Archive for January, 2010

1955: Moshe Marzouk and Shmuel Azar

1 comment January 31st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1955, two Egyptian Jews enrolled by Israeli intelligence as saboteurs were hanged in Cairo.

Marzouk (left) and Azar, from this page.

The strange and disturbing “Lavon affair” — or “Esek habish,” the “shameful affair” — has never had a completely satisfying explanation.

It broke in 1954, when Egypt arrested a ring comprised of Egyptian Jews who had bombed locations in Alexandria and Cairo, including an American diplomatic post, in an apparent false flag operation meant to be attributed to the radical Muslim Brotherhood. (The apparent operation had a recent precedent.)

The germ and the goal of this project have been fodder for speculation ever since; the most commonly accepted theory is that it was intended to trigger western intervention or pressure on Egypt that would prevent Nasser from nationalizing the Suez Canal.

Initially blamed on the Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, unrelated court testimony in 1960 would reveal that he was a fall guy.

But in any guise, the hangings this day in Cairo prompted national mourning in Israel and an immediate political shakeup whose dimensions might as well have sprung from this morning’s paper:

The dovish government of Moshe Sharett fell; hawkish founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was recalled from retirement in a Negev kibbutz; and Israel launched a reprisal raid at Gaza. Little more than two years later, Israel and Egypt would contest control of the Suez on the battlefield.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Israel,Jews,Scandal,Spies,Terrorists,Torture,Treason

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1996: William Flamer, Alito’d

Add comment January 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1996, William Flamer was executed for murder in Delaware.

He’s a forgettable criminal who, with an accomplice executed 19 months before, robbed and stabbed to death Flamer’s elderly aunt and uncle.

He has his small footnote in modern American death penalty jurisprudence in a case decided by then-circuit court judge Samuel Alito, which was — er — exhumed when President George W. Bush elevated Alito to the Supreme Court.

The matter was, to all but the initiated, a fairly picayune legal issue: if the jury that imposed his sentence used an aggravating factor subsequently found to be unconstitutional, could the sentence stand with the multiple other, constitutional aggravating factors it also used?

Little compelling as the issue might sound to all but the already converted, this sort of salami-slicing goes on justices’ daily bread to make up the great hero sandwich of jurisprudence. Mmm-mmm.

Anyway, the State of the Union head-shaker held — as Flamer’s presence in this blog would suggest — against the appellant.

Pdf examinations of Flamer v. Delaware (and other Alito death penalty legal opinions) prepared around the justice’s confirmation hearing are available from the Congressional Research Service and from the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, the latter a pro-death penalty source.

(This decision also affected fellow Delaware death row inmate Billy Bailey, whom we have just met as the last man hanged in that state. Flamer could have had that distinction for himself; he chose lethal injection instead, and died four days after Bailey hanged.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Delaware,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Participants,Theft,USA

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1810: Pedro Domingo Murillo, for Bolivian independence

Add comment January 29th, 2010 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the execution of Pedro Domingo Murillo and eight fellow martyrs to Bolivian independence.

Men like Gregorio Garcia Lanza and Juan Bautista Sagarnaga (both Spanish links) wagered their necks under the leadership of wealthy mestizo Murillo. (all links Spanish)

Something of a career troublemaker, Murillo had had a few scrapes with the crown’s agents over his patriotic aspirations for the territory the Spanish called Upper Peru.

On July 16, 1809, taking advantage of the confused political situation in Spain following Bonaparte’s conquest, he put himself at the head (Spanish) of a breakaway state.

Unfortunately for the self-proclaimed Junta Tuitiva, neither masses nor elites really rallied to their side, and the Spanish swiftly crushed the uprising.

July 16, the date these dreamers declared independence, is still celebrated in La Paz.

And why not? Though militarily overwhelmed, this quixotic enterprise turned out to be one of the opening acts in a (largely successful) generation-long struggle for independence throughout the Spanish possessions in the New World.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Bolivia,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Lawyers,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Spain,Treason

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2010: Five for the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Add comment January 28th, 2010 Headsman

Shortly after midnight this morning — local time at Dhaka Central Jail — five officers who in 1975 assassinated Bangladesh founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (and most of his family) were hanged for the crime.

Justice so long delayed still tasted sweet to a celebratory crowd.

The 34 1/2 years were mostly passed with the killers safe under an Indemnity Act predictably granted by the coup government that profited from the murder. (Though that government wasn’t afraid to hang members of its base.)

That act was revoked after a generation’s military rule with the 1996 election of Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina Wazed, who was lucky enough to be in West Germany when her family was slaughtered.

Even so, the case has had a tortuous path since through the Bangladeshi judiciary.

Once it finally reached the terminus, the government did the hemp necktie routine with dispatch just this side of seemly. Only hours after the doomed men’s last appeal was turned aside, Lt. Col. Syed Faruque Rahman, Lt. Col. Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Lt. Col. Muhiuddin Ahmed, Maj. A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed, and Maj. Bazlul Huda were hanged.

Their hanging does not close the book on the Mujib assassination.

