Tarik Minor: Eyewitness to the execution of Gary Ray Bowles

Florida puts serial killer to death for slaying Jax Beach man in 1994

Witnesses look through a window into the execution chamber at Florida State Prison.

RAIFORD, Fla. – I honestly didn't know what to expect when I agreed to be a media witness at the execution of Gary Ray Bowles on Thursday at the Florida State Prison.

Bowles was convicted of three murders in Florida and received the death penalty for killing Jacksonville Beach resident Walter Hinton in November 1994. After his arrest, he confessed to killing six gay men in three different states.

4:50 p.m. Three other members of the media and I were driven into the prison in an old, white van for the execution scheduled for promptly at 6 o'clock.

On the way into the prison, I was overwhelmed by the size of the facility, the many electric and barbwire fences,  the guards with long guns in the towers above and all the layers of security necessary to get into a place no one wants to be. 

After completing a series of security checks, the three print journalists and myself were only allowed to bring in our ID and a few dollars cash for a vending machine. While we waited, we learned that the murder victim's family members would not be attending the execution because most of them are deceased and those still alive did not choose to witness the execution.

Only state prosecutors and detectives who worked on the case and the journalists would be in the death chamber to witness Bowles' execution.

The three other reporters and I waiting in the prison's visitor area were told at 5:50 p.m. that U.S. Supreme Court justices were reviewing an appeal from Bowles' attorneys that argued he was intellectually disabled and therefore unfit for execution. 

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10:15 p.m. Without a cellphone or any access to technology, we blindly waited for 5½ hours until we got word that the execution would take place. 

It was pretty surreal at this point. I began to realize I was nervous about what I was about to see. 

We were led through the large hallways at the Florida State Prison, which houses more than 2,200 inmates. It was like a maze of cell doors opening and closing as we followed jail officials to what seemed like the rear of the facility. 

We were led to another old, white van that would take us to the execution room. Inside, there were four rows of seats. In the front row -- 5 feet from a glass window through which we would watch Bowles' last minutes of life -- state attorneys were already seated along with law enforcement officials. I counted 19 men and eight women.

I was seated four rows back and I could see the reflection of the faces of those witnesses on the front row.

10:25 p.m. I have to admit I wasn't really prepared for what was next. Although the execution process had been explained to me many times, nothing can prepare you for seeing another person die. 

The next few minutes felt like an hour as everyone in the room looked straight ahead. No one said a word. No one looked at each other, and there were no greetings or hellos. I noticed former Duval County prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda, who obtained the conviction and death sentence against Bowles, on the front row. I had just interviewed de la Rionda two days prior, but again, there were no conversations or greetings. Just silence. Everyone realizing the gravity of the moment.  

10:35 p.m. A curtain behind the glass partition went up to reveal Bowles lying on a gurney with his feet closest to the glass window and the witnesses. His body was covered with a white sheet. He never looked at us watching through the glass.

There were three people in the execution chamber with Bowles: a chaplain and two assistants with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 

10:43 p.m. One of the men in the room picks up a phone and has a brief conversation with Gov. Ron DeSantis' office in Tallahassee. The two talked for roughly three minutes before the man motioned that he had clearance to begin the execution. 

10:44 p.m. Bowles was asked if he would like to make a statement. Bowles replied, "I'm not going to make a statement, I've already written one out, and people can read it if they want to." 

After he spoke, the execution process began with the first of three injections into Bowles body. 
The first consisted of a sedative, the second was to stop Bowles' heart and the third to stop Bowles from breathing. 

As the first injection is administered into the IV connected to Bowles' arm, it appears Gary Bowles was praying. I could see his mouth was moving but it's impossible to read his lips and know what he was saying or murmuring under his breath.

10:46 p.m. Bowles begins to take exaggerated deep breathes. I see his chest moving up and down and it's clear his heart is still beating in the final minutes of his life. One minute later Bowles' mouth stops moving altogether but his chest continues to rise and fall dramatically. 

10:48 p.m. There is still movement in Bowles' upper torso and chest. He appears to still be alive and then suddenly, some slight movement in his neck and then his body seemingly goes limp. There was no movement in his body for the next several minutes.

10:57 p.m. A medical examiner enters from behind a curtain in the execution chamber to check Bowles' vital signs.  The medical examiner opens Bowles' eyelids with his hands and proceeds to shine a light in his pupils to check for signs of life. 

The medical examiner checks Bowles pulse and heart rate to ensure that the lethal injection worked.

10:58 p.m. The FDLE official announces to the witnesses, "The Florida death sentence against Gary Ray Bowles has been carried out."

Gary Ray Bowles is dead. 

Silence consumes the room until the curtain falls and those witnesses closest to the execution leave the room and are whisked away on a waiting bus. A few moments later we all were led out of the execution room.

I've been in the news business since 1998 and I've covered many arrests, trials, verdicts, sentences and even the death penalty phase of the process.  It was not until very late Thursday night that I saw for myself the full circle of the judicial process in the state of Florida, from start to finish.