I met Cory for the first time on Wednesday, about an hour before the hearing began. He was dressed in a bright red jumpsuit, white tube socks, and prison-issue brown thong sandals. He also wore the same light goatee visible in prior pictures of him.
I’ve written a bit before about Cory’s smile — or at least what his attorney Bob Evans has told me about it. In just about any other context, it’d be a smile you’d describe as infectious, ingratiating, and warm. The guy lights up a room.
In the context of a death penalty trial, however, that insistent smile couldn’t have helped him. Death penalty defendants, of course, aren’t supposed to light up a room.
Cory showed the same smile the moment I walked into the room to meet him. He was gracious, respectful, and a little shy. I didn’t find smile the least bit smirky or disrespectful or discourteous. But given that two and a half years ago, it was coming from a man on trial for his life, I could see how a juror might. I don’t know how to explain it. The guy just smiles a lot. It’s just there.
We didn’t discuss any specifics of the case, of course. And the entire conversation lasted only about ten minutes. But he expressed his gratitude for all the support he’s received, and for all everyone’s doing on his behalf. He specifically asked that I pass on his appreciation for the support from people who have never met him. Evans regularly prints out the blog posts, comments, and supportive messages around the Internet, and sends them to Cory at Parchman. He’s received letters from all over the world. And they’re great for his mood.
I was actually struck by how placid he seemed. He was doe-eyed, soft-spoken, and of course, smiling. Not what I had expected from a condemned man. I’d expect even an innocent man to have been a bit hardened by some 30 months on death row.
Evans tells me Cory has never complained or gotten angry about what’s happened to him, though he of course maintains his innocence. He says Cory still refers to Ron Jones — a man he met for the first time as Jones broke into his home, and the man who is one big reason Cory is in the predicament he’s in — as “Mister Ron,” a term of affection and respect in the South. If you’ll remember, that’s consistent with the way Cory described Jones in his letter to a supporter I posted a while back. To me anyway, that’s a remarkable display of grace and forgiveness.
I saw little bitterness or resentment in Cory. Not that it would speak any less of them if someone in his position were to show some anger. Still, I saw none. Note in the letter linked above, he says he “holds no grudges,” remarkable in that it’s a letter written from a jail cell. In the short time I spoke with him, his primary emotion was gratitude. Evans says Cory’s feelings about the case are rather stoic. He often says, simply, “It’s in y’all’s hands, and it’s in God’s hands.”
Just after I met with Cory, his son Cory, Jr. went with Covington attorney Jess Gabels to meet his father for a few private moments in the jury room before the hearing. I couldn’t see what transpired inside, but Cory Jr. did not come back to the courtroom sad or dejected to see his dad in shackles, frigthened, or anxious. On the contrary. The kid was walking on air — strutting, really, back to his seat — and proudly showing off the same broad grin he’d inherited from the man he’d just hugged (for the first time in several years). Just one of several times over the last couple of days that I’ve had to choke back a lump in my throat.
On death row, Cory was permitted only non-contact visits, which means hasn’t allowed to touch his kids when they visited him. I’m not sure how things work for prisoners in the general population at Parchman. But if he gets to now have some real visits with them, where he can touch them and hug them and hold them, that’ll be one very real, very tangible, very positive thing to have come from Thursday’s ruling.
You should read all of the above while keeping in mind my own and Evans’ own biases, of course. But one thing that became very clear to me this week is that this is not the kind of man who be should be subjected to the most severe punishments allowed by our criminal justice system. He clearly isn’t a threat to society. He isn’t dangerous. He isn’t even a petty threat — remember, the guy had no prior criminal record. This is no Tookie Williams.
Seems to me that death penalty supporters should rally to Cory Maye’s cause. Because if the guy I met and heard described in court testimony this week can be executed, then it’s not an exceptional punishment, it isn’t reserved for the most heinous of crimes and dangerous of offenders, and the moral case for keeping it around rests on a pretty flimsy foundation. If this guy gets executed, for doing what just about any of us would have likely done in the same situation, then just about any of us could well be where he’s sitting right now.