Seven other death sentences in absentia remain; six of those condemned are still alive, and at large abroad. Bangladesh is trying to get them back.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Bangladesh,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers,Treason

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1940: Isaak Babel

1 comment January 27th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1940, Isaak Babel, “the greatest prose writer of Russian Jewry,” was shot in Moscow.

The Odessa-born 45-year-old had managed the difficult trick of maintaining a high-profile writing career in the 1930s Soviet Union without abandoning his artistic integrity. (This meant he published a lot less in that decade, which fact was held against him in his trial: “deliberate sabotage and a refusal to write.”)

A pre-revolutionary friendship with Maxim Gorky and an early affinity for the Bolsheviks had helped see him through such transgressions against Communist ideology as describing Red atrocities during the Russian Civil War, and writing a play about the underbelly of Soviet society.

Babel remains beloved today for that very reason; his Odessa Tales collection of short stories about Jewish gangsters still charms Russians and foreigners alike.

But Gorky died in 1936, and without that elder statesman’s protection, Babel’s insufficiently lockstep scribbling laid him increasingly liable to public denunciation for, e.g., “aestheticism.”

And as sickle follows hammer, miscalibrated revolutionary ardor in Stalin’s Russia led in 1939 to that dread knock on the door, that stay in Lubyanka Prison, that inevitable “confession” of Trotskyism, and that bullet to the head after a perfunctory trial.

Babel’s work is recent enough that it’s mostly not freely available in English. A couple in English and several in Russian are linked here; literary criticisms with plentiful excerpts of Babel’s work are available here, here, and here, among many other places.

Babel was officially rehabilitated during the Khrushchev era.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Espionage,Execution,Famous,History,Jews,Posthumous Exonerations,Russia,Shot,Torture,Treason,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1996: John Albert Taylor, the last American to face a firing squad

8 comments January 26th, 2010 Headsman

Moments past midnight on this date in 1996 five anonymous marksmen fired four .30-.30 caliber rounds (one rifle had blanks, a balm to the shooters’ consciences) into the heart of Utah rapist John Albert Taylor: the last use to date of a firing squad in the United States. (Update: Not anymore.)

Actually, he’s the only person put to death by shooting under the modern American death penalty regime besides Gary Gilmore.

Like Gilmore, Taylor voluntarily dropped his appeals and sought his own execution for the 1989 rape-murder of Charla Nicole King. A confidante would later reveal that health problems led him to do so in preference to the feared alternative of dying alone in his cell.

As he chose death, so he chose the method: not a clinical, forgettable lethal injection, but the discomfiting tableau of the target pinned over his heart, the protective sandbags stacked up behind him, and the tray of blood beneath the chair he was strapped into. Taylor said he wanted to make a statement. (And that he feared “flipping around like a fish out of water” on an injection gurney, his other option in Utah.)

The reclusive Taylor denied the crime to the end, but never found many takers for the story he was selling — that he’d just so happened to leave his fingerprints on the phone cord later used to strangle the prepubescent girl in the course of committing an unrelated robbery. It didn’t help that Taylor had raped his own sister when she was 12.

For the national and international media circus — British, Australian, Japanese, German, Italian, French, and Spanish media all represented — the story was the anachronistic method of execution, right out of the Wild West.

That story doesn’t have many rounds left in the chamber, as it were. In 2004, Utah succumbed to pressure to change its execution method to lethal injection alone. Though the firing squad is technically on the books in Idaho (at the discretion of the state, not the prisoner) and Oklahoma (as a backup option to lethal injection), it’s vanishingly unlikely to be used in either state.* That leaves just a few of the pre-2004 Utah prisoners grandfathered into the option to supplant John Albert Taylor for the distinction of suffering the last firing squad execution in American history.


That’s a “last,” but given our bloggy medium, we would be remiss not to notice a milestone “first” that also attended Taylor’s death.

According to the Deseret News (Jan. 26, 1996), the ACLU sponsored an America Online chat with anti-death penalty actor Mike Farrell during the hours leading up to and following this execution — “the first-ever death-penalty vigil in cyberspace.”

* Predominantly Mormon Utah has been the firing squad’s last redoubt thanks to the sect’s “blood atonement” theology. (As seen in its pioneer days.) According to the Espy file (pdf) of historical U.S. executions, the last American execution by shooting not to occur in the state of Utah was that of Andriza Mircovich in Nevada back in 1913. (Oklahoma used the firing squad routinely in the 19th century.)

Part of the Daily Double: Throwback Executions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Rape,Sex,Shot,USA,Utah,Volunteers

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1996: Billy Bailey, the last American hanged

10 comments January 25th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Billy Bailey was hanged for murdering an elderly couple in Delaware.

Bailey was condemned in 1980, which was before Texas debuted the lethal injection trend that would sweep the nation; therefore, he was sentenced to hang. When Delaware switched to injection in 1986, Bailey had the choice between his original hempen-necktie sentence or the newfangled gurney.

Authorities wanted him to get with the times. Warden Robert Snyder, who would also serve as hangman, told the press, “Our gallows is pretty primitive here. We’ve made some improvement, but hopefully this will be the last hanging in Delaware.”

