Archive for December, 2011

1838: The first hangings of the Lower Canada Rebellion

1 comment December 21st, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1838, Joseph-Narcisse Cardinal and Joseph Duquet were hanged for a rebellion.

As the names suggest, these weren’t rosbifs themselves: they were French, born under crown jurisdiction by grace of their forbears’ thrashing at British hands in the Seven Years’ War.

In 1837, French Lower Canada rose in rebellion — la Guerre des patriotes, to the Quebecois. The British dispatched it.

Cardinal and Duquet were young notaries of radical sympathies who organized a sort of aftershock insurrection (French link) in 1838 at their native Chateauguay. It was instantly suppressed, its authors court-martialed for treason.

Those patriotes spared the pains of the gallows were condemned instead to a different kind of suffering — exile. The folk song “Un Canadien Errant” (“The Wandering Canadian”) eulogizes the land lost to these unfortunates.

“If you see my country,
my unhappy country,
Go, say to my friends
That I remember them.”

A monument pays tribute to all those executed or exiled for the rebellion.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Quebec,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Separatists,Treason

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1961: Robert McGladdery, the last execution in Northern Ireland

Add comment December 20th, 2011 Headsman

Northern Ireland checks in today at a half-century death penalty-free, dating back to the hanging this date in 1961 of Robert McGladdery.

An agricultural laborer and “well known bad lad”, McGladdery followed a young woman named Pearl Gamble out of a dance hall one night and strangled and stabbed her. It became an open-and-shut case when the police tail surveilling him witnessed McGladdery tramping into some undergrowth where his bloody dance-hall clothes were stashed.

This was all the more remarkable because McGladdery knew he was being watched. In fact, the Daily Mail later got into hot water with the crown because it went and interviewed the suspect: that interview was published while McGladdery was still free, the day before he decided to pay his respects to the evidence that could hang him.*

The case is the subject of the BBC “dramatised documentary” Last Man Hanging, as well as a couple of books.

Books about Robert McGladdery

(Review of Orchid Blue.)

* See London Times, Feb. 18, 1962.

On this day..

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

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1932: Yoon Bong-Gil, nationalist assassin

Add comment December 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1932, the Japanese shot Korean Yoon (or Yun) Bong-Gil for bombing a parade dais in Shanghai.

A parade to celebrate the emperor’s birthday may be standard enough fare on the home front, but in a China being swallowed by said emperor’s empire it was a provocative act.

In the first months of 1932, Japan had merrily exploited — or incited — anti-Japanese incidents in Shanghai as pretext for an imperialist mini-war, won handily by Japan.

When the aggressors presented their celebratory pageant of arms in the city’s Hongkou Park (today, Lu Xun Park), our young Korean terrorist* “threw a narrow tin box high in the air. In an ear-splitting roar, the grandstand flew apart like a mechanical toy.” (Time magazine, excerpted in this useful Axis History Forum thread.) All seven of the Japanese VIPs on the dais were casualties, and two of them died: one instantly and another succumbing to his injuries a month later.

“A young Korean patriot has accomplished something tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers could not do,” remarked an admiring Chiang Kai-shek. Coming just months after another Korean activist had taken a whack at Hirohito in Tokyo, the generalissimo couldn’t help but appreciate his brothers in resisting colonization.

For this accomplishment Chiang would later go to bat for postwar Korean independence. But for his part, the patriotic Yoon got only a free trip to Japan for military trial and execution.

When calling in Seoul, drop by a well-appointed memorial hall dedicated to Yoon’s memory … or, at the national cemetery where Yoon’s remains were repatriated in 1946.

You’ll find another subtle memorial to this incident in pictures from the decks of the USS Missouri, where a Japanese delegation surrendered to end World War II on September 2, 1945. Leading the delegation is a distinguished gentleman with a top hat and a cane: it is Mamoru Shigemitsu, walking with an artificial leg thanks to Yoon Bong-Gil’s bomb 13 years before.**


Mamoru Shigemitsu aboard the USS Missouri.

* Note: calling Yoon Bong-Gil a “terrorist” is controversial in Korea. We use the word without moral censure.

** Mamoru Shigemitsu had been Japan’s ambassador to China at the time of the assassination bid.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,China,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Japan,Korea,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Separatists,Shot,Terrorists

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1529: Desle la Mansenee in the Luxeuil Trial

Add comment December 18th, 2011 Headsman

“In 1529, the Inquisitor General of Besancori, a Dominican friar named Jean Boin, visited incognito the village of Anjeux in the bailiwick of Luxeuil, Franche-Comte, and noted down the gossip of the villagers, which centered on 27-year-old Desle la Mansenee,” begins this vignette in the only part of Nigel Cawthorne’s Witches: History of Persecution that Google books preview will cough up.

You know this isn’t going to end well.

Our incognito Inquisitor swiftly decloaked and transformed Desle la Mansenee from grist for the neighbors’ grapevine into ash for their garden plots by torturing her into confessing to — oh, you know, the usual stuff. Dancing at witches’ sabbats and flying on broomsticks and banging the devil. That sort of thing.

