The execution of David Neal Cox
SUNFLOWER COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - 2 p.m. David Neal Cox had four hours left to live.
He was set to die at 6 p.m. when a series of three drugs would be injected into his body one by one, rendering him unconscious and relaxing his breathing until his heart stopped beating.
Cox had spent the last nine years of his life on Death Row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm, which stands in the middle of the Mississippi Delta.
The Delta, green with life in the spring and summer, is a virtual desert in the fall and winter months. Where crops once grew in bounty is now only dirt. And miles of it.
On the day of Cox’s execution, there was a strong wind blowing across the Delta. The sun would sporadically break through the litany of white clouds, the deep blue of the sky in stark contrast to the patches of dead grass surrounding Parchman Farm.
Burl Cain, the 79-year-old commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, held his first of three press briefings at exactly 2 p.m. Right on schedule.
Donning a patterned navy suit and wearing blue-tinted aviators, Cain described a calm and upbeat Cox who had been guzzling Mountain Dew in the days leading up to his execution.
Cox had been transferred to Unit 17 the previous Sunday. The Unit, now used solely for executions, is an island unto itself in the fields of the sprawling prison complex and can only be accessed by a single road.
It is surrounded by a perfect rectangle of tall fencing topped with spiraled barbed wire, guard towers erected at each angle.
Unit 17 was a potential oasis from what Cox had experienced while living on Death Row where prisoners are isolated and kept in a constant state of discomfort.
Due to a lack of air conditioning, temperatures on Death Row can become stifling in the summer; inmates sometimes having to strip down to their boxers in order to cope.
Those on Death Row live in their cell, described as the size of a parking spot, nearly 24 hours a day. This is where they will eat, sleep, and use the bathroom.
They will live like this for the remainder of their life. Cox was there only six years before requesting to die, for, in his words, he was a “guilty man worthy of death.”
Nearly three years after that request was made, and if all went according to plan, his wish would be granted.
The crime worthy of death happened the day of March 14, 2010.
A year prior, Cox had been arrested when his stepdaughter confessed to her mother, Kim, that Cox was raping her. As he wasted away in jail, he often became inundated with rage when speaking of his wife.
He told his incarcerated comrades that he would kill her when he got out.
He was released from the Pontotoc County Jail in April and in May, he bought a gun. A .40 caliber and two extra magazines.
Kim and her children were, at this point, living with her sister out of fear that David might one day seek his revenge. Kim had gone as far as filing a restraining order against him.
But Cox knew where to find his wife on March 14 and shot his way into his sister-in-law’s home, restraining order be damned. While Kim’s sister managed to make it out of the house, Kim, along with two of her children, were trapped inside.
So began eight hours of hell.
Cox shot Kim once in the arm and once in the stomach. While his son hid in a closet, he proceeded to sexually assault his 12-year-old stepdaughter three times in front of her helpless mom.
Police would soon surround the home in which he was holding the three hostage. Negotiators repeatedly spoke with Cox over the phone, pleading with him to release his dying wife.
“Since you’re so interested in her... I want you to hear her beg before she dies,” Cox told one negotiator.
Kim, at one point, was handed the phone. It was not a hostage negotiator on the other end, but her father. “Daddy,” she told him. “I’m dying.”
“Cox never released Kim for medical care, satisfying his depraved desire to see Kim suffer and die mercilessly,” court documents stated.
At 3:23 a.m. on March 15, a SWAT team finally broke into the house, bringing an end to David Cox’s sadistic game. He was arrested and the children were rescued.
The SWAT team also discovered Kim’s body. She had bled to death.
4:45 p.m. David Cox had an hour and fifteen minutes left to live.
By now he had consumed his last meal of fried catfish, coleslaw, hushpuppies and banana pudding.
As his execution drifted closer, he had begun expressing remorse for the crime he was to die for. At one time I was a good man, Cox told Burl Cain, before I was a bad man.
The seeds of the bad man may have begun taking root as early as childhood when Cox was consistently exposed to porn and when he witnessed his father raping his sister. They may have begun to grow, still, when David stayed home from school and huffed gasoline and when he eventually became addicted to meth.
The internal battle between the good man and bad man were on full display in three letters sent by David in July, August and November of 2018.
In the first letter, Cox wanted Union County District Attorney Ben Creekmore and Third Judicial District Judge Kelly Luther to know that “if I had my prefect way [and] will about it, Id [sic] ever so gladly dig my dead, sarkastic [sic] wife up of in whom I very happilly [sic] [and] premeditatedly slaughtered... [and] with eager pleasure kill” her again.
He ended this letter by writing, “Love Jesus [and] David Cox.”
In the second he wrote to Mississippi Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. asking to have all of his appeals waived. In a markedly different tone than the first letter, David sought to be executed ”ASAP.” On the back of this letter David wrote, “In Jesus’ name - Amen.”
In the third and last letter, David introduced “Skin 1″ and “Skin 2.”
“Skin #1 seeks life [and] relief, [and] Skin #2 seeks death [and] relief, still,” he said. Skin 1 was not willing to die, Cox explained, while Skin 2 was willing to surrender.
“David Cox as a whole is not a single unit, but two - David Cox within David Cox is a living division of separate matter within the same vessel of life. Still.”