Billy Bailey wasn’t interested.

“I’m not a dog,” he said to one visitor. “I’m not going to let them put me to sleep.”

For all the worry that a state out of practice with its gallows technique would botch the job, Delaware carried it off without embarrassment.

Though Bailey’s pretty certain to be the last man hanged in the Blue Hen State — Delaware has gone and dismantled that primitive gallows — he is no lock to keep his place as the last hanged anywhere in the U.S.

Washington state, which hanged two people in the early 1990’s and did some consulting on the procedure for Delaware officials, still allows the condemned a choice between lethal injection and hanging. Executions there aren’t common — it’s been over eight years as of this writing — but they’re not unheard-of. Between the prospect of a lethal injection botch and the morbid appeal of notching milestone status, it’s only a matter of time before someone else opts to hang.

(New Hampshire, which is even more out of practice with the art, also still retains hanging as a backup option.)

Part of the Daily Double: Throwback Executions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Delaware,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,USA

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Daily Double: Throwback Executions

Add comment January 25th, 2010 Headsman

This blog traffics in the the human forces that drive men and women to the scaffold: whether the implacable distant hand of History, the fickle chance of Fate, or the vulgar personal desires we have in such ample supply.

But the scaffold gazes also into thee … and sometimes, the dead stretch out to touch the living in unexpected ways.

By coincidence, Jan. 25 and 26 of 1996 saw rare uses of two anachronistic methods of execution in the United States — holdovers from executions in the Republic’s youth, before science started devising less personal, more mechanical ways to kill. In fact, these executions on consecutive days in 1996 are as of this writing the last time that either hanging or the firing squad has been used in this country.

That strange spectacles drew international news coverage, which seems to have led in turn to the accidental suicide of an Italian youth in the town of Noceto.

A 12-year-old boy hanged himself after … asking his parents “if people suffer at the gallows” … after [the family] watched one of the evening news programs, which have prominently featured the Utah firing squad and an execution by hanging in Delaware.

This blog has no answer for the boy “D.M.,” any more than it has for our usual clientele. It is even likely that one or both of the two we note here whose dates with death were scheduled will turn out not to keep their current distinctions of being the last men judicially hanged and shot in the U.S.

But then, all life is contingent and ephemeral. This theme, too, is part of the traffic of Executed Today.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Daily Doubles

1938: Han Fuqu, Koumintang general

2 comments January 24th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Chinese warlord Han Fuqu (or Fuju, or Fu-chu) was executed by the Koumintang for cravenly surrendering Shandong Province to the Japanese without a fight.

Han cut his teeth during China’s Warlord Era, and though he made a timely adherence to Chiang Kai-shek‘s central government that gave him rule over Shandong, he was never exactly in love with the KMT. He ran his fief like a dictator and got rich.

When Japan and China went to war in 1937, it wasn’t a gung-ho nationalist heart throbbing beneath his decorated breast.

Commanded by this still-alien central government to defend Shandong and its capital Jinan at all costs, the former warlord instead bargained secretly with the Japanese for a way to keep his prerogatives.

Why, after all, should he throw away his own position against an overwhelming foe merely for the better advantage of the distant Chiang Kai-shek?

When Han couldn’t pull off a deal and the Japanese set about simply taking his province by force, Han withdrew without firing a shot — forcing other KMT units in Shandong to likewise fall back. To top it off, Han himself then ditched the army he’d taken a-retreatin’.

Chiang, no dummy, could see an example waiting to be made. A couple weeks after arresting Han, Chiang’s trusted aide Hu Zongnan shot him in the back of the head in what is now Wuhan for flouting superior orders.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Military Crimes,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1685: Robert Pollack and Robert Millar, Covenanters

1 comment January 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1685, Robert Pollack and Robert Millar (or Pollock and Miller) were hanged in Edinburgh as Covenanters.

An East Kilbride shoemaker and a Rutherglen mason, respectively, they were a tick and a tock in the Killing Time — lost like tears in rain amid the torrent of Presbyterian martyrs.

These adhered to James Renwick‘s subversive doctrine of Scottish presbyter control against the overweening Anglican Episcopacy, a conflict of characteristically comingling religious and political characters.

Since most of the Covenanter-killing was being done summarily by soldiers in the field, these Roberts were actually the rare gallows-birds to be condemned in civil court, for which trouble they strangled at the Gallowlee on the road from Edinburgh to Peith.

Their last testaments can be read here, along with those of many other such martyrs.

Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, and employ your strength in the holding up of the fallen-down standard of our Lord, and if ye be found real in this duty, ye shall either be a temple, which shall be a glorious sight, or else ye shall be transported, and be a member of the Church triumphant; so ye shall be no loser, but a noble gainer either of the ways.

-Robert Millar

Though not up to the fame of having their own statuary, Pollack/Pollock has a place on the Covenanter monument in East Kilbride … where the martyrs’ spiritual descendants recently held the movement’s first open-air Conventicle since the 1680s.

Part of the Themed Set: Resistance and Rebellion in the Restoration.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Treason

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