An Argentine Wants Them To Kill Him
By Martín Caparrós (El País Semanal)
Days ago his mother and his lawyer managed to get close to Pope Bergoglio to ask him if he might save his life. Meanwhile, from solitary confinement in the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, Victor Saldaño has spent years asking them to kill him.
I already asked him about it when I went to see him. Victor Saldaño had an even head of black hair, dark eyes like coal pits, a large white uniform with two black letters on the back: they said, DR, Death Row; sometimes one or two letters say everything. Saldaño was speaking from behind reinforced glass: he told me that he could not go on, that he’d spent four years locked up and he couldn’t do any more. That was ten years ago; now Saldaño is 42 and he’s still there, waiting for the moment to come.
– Do you sometimes think what it is going to be like?
– Well, I already know what’s going to happen. They put you on the bed. Then they kill you.
That’s what he told me that time. And he kept looking at me, lips tight, a mix of his fright and defiance. He was looking at me like I was underlining in a thick red marker: of course I know, dude. You think you could live here without knowing? What do you think I trick myself into believing in order to keep on going?
Saldaño is Argentinian, from Córdoba. As a youth he left his country to discover the world. He got lost. On 25 November 1995 he spent a couple of days drinking with his Mexican friend Jorge Chávez in a Dallas suburb. His crime was stupid and clumsy: witnesses saw him enter a business then they saw him leave pointing a gun at Paul Ray King, a 46-year old computer salesman. Witnesses saw them push him towards a nearby wood; witnesses saw them return alone. In the wood, King was dead, five bullets to his body. When hours later the police arrested Saldaño, he had King’s watch on his wrist and the gun in his pocket. His haul came to about 50 dollars.
– Do you sometimes remember King? Do you think about him?
– About who?
That’s what a distracted Saldaño told me back then. Of all the possible replies, it was the one I least expected.
– Why would I throw lies at you?
He was sentenced to death in 1996. At trial, an expert witness for the prosecution said that because he was “hispanic,” Saldaño was more violent by nature. Years later a lawyer managed to have the verdict annulled. He was tried again, and sentenced again.
– You see, they are going to put me to sleep with one injection and then they are going to inject me with poison. But that’s not what is traumatic for me. They’re what is traumatic. They break my balls, they do. They bust my balls way too much.
At the time he told me that “they” were the other prisoners, the rest of the condemned. Saldaño couldn’t bear his life in the prison. He couldn’t deal with the attacks, the years of not seeing daylight, without hugging a relative.
– Sometimes I ask myself if it wouldn’t be better for them to kill me right now… The life here is so tough that you say to yourself, “Why the fuck do I bother…” I want to live, just like everybody else. But everything’s dark to me, all black. That’s when sometimes I tell myself that it must end here and they should kill me.
– Don’t you fear death?
– No. I have seen many people die here, young people, and … What do I know? I believe that after death we are going to rest in peace.
– Do you believe in God?
– No. I have always been an atheist, since I was a boy. But I still believe that when I die I am going to be at rest.
Saldaño spoke with the haughtiness of the very shy. His smile was a mix of nerves and spite and pleading. When we said goodbye he put his hand against mine through the glass and he wished me luck. I did not know how to answer him. Since then he’s submitted volumes of papers requesting his execution. His family – and now the Pope – opposes it: they are asking for his life. Bergoglio has everything to win: if they don’t execute him he would have done everything possible – and I can’t think of a reason why anybody would say that his god is no big deal if he can’t save a lost man from Córdoba.
Prize-winning author of fiction and non-fiction, Martín Caparrós lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He also reports for El País and writes for its blog, Pamplinas. His most recent novel, published by Anagrama, is called, Comí (I ate). This article was first published under the title of, “Un Argentino quiere que lo maten,” in El País Semanal on 2 March 2014. The Spanish original is not yet available on the web.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.