HUNTSVILLE, TX — On October 7, 1998, two-time murderer Jonathan Wayne Nobles took his place on the gurney inside the execution chamber at Hunstville Prison in Texas.
In 1986, Nobles broke into an Austin residence and knifed to death Mitzi Johnson-Nalley, 21, and Kelly Farquhar, 24. When Mitzi’s boyfriend Ron Ross put up a fight, Nobles stabbed him 19 times. Ross barely survived and lost an eye in the process.
Nobles never denied his guilt. While locked up, he entered a 12-step recovery program, converted to Catholicism, and corresponded with interested outsiders.
Now, with his final moment at hand, Nobles came off as being profoundly sorry for the lives he took and the hurt he caused, as well as being at peace with his fate.
Among those gathered to witness Nobles succumbing to lethal injection were Ross, the other victims’ loved ones, including Mitzi Nalley’s mother Paula Kurland, and a friend he had been exchanging letters with for the previous decade — Steve Earle, the acclaimed country-rock singer-songwriter.
Kurland had met with Nobles once before. In mourning her daughter, she concluded that the only way to break the stranglehold of sadness would be to forgive Mitzi’s killer. That’s what she did, stating:
“You forgive because it frees you. Hopefully, one day, it will free the offender, but that’s not the reason you do it. You do it because it frees you. [It was] the hardest thing I ever did, second only to burying my child… but I knew that if I didn’t tell Jonathan I had forgiven him, I would be a prisoner for the rest of my life.”
After a two-decade drug addiction had landed Earle in jail, he cleaned up and became active in the recovery movement, as well as an outspoken crusader for prisoner’s rights in general and against capital punishment specifically.
While strapped to the execution table, Nobles craned his head to get a look at his friend and said, “Steve, I can’t believe I had to go through all this to see you in a suit coat.”
For his last meal, Nobles ate bread and part of the Catholic Eucharist sacrament. His parting words proved similarly Biblical in nature. Addressing the witnesses, Nobles said:
“I know some of you won’t believe me, but I am truly sorry for what I have done. I wish that I could undo what happened back then and bring back your loved ones, but I can’t. [to Paula Kurland] I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wish I could bring her back to you. [to Ron Ross] And Ron … I took so much from you. I’m sorry. I know you probably don’t want my love, but you have it.”
Nobles then recited the 1 Corinthians 13 passage from the New Testament, which ends with St. Paul declaring: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
With that, Nobles quoted Christ on the cross by saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” after which he began singing the Christmas carol, “Silent Night.”
Shortly thereafter, the state’s fatal combination of chemicals collapsed Nobles’ lungs and stopped his heartbeat. Steve Earle described what happened thusly:
“He gets as far as ‘mother and child’ and suddenly the air explodes from his lungs with a loud barking noise, deep and incongruous, like a child with whooping cough — ‘HUH!!!’ His head pitches forward with such force that his heavy, prison-issue glasses fly off his face, bouncing from his chest and falling to the green tile floor below. Five minutes later, he was pronounced dead.”
Some time before his execution, Jonathan Wayne Nobles reiterated his conscious role in reigning down horror on the innocent. He said:
“I don’t think I’m the monster who perpetrated these terrible acts, [but] nothing I can do for a thousand years can relieve me of my responsibility.”
Steve Earle echoed the necessity for Nobles to have been taken off the street and made to face some form of justice, deeming his friend, “an escalating serial killer who just happened to get caught first time.”
Still, Earle also stated: “I don’t think I’ll ever recover from [seeing Nobles executed]. I have absolute waking nightmares about it.”
Steve Earle also remains steadfast and dynamically active in his work to abolish the death penalty, and, in concert, he regularly performs a musical take on the Nobles case, “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song).”
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Main photo: Jonathan Wayne Nobles [Texas Department of Corrections]