On death row, tormented by watching friends march to their executions

08/30/2014 8:00 PM

08/30/2014 8:09 PM

Henry McCollum has made many friends since he entered death row in 1984. The worst has been watching his friends being led to execution: North Carolina has executed 42 inmates since McCollum was sentenced in 1984.

“I lost my first friend, John Rook,” McCollum said in a recent interview. “I didn’t look at him like a killer. People do change in prison. That man was like a brother to me.”

Here is a glimpse at McCollum’s life on death row in the words of Central Prison psychologists and psychiatrists who treated him:

• Nov. 3, 1986: “Having insomnia again. He states that he is still reacting to the execution of (John Rook) in September. He is anticipating another execution and is very anxious … he cannot tolerate seeing people killed. He is still defending a plea of innocence … he has never seriously considered (suicide) but wonders if you would under enough pressure.”
• June 30, 1992: “The patient reports continued depressed mood. He has occasional suicidal ideas, particularly when he realizes the likelihood that he will be executed. … He denies that he is storing up his medication.”
• July 23, 1993: “ ‘I’ve got a lot of pressure on me. Nobody understands what I’m going through.’ He frequently dreams about going to his own execution. He states that he does not recognize anyone in particular except for the District Attorney at his trial.”
• March 19, 1997: “He reports some symptoms of anxiety today associated with a friend of his who had dropped his appeal. … He has become extremely depressed and has inflicted some self-injuries wounds during his previous executions.”
• May 31, 1997: “Henry reports that he gets along with staff and other inmates, but does not try to form strong friendships. He said that he had a good friend executed in 1986, and had a hard time dealing with his loss. … He tried to commit suicide in 1986.”
• Aug. 7, 1998: “States the inmate soon to be executed (Zane Hill) was ‘like a father to me. I tell him everything.’ Appears less anxious about the upcoming execution than previous.”
• March 23, 1999: “He requested to see this psychiatrist due to impending execution this week and ‘two of my friends five days apart next month.’ ”
• July 28, 1999: “McCollum stated that he had a dream that he himself was executed. He stated the dream frightened him.”
• Feb. 13, 2001: “McCollum stated ‘this will be a rough year because if the death sentences are not stayed then 22 of us will be given execution dates this year.’ ”
• Dec. 2, 2002: “McCollum wanted to see this psychologist because he was upset over the two executions in the next week.”
• Jan. 24, 2007: “Inmate is troubled over the three approaching scheduled executions … there is nothing he can do for inmates with scheduled execution dates. … He continues to profess his innocence and claims that there was no evidence to directly link him to the crime.”

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