Michael Graczyk has probably witnessed more executions than anyone. Now the veteran AP reporter is retiring—becoming a freelancer, actually—and discussing what it's like to see so many people killed by the state, the Washington Post reports. "I understand there's a certain curiosity that a lot of people have about that," says the 68-year-old Texas resident. "It certainly comes up in conversations with people who want to know, 'Wow, what’s that like?'" Partly, it's business: The witness of nearly 430 executions in America's most prolific state says he interviews offenders, lawyers, and victims' families, and stays unemotional to get the job done. "They're not my loved ones," he tells the Guardian. "I think that's part of the process that makes it easier for me." But he's seen unforgettable things.
Back in 1998, double murderer Jonathan Nobles sang "Silent Night" in the execution chamber and faded out after "round yon virgin, mother and child," which Graczyk says he recalls every Christmas singing it in church. In 1992, Robert Black—facing execution for paying a man to kill his wife—greeted Graczyk from his gurney: "Hi Mike, how you doin'?" Black asked. "I look like a stretched out goose, don't I?" Graczyk has also seen family members collapse in agony or give loved ones comforting last words. Now, with US execution rates falling, support for them apparently fading, and newsrooms getting cut, Graczyk may be the last of his kind—but no less vital for it. "It's important that someone who has no stake in the case" be there, he says. "If the state's going to take a life … then it ought to be done properly, according to the rules of law." (Read more execution stories.)