Gregory Summers' last request sounded like the far-flung pinings of a romantic poet. Just before he died, the 48-year-old told friends he wanted Tuscany to be his final resting place. Summers' burial plea, though, was not that of a sentimental soul, but of a Texan triple-murder convict on death row. And Tuscany held no special place in his heart.
"Anywhere but Texas," was how Summers had put it to Maartje Kok-de Bruijn, an Amsterdam bookstore clerk who led a European campaign to overturn his 1991 conviction based solely on circumstantial evidence for contracting the stabbing death of his parents and uncle. "Greg just didn't want to be buried in the state that was going to kill him," she says. Kok-de Bruijn became Summers' pen pal in 1992, visited his Huntsville prison 30 times and witnessed his Oct. 25 execution by lethal injection. Shortly before his death, Summers accepted a last-minute offer to be buried in Tuscany after attempts to obtain burial rights in the Netherlands, Britain and Tennessee had been unsuccessful. The benefactor was Cascina middle school principal Maria Carmela Carretta, who'd been following the case with a class of sixth-graders after reading about it in a Catholic magazine.
In an industrial stretch of flatlands east of Pisa, Cascina is hardly the postcard Italy of undulating olive groves. With an auto-parts store behind the cemetery and the stripped face of a gravel mine in the distance, the burial service last week somehow seemed more Texan than Tuscan. Summers was wearing a pink Wrangler cowboy shirt and black pants inside the closed white coffin now pulled beside the back of the black Mercedes hearse.
Before his death, he'd asked that the kids who had gathered petitions on his behalf sign their names on his casket. Clad in shiny parkas, jean jackets and sneakers, they autographed with magic markers in the Italian-flag colors of green and red: Riccardo, Jacopo, Eva, Alessia, all bid goodbye with messages of "Ciao!" and "Con affetto." Pastor Gioele Fuligno, a Baptist minister, led the funeral rites with a fire-and-brimstone sermon that stunned the Catholic crowd. Strangely, though, it all seemed to make sense to the 100 or so townsfolk in attendance. All of it except for that Texas sentence handed down to a man who never stopped insisting he was innocent.
"The man inside this coffin died at the hands of a human tribunal he was killed by us!" Fuligno said, gripping a worn red leather Bible. "And yes, I say us, and not the Americans. For we are all involved in this story. We don't love enough in this world. Actually, we don't really love at all." For one 13-year-old here at the funeral of the 22nd person to be executed in Texas this year, the explanation is simpler: the death penalty is "something stupid."
In Europe, where capital punishment is virtually extinct, believers and nonbelievers see the practice as the clearest sign of a troubled American ethic perhaps even more than any aggressive Washington foreign policy. In recent polls, more than 60% of West Europeans say they oppose the death penalty, compared to less than one-fourth of Americans. Letter-writing campaigns against the death penalty are constant; Parlia-ment declarations denouncing the punishment frequent. Just down the road in Rome, the Colosseum is regularly illuminated to honor death-penalty victims, and before Summers, Italy had twice allowed men executed in the U.S. to be buried in its soil. Says Caterina Calderoni, a Milan music teacher who'd campaigned on Summers' behalf since 1998: "America is still a young society, and some values that we've developed over centuries have still not matured."
Around 4 p.m., as the sky darkened, Summers was lowered into a 2-m-deep grave. Kok-de Bruijn and Calderoni, the two who had spent time with the deceased, were the only ones crying. Fuligno then stepped up onto the nearby pile of earth and invited mourners each to toss a handful of dirt onto the coffin, as his fellow Baptists always do. After hesitating, the onlookers began to step forward. And, slowly, the white casket adorned with the teenagers' magic-markered calligraphy disappeared under a layer of soft, brown earth.