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Donald Cabana Obituary

Donald A. Cabana (Associated Press/Stephen Rouse)
Donald A. Cabana (Associated Press/Stephen Rouse)
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Donald A. Cabana, a longtime corrections official who oversaw executions as warden at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in the 1980s and later came to oppose the death penalty, died Monday. He was 67.

Cabana died at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg after a long illness, the Mississippi Department of Corrections said.

Cabana spent 40 years in corrections, including stints as warden at Parchman and commissioner of the state Department of Corrections. He was chairman of the criminal justice programs at the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University.

He worked as warden at the Harrison County jail. He also worked in the Missouri corrections system.

Services will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Hattiesburg with burial in Highland Cemetery.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps said Tuesday in a statement that Cabana worked for the Department of Correc tions when Epps was a correctional officer at Parchman and after Epps became commissioner.

"Dr. Cabana was well-known and well-respected in the corrections community," Epps said. "We were extremely fortunate to have obtained his service and commitment. I remember like it was yesterday when Dr. Cabana was superintendent at Parchman and I was a correctional officer. Don was a legend and an icon to our profession."

In the 1980s, Cabana supervised executions of two men convicted of capital murder, Edward Earl Johnson and Connie Ray Evans.

In his memoir, "Death At Midnight: The Confessions of an Executioner," Cabana recounted his experiences with death row inmates and how he came to oppose the death penalty. In the book's preface, Cabana wrote that he spent most of his career as a prison administrator convinced of the need for capital punishment.

"I had always been something of a bureaucratic utopian, fully committed to the notion that if the government d eemed capital punishment necessary then it must be so.... Not until I was confronted with supervising and carrying out the ultimate retribution did I begin to question the process in earnest.

"The execution of Edward Earl Johnson served as a milestone, an event at which to pause and wonder. But it was the execution of Connie Ray Evans that became, for me, a personal moment of truth," Cabana wrote.

Cabana said he and Evans had become friends during the inmate's years on death row. Cabana said in his book that he went as far to ask the governor to commute Evans' death sentence, which was denied.

Cabana said he "violated my cardinal rule never to get close to your clients," allowing himself to befriend Evans, who was put to death for killing a convenience store clerk in 1981.

A BBC documentary in 1987, "Fourteen Days in May," followed the two weeks leading up to the Johnson's execution, including Cabana's role as warden.

In testimony before a Minnesota le gislative committee in 1995, Cabana said: "However we do it, in the name of justice, in the name of law and order, in the name of retribution, you . . . do not have the right to ask me, or any prison official, to bloody my hands with an innocent person's blood.... If we wrongfully incarcerate somebody, we can correct that wrong. But if we execute an innocent person by mistake, what is it we're supposed to say - 'Oops'?"

Cabana later wrote "The History of Capital Punishment in Mississippi," which outlined the change from one method of execution to another: public hanging, electric chair, gas chamber and lethal injection.

Survivors include his wife, Miriam; three sons, three daughters, six grandchildren and a brother.

___

JACK ELLIOTT JR., Associated Press


Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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