Priest who counselled Rodrigo Gularte – who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – says he tried in vain for three days to explain to the inmate he was about to die
A Brazilian man executed by firing squad along with seven other prisoners in Indonesia on Wednesday had no idea he was about to be killed until his final minutes, the priest who counselled him has said.
He also revealed that Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino woman who won a dramatic reprieve, had been aware a new suspect in her case had surrendered to police but was only removed from the prison about an hour before the killings.
Rodrigo Gularte, 42, was shot dead alongside seven others, including four Nigerians, two Australians and an Indonesian, for smuggling cocaine into Indonesia in 2004.
Doctors had diagnosed the Brazilian with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A second diagnosis, commissioned by Indonesia’s attorney general, has not been made public.
Father Charlie Burrows, a priest who ministers to prisoners in Cilacap, said he had tried in vain to explain to Gularte for three days that he was about to be killed.
“He was hearing voices all the time,” Burrows told Irish radio. “I talked to him for about an hour and a half, trying to prepare him for the execution. I said to him, ‘I’m 72 years old, I’ll be heading to heaven in the near future, so you find out where my house is and prepare a garden for me.’
“But when they took [the prisoners] out of the cells … and when they put these bloody chains on them, he said to me, ‘Am I being executed?’ ” Burrows said.
“I said, ‘Yes, I thought I explained that you.’ He didn’t get excited – he’s a quiet sort of a guy – but he said, ‘This is not right.’
“He’s lost because he’s a schizophrenic. He asked if there was a sniper outside ready to shoot him, and I said no, and whether somebody would shoot him in the car, and I said no,” Burrows said.
After Gularte was strapped to a wooden plank, Burrows was permitted to see him again: “He said, ‘This is not right, I made one small mistake, and I shouldn’t have to die for it.’ So he was annoyed more than anything else, because he’s a soft-spoken, quiet and sensitive man.”
Burrows told Guardian Australia that guards on Nusa Kambangan, the prison island where Indonesia executes convicts, had broken down crying when 30-year-old Mary Jane Veloso said goodbye to her two children for what was thought to be the final time.
He said Veloso had shown “a false sense of joy” during her final visit with her family and sons, aged 12 and six, but broke down at 2pm on Tuesday when told it was time to say goodbye. “She begged for more time, ‘Will I not get longer with my children? They’ll never see me again, I’ll never see them again,’” Burrows said.
“The whole place broke down in tears. The warden and attorneys felt real bad about it. They said to me they didn’t agree with the thing, they just had to do their job, that there should be a moratorium.”
He said some of the guards had asked him: “Are we responsible for the suffering of this poor woman and the families?”
Veloso, sentenced to death after arriving in Yogyakarta in 2010 with 2.6kg of heroin in her suitcase, has claimed she was set up by a human trafficker. She was granted a reprieve late on Tuesday after the suspected trafficker surrendered to Philippine police. Veloso was told of the development on Tuesday afternoon, Burrows said, but her fate seemed sealed.
It was between 10pm and 11pm, when the prisoners were locked in their cells for the final time, that she was taken away. “We were in the cells, just the time they give to the spiritual companions, and they took her out,” Burrows said.
“In the last minute she was actually in the cell with the police, there was three police, and they took her out back to Yogyakarta.”
Just after 11pm the prisoners were taken individually from the cells and driven to the execution site. They would not have been aware Veloso had been spared until they assembled at the firing range, he said.
He said the two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, led hymns among the prisoners as they waited to be killed, joined by their spiritual advisers 30 metres away. “They were all trying to be strong because it was uppermost in their minds that they had made a mistake and that mistake has had a devastating effect on their families,” he said.
Nigerians Raheem Agbaje Salami (also known as Jamiu Owolabi Abashin), Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Martin Anderson and Okwuduli Oyatanze were also executed on Wednesday morning, along with an Indonesian, Zainal Abidin.
The Indonesian attorney general, HM Prasetyo, said on Wednesday the eight men, all drug offenders, had been executed simultaneously at 12.35am local time. They were declared dead three minutes later.
“The result of the second execution was better, more orderly and more perfect than the last,” he said, referring to executions carried out in January and noting the bodies were treated more “humanely” this time.
“Out of the eight executed, four, according to their last requests, are to be buried in their home countries,” Prasetyo said. “Two in Australia, one in Brazil, and one in Nigeria.”
Abidin, the only Indonesian among the eight, was buried in Cilacap, near Nusa Kambangan, on Wednesday morning. Salami was to be buried in Madiun, East Java, and Anderson in Bekasi, West Java, he said.
The bodies of Chan and Sukumarun were expected to arrive back in Australia for burial on Friday.