Van E. Harl

REQUIREMENT OF A TEXAS RANGER

Have you ever watched someone died? You are called to your grandmother’s bedside as she is ending her well-lived life. It is not pleasant, but she is 90 years old and her death, no matter how sad, is a natural progression in the order of life.

Have you ever watched someone whose time to die was not suppose to be happening, but through violence of nature or society, that person has an untimely and, most likely painful death? I know I saw dead bodies on the side of the road after a car accident when I was a child. However, my parents would tell me they were just sleeping until help got there for them. I chose to believe that.

In my college years, I use to go to Lee County, Iowa on the weekends to visit relatives. In the course of one college semester, I was on the scene of five fatal car accidents. I watched a teenage boy, drag racing, wreck his family car and kill his little brother who was in the vehicle with him. I watched a car with four teenagers, as they burn to death in front of me, and I could do nothing. My cousin was with me at the time, and later we found out his girlfriend was in the car.

While in the Air Force I was called out to a plane crash where the aircrew member was burned almost beyond recognition, but was still alive. Later to die in the emergency room as I tried to hold back his grieving family members from getting to the remains.

As a member of the Crime Scene Investigation unit (CSI) of a Texas police department, I truly cannot remember how many people I have witnessed dead at a crime scene or dying in an emergency room. What I have never had to do is watch one person kill another person right in front of me. I am currently a Colorado Ranger, and I hope that before I hang up my badge and gun from that law enforcement experience, I do not have to watch an initiated death.

While in Texas, my police department would send me to Austin, to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) police academy to attend crime scene investigation courses. New Texas Rangers come from the rank and file members of the DPS. Rangers all start out on the road as uniformed patrolling Troopers. When they are promoted to Ranger, they have to attend many of the same crime scene investigation classes that I did. Needless to say, every course I attended had a couple Rangers in the class. And they had the “stories” to tell. These men, while new to Ranger-ing, had years of plain-clothes law enforcement experience with the DPS, in other areas of investigation. I even went western-apparel-clothes-shopping one night with four Texas Rangers. You try walking into a store with four gun and badge wearing, civilian clad Rangers, thinking this will be a low profile shopping experience; it was not, but I digress.

One of the things I learned from these Rangers is when the State of Texas executes a prisoner, by law; two Texas Rangers have to be present. There are less than 110 Texas Rangers at any given time, which means as a Ranger you will have to attend and witness many State initiated deaths.

Ft. Hood, with the killing of thirteen and the violent wounding by handgun of scores more, was something hundreds of people had to witness, regardless of if they wanted to or were prepared to see such carnage. A sad outcome of this shooting on a military reservation is that the Army will try the case. I am sure the alleged murdering Muslim Major will be fairly tried and convicted, but I will be surprised if the Doctor of Death will ever be executed by the military. The military has not put a prisoner to death since 1961. Give the case to the State of Texas. They will try it fairly, and, yes, they will upon conviction assign two Texas Rangers to attend the execution. Every Ranger I worked with in Texas had their share of executions to attend. I would venture to say there will be no problem getting Rangers to attend the convicted murdering Major’s date with the needle. With no insult meant or intended to Texas, if official witnesses should be hard to come by, I know one Colorado Ranger, who, at his own expense, would volunteer to attend.