“In Jesus’ name - Amen,” the last line read. “By David Cox [and] David Cox - STILL”
5 p.m. David Cox had one hour left to live. It was at this time that those selected to witness Cox’s execution began the trek to Unit 17.
After crossing metal detectors and being patted down, the five media witnesses were handed a pen and notepad. We were then made to wait in a large, empty room until the van came to take us to the death chamber.
Once the white MDOC van arrived and as the witnesses stepped outside, everyone stopped to stare upward. The sun was beginning to set, releasing a final blast of color before darkness took its place.
The wind that had been so strong hours before had all but subsided. The earth was still. It was 5:29 p.m.
The ride was short and not much was said. We were soon on a dirt road, at the end being Unit 17 that, in the dark, resembled a well-lit fortress.
At the gate, everyone inside the van got out in order to be searched for the second time. Back on the van, we waited.
It was now 5:44 p.m. and there was a growing sense, foolish or not, that we may very well miss the execution.
“Tic-toc,” someone muttered under their breath. “We’re cutting it close,” said another.
But the trepidation was for naught, for the van suddenly started moving until it had breached the fenced gates of Unit 17. The van parked in the gravel and the clock on the dashboard shone 5:46 p.m.
Everyone disembarked and were guided towards a door in the building leading down a bright white hallway. We walked down this hallway to the last door on the right.
We had been warned beforehand that the room would be small, and it was. But it had enough space for several rows of steel foldout chairs all facing a window obstructed by a dark curtain.
Sixteen people squeezed into the room, some having to stand. Everyone focused their eyes on the window.
The front row of three chairs was occupied by two women and a man who, it would later be revealed, were associated with the Mississippi Office of Capitol Post-Conviction Counsel.
Cox had been a client of theirs before waiving his appeals. He had, however, requested his attorneys with the CPCC witness his execution.
There was to be no talking while in the witness room. The only sound heard was the steady wave of breathing in-out, in-out. Then a watch’s beep-beep pierced the silence. Then another. Beep-beep.
It was 6 p.m.
David Cox had seconds left to live.
The curtain on the other side of the window slowly started drifting upward. Before us lay Cox crucifixion-style on a gurney, his arms stretched at his sides with tubes entering both wrists, his 6-foot-2 body tethered to the gurney by thick, leather straps.
His red jumpsuit was mostly hidden under a large white sheet coming up to his chest. He had grown a large beard, the color a mixture of black, white and gray. The hair on his head was unkempt.
There were several people inside the room with Cox, including Burl Cain - the eyes behind his aviators transfixed on the man lying in front of him.
Cox was asked if he had any final words. Yes, he did.
A microphone attached to the ceiling was lowed to Cox’s face, the sound of his voice coming through a speaker above the window of the witness room.
With a country drawl, Cox said that he wanted his children to know that he loved them. He was a good man at one time. Don’t read anything but the King James Bible. Lastly, he wanted to thank Burl Cain for being so kind to him.
And that’s all he had to say.
With that, the microphone was lifted back towards the ceiling and Cox closed his eyes.
Midazolam would be the first drug injected into David Cox. He would be unconscious within 30 seconds. The next drug, vecuronium bromide, would induce a state of paralysis and cause his diaphragm to fail. And the third drug injected into Cox, potassium chloride, would stop his heart.
The only movement he exhibited throughout this process was a few seconds of slight twitching in his throat and lips. Besides this, he was perfectly still.
Soon, Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton stepped towards the gurney and put a stethoscope to Cox’s still body. He was dead. It was 6:12 p.m.
“The execution is complete,” a man inside the chamber proclaimed. And with that, the curtain on the window began to descend.
It was 6:36 p.m. and Burl Cain was giving his last press briefing of the night. To him, the execution of David Cox was the smoothest he had ever witnessed.
He made a point to address the lives that Cox had left shattered in his wake, the life of Kim Cox he had so cruelly stolen, the events of March 14, 2010 that initiated his execution on November 17, 2021.
But as awful as it was, there was nothing Cain could do about that March day. All he could do was make sure Cox’s execution went as smoothly as possible, and, in that regard, he had succeeded.
The CPCC released a statement that same night. Cox had told them of the conditions inside Parchman, the letter stated, and that this was a reason the decision surrendering his appeals was so easy; the reason Skin 2 had conquered Skin 1.
After Cain was finished speaking, the media, having had their questions answered, began to pack up and trickle out of Parchman Farm.
Another person making their way out of the quiet Mississippi Delta that night was Lindsey Kirk, the stepdaughter of David Cox whom he had tormented all those years before.
Kirk, who had witnessed the death of her mother, had now also bore witness to the execution of her stepfather.
A week before his execution, the now 23-year-old Lindsey sat down for an interview with the Associated Press.
She showed them the tattoos she has in memory of her mother. She confessed that she had wanted Cox to sit on Death Row for the remainder of his life, but that she had grown to stomach the idea of his execution in the days before.
But much like the permanence of the tattoos adorning her skin, so were the memories of that March day. The sons of David were still processing what transpired that day, with one admitting to his grandmother that he feared his father returning to harm him.
To this, his grandmother told him, “a dead person can’t hurt anybody.”
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