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'Mexican Hit Man Laughs, Forgives

Before Execution," headlines read the morning after the State of Virginia killed 26-year-old Mario Benjamin Murphy.

"It's a good day to die," he was reported as saying when strapped to a gurney on Wednesday, September 17, at 9:00 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia. Seconds before his death by lethal injection, Mario laughed and said to his executioners, "I forgive you all. I hope God does, too."

Wire service stories mentioned only briefly, if they mentioned it at all, the candlelight vigil outside the prison where Silvia Murphy, Mario's mother, stood and waited. She'd waited since 3:00 p.m. after guards ordered her and her daughter Natalia off prison property. They'd had only a two-hour visit with Mario before he died.

"My God, my God," Silvia Murphy remembers. "My poor baby."

Speaking from her home in Virginia Beach, where she's lived since 1982, her voice is soft. Her Mexican accent has given way to a Southern one.

"It was the most difficult thing. My baby. It was the first time in six years that I was able to be near him, to touch him, to hold him. I can't explain to you what that's like, being a mother, and being able to hold my son for the first time in six years just a short time before he dies. I knew that the visit was going to end. There was nothing I could do. I wanted the visit to last forever. There was nothing I could do to make it last forever. The clock kept moving. I knew the visit would end and he would turn and walk away and I would never, never see my son again."

Silvia Murphy prays to God for strength. There are times when she feels she can no longer bear the pain, although she's had a great deal of practice bearing pain. In the early 1960s, when she was 11, she and her mother and two older sisters moved from Guadalajara to Tijuana. They lived in Colonia del Rio, in the hills southeast of downtown, not far from the airport. When she was 12 years old, her mother's live-in boyfriend raped her. Silvia told no one. She waited. When she was 16 years old and had finished sixth grade, she left Tijuana to work cleaning house for her godmother in Fallbrook.

In 1969 Silvia got a job cleaning house and babysitting for a man who was getting divorced. He was Portuguese and worked as a mechanic in Solana Beach. He and Silvia fell in love, she says, and he was Mario's father.

"It was a mess," she remembers. "His ex-wife found out. It was terrible. Not to mention my family's reaction. But there I was, a young girl, pregnant. What could I do? I had to go home, back to Tijuana. I never told Mario about his biological father."

Mario was born at Clinica de Jesus near Guererro Park in Tijuana. He was a good and quiet baby, but the atmosphere at home was not so quiet. Silvia hadn't gotten along with her mother since her mother's boyfriend had raped her. She'd kept quiet about it as long as she could, and one day she confronted her mother with what had happened. Her mother didn't believe her. Her mother said she was lying. They argued. Her mother told her to get out.

Silvia left Tijuana with four-month-old Mario. She found a job in Long Beach, caring for a mentally disabled 20-year-old girl. After a few months Mario's father showed up saying he was still trying to work things out with his wife. He wanted to get back together with Silvia. He visited her several times, played with his son, and one day disappeared. Not long after, Silvia met an American man named Jerry. He was so moved by her story that he offered to marry her so she could become an American citizen. On November 24, 1972, they drove down to Coronado, where they were married by a justice of the peace. Silvia was pregnant again.

"To this day I still don't know if Mario's father or Jerry was Natalia's father. It didn't matter. I was married. It maybe wasn't a marriage for love, but I was married. I moved back to Tijuana to live with my family until my immigration papers were sorted out. It took a long time. My papers finally came through in 1974, and I and my babies moved from Tijuana to National City. By that time, Jerry and I had gone our separate ways. He had his own problems to deal with. So I moved in with a friend who was a single mom with five kids of her own. There I was with my two kids. We did our best, trying to raise all these kids together, trying to make a living. I got a job working as a housekeeper at the Holiday Inn. A little later I got a better job as a housekeeper at the Sheraton. I could finally afford to move out. We moved to Linda Vista into an apartment of our own. We even had a live-in babysitter.

"Mario started school there at Kit Carson Elementary. He was a wonderful child. A very happy child. He loved that cartoon - Rocky and Bullwinkle. He wouldn't miss that cartoon for anything in the world. And he had to have all the toys. He loved that squirrel Rocky. He had his favorite Rocky the squirrel doll, and he wouldn't go anywhere without it.

In Linda Vista Silvia met an African-American Navy pipe-fitter named Patrick Murphy. She liked him.

"The thing that drew me to him most was how good he was with my kids. He was so gentle with him. I thought he would make a good father. So I divorced Jerry in 1977, and on November 24, 1979, I married Patrick at a little chapel in Spring Valley. Things were good. And then in 1982 Patrick got transferred to Virginia Beach and things started to change very quickly.

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