What it's like to interview a death row inmate

My experience inside the Florida State Prison

By Tom Wills - 5 & 6 p.m. anchor

RAIFORD, Fla. - Mark Asay, who facing being put to death Thursday evening for killing two Jacksonville men one July night in 1987, asked me to come to Florida State Prison for his first and only interview since he was sentenced to death. The 53-year-old has been on death row for almost three decades in what prosecutors said were racially-motivated murders.

News4Jax photographer Tommy Garcia and I were with this condemned man for an hour. He was handcuffed, shackled, and chained, while we sat across the table from each other and he told me his story.

He denies he murdered Robert Lee Booker. However, he told me flat out he is guilty of murdering Robert McDowell.  It is the first time in my career as a reporter I’ve heard such a thing from another person’s lips.

He wept frequently during our conversation. I’m no judge, but he appeared genuinely sorry for the pain he has caused others, including his loved ones.

He has clearly made up his mind that if he cannot win release from prison, he prefers execution to another day behind bars. He put it this way, “I either want to go out the front door (freedom) or the back door (death)."

Many years ago, I interviewed another inmate at the state prison, a convicted rapist from Miami who was eventually exonerated through DNA evidence and released.

Afterwards, when I walked through the three sets of sliding barred doors, I experienced a remarkable sensation that relatively few of us ever experience.

I felt freedom.

Tuesday, after being with Asay, I felt it again when I walked through the open prison doors to freedom.  No other parking lot ever looked so good.

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