The Killing Zone

The Killing Zone, which is on the record, Dawn and which you can hear below, is based on a true story about a guy who was on death row in Texas, who was ultimately killed by the state of Texas even though there was evidence of actual innocence withheld by the state at trial, even though someone else took sole responsibility for the murder, and even though the only eyewitness at trial admitted he lied and didn’t see the murder.


His name was Robert Nelson Drew. Drew was executed by the state of Texas for allegedly participating in the murder Jeffery Leon Mays. The state withheld a tape recording where the only alleged eyewitness, Bee Landrum, who testified to seeing Drew participate in the murder told them at his first interview that he didn’t see the murder. They also withheld subsequent lie detector tests with Landrum which further confirmed he didn’t see the murder.


Later, Landrum said in an affidavit under oath that he didn’t see the murder. Ernest Puralewski another hitchhiker Mays had picked up was also charged with Mays’ murder. His charges were still pending at the time of Drew’s trial so he refused to testify in Drew’s case. Puralewski pleaded guilty and got sentenced to sixty years in exchange. I hear he’s out now. Puralewski later signed an affidavit saying he alone committed the murder. Drew pleaded innocent, had a trial, was found guilty and was sentenced to death.


The Judge presiding over Drew’s trial, Charles Hearn, signed his execution order with a happy face. See the picture below. It was reported that Hearn said he'd put a happy face on his signature for as long as he remember remember, "in hopes of brightening someone’s day." At the time Texas had a law that restricted consideration of new evidence in post-conviction proceedings, even capital, to thirty days after conviction. Just brutal. I heard the law changed, but haven’t kept up. I know Texas’s executions have slowed, but I think as long as anyone is put to death by any governmental agency we’re still in Hamarabian times at best.





Bill Kunstler and Ron Kuby asked me to help out on a Texas civil action and habeas corpus petitions with them along with a giant hearted lawyer from Austin who specialized in capital cases named Robert Owen. At first we had some positive movement. We sued the state of Texas, governor Ann Richards and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole in civil court and got a stay of execution. The civil track was a long shot on jurisdiction, morally correct in every way, but vulnerable. Then the criminal court sued the civil court in the high court of Texas, arguing that they had interfered with their lawful mandate that Drew was to be killed. The high court of Texas agreed, and in effect said “off with his head.” Our habeas efforts in the federal courts were not successful and the Supreme Court denied certiorari February 28, 1994. They weren’t interested.


Drew was a poor white guy from Vermont. He wasn’t famous. He wasn’t rich or privileged. There were no celebrities showing up to champion his cause or much press to tell anyone about the fact that notwithstanding a substantiated claim of actual innocence that Drew was going to be killed as a matter of procedural convenience because the new evidence was obtained later than the 30 days provided by statute.


Ron Kuby called me to ask if I’d join him in Texas for the August 2, 1994 execution and I declined. I knew I’d probably never sleep again if I saw that. To his eternal credit, Ron went and was there to give Drew one of the last moments of compassion Drew would have. I couldn’t do it.


I stayed home that night, furious, depressed, sleepless and staring out the window. I remember it vividly. And that night I wrote a song called “The Killing Zone” which ended up on the record, Dawn.


Years later, when Ian Gillan, the singer for Deep Purple, was writing lyrics for a song called “Wrong Man” for Purple’s 2005 album Rapture of the Deep, he called me and asked me to tell him more about Drew’s case which we had talked about previously. I’m pretty sure the lyric in the song “Wrong Man” which said “off with his head” came from that conversation.


Here are the full lyrics to the song, Killing Zone:


Oh oh oh, I need a drink of water

Oooooo, I’m dying of thirst

Oh oh oh, the court’s been called to order

Oooooo, the judge is gonna do the worst


Lend me an ear I’ve got a story to tell

Been runnin’ so long my feets are starting to swell

At two past twelve the switch is gonna be thrown

Another one dies in the killing zone


Oh oh oh, I need a leg to stand on

Oooooo, I’m falling apart

Oh oh oh oh, I need a friend to rely on

Oooooo, I put on too many miles


Lend me an ear I’ve got a story to tell

Been runnin’ so long my feets are starting to swell

At two past twelve the switch is gonna be thrown

Another one dies in the killing zone


Oh oh oh, can’t wait for the change of season

Ooooooo, doesn’t make any sense

Oh oh oh, I’m trying to find the reason

Ooooo, the ends don’t justify the means


Lend me an ear I’ve got a story to tell

Been runnin’ so long my feets are starting to swell

At two past twelve the switch is gonna be thrown

Another one dies in the killing zone




















 © 2017-2020 by Michael Lee Jackson

  • Flickr Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • Facebook Social Icon