more contemplative. His hands gripped the steering wheel of his rental car. He was dressed head to toe in white linen, his body glowing in an almost celestial way, as he drove toward the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Moss, a chaplain, had spent the year working as the spiritual adviser to Phillip Hancock, a death row inmate in Oklahoma. The morning of the November execution had arrived. The prison had brought Hancock the wrong last meal the night before, white meat from Kentucky Fried Chicken instead of dark.

“That chicken, I know,” echoed Sue Hosch, an anti-death penalty activist seated in the passenger seat beside Moss. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Hancock, convicted of two murders he committed in 2001, was scheduled to be executed at 10 a.m. With three hours to go, his lawyers were still hoping that Oklahoma’s governor would grant him clemency, as the state parole board had voted to recommend three weeks earlier.

State lawyers and family members of the victims had continued to push for Hancock’s execution. State officials had reminded the parole board that one of the victims was only 38 when he died, and was of “great assistance” to his parents. The death of the other victim, they said, deeply affected his younger brother, who could not sleep after the loss.

Moss was driving to the prison to be with Hancock. After more than a hundred conversations, their relationship — death row inmate and the man charged with caring for his soul — had come down to this morning.

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