february 26, 2014
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — John Koch has a plastic container of manila envelopes that he sorts through rarely.
Each envelope contains hand-written notes, usually a script, and a piece of audio that is mostly cassette tapes.
“Now I’m putting them on CDs, I’m getting smart now,” said Kock.
The envelopes are dated with name written on them. The names represent every Florida inmate who’s received the death penalty in almost the last 25 years, some of whom have been the subject of Oscar-winning films.
“I saw Aileen Wuornos go,” he said.
Others like Allen Lee Davis of Jacksonville become known for a lavish request.
“His last meal was a large lobster tail, fried potatoes, half a pound of shrimp. This man was a large man,” Koch said.
Koch’s also documented a notorious murderer who went down in state history.
“I watched also the first woman to be executed in the state of Florida,” he said “That was Buenoano.”
Koch landed his front row seat at the hands of a policy within the Florida Department of Corrections. It allows news reporters to serve as witnesses during an execution.
“They give you two pencils and they give you a notebook to write on,” Koch said.
Koch is a Florida native who has been on the radio in the Live Oak area since the mid-1970s. He’s as much as an institution as the Dixie Grille where he likes to grab breakfast from time to time.
Koch began witnessing executions after one of Ted Bundy’s victims was found near Suwanee River State Park.
“I was there the day Robert Leonard, then Sheriff Robert Leonard, brought out the little girl’s body,” he said. “And I broke the story.”
About a decade later when Bundy was set to be electrocuted in 1989 Koch made sure he saw the story through. “And I started fighting on my end to get in there.”
He says he vividly remembers what happened when Bundy walked into the room.
“He looked over at the chair and you could see him give up,” Koch said. “That moment, that moment, he realized he ain’t going nowhere. It’s over.”
Koch says he also realized no one had ever regularly reported on what happens when an inmate is brought in to die. “What was the process? How does it work? What’s going on?”
So, he chose to continue witnessing executions as a way to inform people about a decades-old process that’s largely private and controversial. To this day members of the Catholic Church hold signs outside the Duval County Courthouse to show their opposition to capital punishment.
“Punishment is not the answer. The answer is you get the person to change. And it doesn’t change the horror that’s gone on or the loss that’s gone on,” says a protester outside the courthouse.
Koch though refrains from opinion and tries his best to remove himself from what’s happening in front of him.
“What’s your immediate feeling after watching somebody die? Nothing really,” he said. “Because they would have no feelings for you, none whatsoever.”
Each time he just writes down what he sees.
“I’ve always watched the hands. That always tells me a lot, whether they are nervous, they’re calm,” Koch said. “You can see the communication going back and forth between the team leader and the executioner.
“It’s gory. I hate it. It’s not fun watching people die whether they deserve it or not. I can feel the soul being wrenched early before it’s time. I sense all of that, but I put that aside and I’ve got 30 seconds to tell you a very important story.”
In all Koch has reported on the death of 63 Florida inmates and he doesn’t have plans to stop. He says people tell him to turn what’s inside his manila envelopes into a book.
But for now, he wants to stick to the only job he says that gives him goose bumps.
“Yeah, yeah, see, look at the goose bumps. I still get them and that is the reason I do any of this.”