Confessed killer Ronson Bush lives in an 11 by 15-foot cell on Death Row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla.
If you can call that living.
Having waived all of his appeals, he quietly awaits his execution, set for some time next summer, amid mottled gray concrete walls, reinforced glass, iron bars and razor
wire. Five days a week he is allowed to go outside for an hour into a 40 by 40-foot area with high walls and steel mesh overhead.
He cannot see the sun or the green summer trees. Only the concrete walls.
His world is mostly gray, with only a few colorful snapshots of his family to break up the monotony.
"The hardest part is waiting and the pain I've caused everybody for no reason. I feel what they feel, and, on top of that, I've got the guilt of doing it," he said. "The waiting makes you second guess yourself, your faith…but when they execute me, I’ll have a clear conscience. I stood up and took responsibility for my part.”
Bush spends his days in the small cell reading the Bible and watching TV. Dirty Jobs, Pawn Stars and American Pickers are a few of the programs he watches to pass the time. Shows that portray scenes of life on the “outside.”
A place Bush will never know again.
On Dec. 22, 2008, Bush shot and killed Billy Harrington, his long-time best friend and confidant.
Bush first shot Harrington as he sat in his easy chair in his own living room. Harrington then stumbled outside into the frigid winter night, making his way down the porch stairs. Bush followed him and shot him again. This time in the back.
Bush then went into a nearby barn and came back with a length of rope which he used to tie Harrington’s leg to the back of a pick up truck. He then dragged his dying friend into a field and left him.
The actions of a cold-blooded killer.
A monster some might say.
Not a monster
But Ronson Bush says he is not a monster.
“I’m not the mean, violent person they say I am,” he says. “I don’t want them to remember me for this; it was such a senseless act. I want them to remember the me that everybody loved.”
On the day of the murder, Bush had just been released from Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman, where he voluntarily admitted himself to get help with a drinking problem.
However, upon learning he had been placed in an area for those with mental disorders and nothing to do with alcohol rehabilitation, Bush called Harrington to come and get him.
Harrington picked him up and the two friends went out for a meal before returning to Harrington’s residence. Bush said Harrington had located another rehab facility in Ardmore and the two planned to check it out.
Bush and Harrington then pulled out a rifle and a handgun and passed the late afternoon by target shooting, Harrington jokingly admonishing Bush not to shoot at his cow skulls because they were hard to come by and he’d have to replace them if he shot them up.
Drugs and alcohol
Earlier, while still at the hospital, Bush was given the antidepressant Celexa, a class of drug known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Celexa is a drug that some health professionals say can cause individuals taking it to experience a loss of caring that can unleash dangerous actions.
Psychologist Dr. Gail Poyner, an expert witness who testified in Bush's defense, says, "Research has consistently shown that in certain people, SSRIs can cause adverse reactions that include suicide, violence, even homicide.
"Studies published in respected scientific journals are drawing attention to the very real dangers of SSRIs - especially in individuals whose brains are missing certain enzymes needed to metabolize these drugs. For those people, the build up of SSRIs can lead to devastating, out of character behavior."
Poyner also said it is very common for individuals who commit SSRI-related crimes not to remember their own actions while under the influence of the drug.
Bush believes the Celexa in his system had much to do with the tragic events of Dec. 22, 2008.
"It kills me what happened; it just does not make sense," he says. "I've been drunk and high before and I've never had a violent thought. The only factor that's different is the Celexa."
In addition, over the course of the evening, Bush consumed a pint of vodka, telling Harrington he felt “weird” and “numb to everything.”
At this point, Bush’s story and the prosecution’s story begin to differ.
According to Bush, when he and Harrington went back inside after target practice, Harrington leaned the rifle against a wall and Bush placed the handgun on the coffee table.
Prosecutors, however, said Bush purposely placed the weapons in Harrington’s home.
“They said I placed guns around the house and that just wasn’t true,” Bush said.
Bush said he recalled wrestling with Harrington’s dog, a boxer, while Harrington talked to a girl on the phone and later, the two men sat down and began talking about Christmas, just three days away.
“I was talking about gifts I wanted to get my son and Stephanie (Bush’s estranged girlfriend). I told Billy I was going to make it work between me and Stephanie,” Bush said. “Billy told me to forget about her and that she was messing around on me. Then he said ‘I (expletive) her myself.’ That’s the last thing I remember."
It was at that point that Bush picked up the handgun lying on the coffee table and shot Harrington, although he says he had no memory of his actions until later that evening when he went outside to the barn.
“I had a weird feeling and when I came back, I saw Billy lying on the ground and I tried to wake him up,” he said. “At the time, it wasn’t real; it didn’t make sense. For the life of me, I don’t remember dragging him. It was like I was a step behind everything that was going on.”
Bush said in the time he’d known Harrington, the two friends had never even exchanged a harsh word.
“Up to the second it happened, we were not arguing or fighting. Nothing led up to it,” Bush said. “It ain’t like I meant to do it. The doctor said I just got so mad, my brain shorted out.”
Later, Bush left Harrington’s house and went to Stephanie’s house.
Here again Bush's story and the prosecution's story differ.
Prosecutors say Bush went to Stephanie's house, unscrewed a light bulb so it would not come on when someone flipped the switch, and was lying in wait for her to return.
Bush, on the other hand, says, “I wasn’t lying in wait for her; I just went in and went to sleep. Then she came in and said ‘What’s going on? Where’s Billy?’ That’s when I woke up and thought, ‘Did this really happen?’”
At that time, Bush asked Stephanie to call the police.
He has been in custody since that night.
Although Bush is entitled to a series of appeals, he has chosen to waive them, against the advice of his attorneys.
"They say I'm giving up, but there's a difference between giving up and standing up and taking the responsibility for what I did," he says.
Bush said he would rather be executed than spend the rest of his days in prison.
"What kind of life is this? Billy wouldn't want me to be in here like this," he says. "I beat myself up every day. I deserve the death penalty for what I did."
In addition to living with the pain of killing his best friend, Bush also lives with the pain he caused Harrington's family and his own family.
Bush admits he has experienced fear about what lies ahead for him, but says, "I know I've been forgiven by God for what I've done. I think everybody has a fear of death. I'm scared, but I'm sure Billy was scared that night, too."
Ronson Bush's one mandatory appeal will expire in May 2011. His execution is set for the summer of 2011.