'PRAYER WARRIORS' hold vigil for young death row inmate scheduled to die on Wednesday

Saturday, August 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GRAPELAND, Texas (AP) _ For a moment, the singing, the praying, the hand-wringing at Mount Zion Baptist Church soothed Rena Beazley's broken heart.

The hymns and prayers were for her son, a 25-year-old who has been on death row since he was convicted of a fatal carjacking committed when he was 17. On Wednesday, Napoleon Beazley is scheduled to die.

``Even today, Napoleon to me, is a child,'' Rena Beazley said. ``He's been put in a man's position in prison. He has been forced to grow up. It breaks my heart because he deserves a second chance.''

The impending execution has drawn criticism from children's rights advocates who say Napoleon Beazley was too young to be sentenced to death. Amnesty International highlighted the case in a recent report, calling the United States ``a rogue state as far as capital punishment is concerned.'' The American Bar Association, while it has no position on the death penalty in general, opposes it for anyone under 18.

At Mount Zion, where the church-goers remember Napoleon Beazley from Sunday school, community members and clergy have become self-described ``prayer warriors,'' praying for him four times a day for weeks.

Friday night, more than 100 people joined his mother in song and prayer. The all-black congregation punctuated pastors' speeches with choruses of amens, and members told stories of how they had been victimized by crime but found the strength to forgive. They prayed for the same tolerance for Beazley.

Rev. Harry Fred Scott, president of the NAACP's Houston County branch, urged state officials to stop the execution.

``If something doesn't move in the heart of the governor, he will die on the 15th,'' Scott said of Beazley. ``Why can't Gov. Rick Perry stand up like a man and stop this?

``We live in a state that seems to have a quota on how many people they can kill that are minority.''

Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen said the prayer service's focus was misdirected. The prayers should be for John Luttig, Beazley's victim, he said.

Luttig was 63 when three young men confronted him in his driveway on April 19, 1994, and shot him while his wife stood nearby. They then stole his Mercedes. Beazley and brothers Cedric and Donald Coleman, all from Grapeland, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas, were arrested seven weeks later.

Beazley is now among 31 Texas current death row prisoners who were 17 _ the minimum age to receive the death penalty _ at the time of their crime. He doesn't want his mother to witness his execution, but she'll visit him beforehand to say goodbye.

John Stell, a family friend, said he realizes that prayers alone won't save Beazley's life.

``We don't think it will sway anything,'' Stell said. ``But we pray his soul will be saved.''