People, these are infernal agents. It doesn’t get any worse than that. You’ve got to use tough tactics to get information, not just start salacious rumors and hope they’ll come clean.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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2009: Mosleh Zamani, because sex kills

Add comment December 17th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2009, Mosleh Zamani was hanged in Iran for making the beast with two backs.

And you thought you’d seen sexual hangups.

Twenty-three at the time of his execution, Zamani was all of 17 years old when he committed the “crime” that earned him the rope.

That crime: abducting and raping a 24-year-old woman.

So, okay, one might say: pretty rough punishment but also pretty serious misbehavior.

Save for a few minor details. Like, that the “raped” woman was actually Zamani’s girlfriend. And that she said the sex was consensual. Apparently this testimony from the mere victim was superseded by three random village prudes willing to complain about what the licentious youth get up to these days.

Given his cruel treatment, it will not surprise that Zamani was an ethnic Kurd and that his legal representation fell somewhere between poor and nonexistent.

Persian speakers (I am not one) can take in this interview with the young man’s family.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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1949: Traycho Kostov, Bulgarian purgee

Add comment December 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1949, leading Bulgarian communist Traycho (Traitcho, Traicho) Kostov was hanged in Sofia.

A journalist and agitator from way back, Kostov was a casualty of the postwar political chasm between east and west.

He’d been the number three man in Bulgaria’s communist hierarchy at the time of his fall in January of 1949, but had also been considered close to Yugoslavia’s independent socialist leader Josip Broz Tito. Like Tito, Kostov was a little too into his own country’s national economic sovereignty as against the purported greater good of a Soviet-dominated eastern bloc.

Stalin had overtly split with Tito in 1948. Over the next few years, Soviet satellites in eastern Europe would systematically eliminate perceived Titoist elements — and submit to economic integration on Moscow’s terms.

So a propagandist could write, comparing Kostov to the Hungarian minister who had swung for Titoism just weeks before, that

[i]f Laszlo Rajk could be regarded as the right arm of Tito’s plans for Eastern Europe, Traicho Kostov, member of the Bulgarian Politburo and Deputy Premier, was certainly his left arm. I sat in a crowded court in Sofia in December, 1949, heard and watched Traicho Kostov and ten other accused and dozens of witnesses testify to a Yugoslav plan for Bulgaria every whit as diabolical and bloodthirsty as that for Hungary. In reality there was only one overall strategic plan with “Operation Rajk” and “Operation Kostov” as tactical moves.

Specifically, “Operation Kostov” entailed spying for western (plus Yugoslavian) powers and plotting to overthrow the People’s Republic.

Although his enemies had browbeaten Kostov into political self-denunciation at party summits, the man stoutly repudiated guilt at trial — which was not necessarily the norm in the show trial genre.

Kostov’s ten fellow defendants received prison terms rather than the rope, and some of them were alive to enjoy the official rehabilitation that followed Stalin’s death.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bulgaria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Russia,Torture,Treason,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1655: Henry Manning, Protectorate spy

Add comment December 15th, 2011 Headsman

“There certainly can be no doubt,” wrote a Venetian diplomat late in the rule of Oliver Cromwell, “that Charles [II] is betrayed by some of those who stand about him, otherwise it would be impossible for Cromwell to find out the secret plans he meditates.”

And indeed, on this date* in 1655, just such a one was shot by the exiled royalists as a Protectorate spy.

Henry Manning, the son of a royalist colonel who died fighting for Charles’s late beheaded father, had impeccable credentials for the Stuarts. The alleged English king was now parked on the continent, trying to conjure up some route back to the throne.

So when the pedigreed Manning turned up at exile camp, packing “a considerable sum of money” he was willing to give to the cause, he was welcomed with open arms.

Too open.

While royalist courtiers blabbed, Manning was filing enciphered reports for Cromwell’s spy chief (and the source of that considerable sum of money) John Thurloe. And these reports disclosed royalist collaborators in England who were rounded up in great numbers in 1655 — a year in which Cromwell dissolved parliament and resorted to direct military rule, growing correspondingly more worried about plots against his person.

It seems that Cromwell’s intelligence men lacked a certain subtlety, however. After an English traveler illicitly met with Charles on the continent during the dead of night, and was picked up for questioning when he returned to the island, the Stuart men naturally reasoned that only the small handful of people involved in that meeting could have been the mole. Manning was done for as soon as his apartments were searched.

Under interrogation, Manning gave up everything he knew, trying desperately to save his skin by offers of turning double-agent and exploiting his relationship with the Protectorate for the royalists’ benefit.** As late as December 14 the captured spy — hearing “sad rumours of a sudden end intended me, nay, to-morrow morning” — addressed a letter to royal aide Edward Nicholas, “humbly crav[ing] you would once more try his most gratious Majesty.”

His Majesty’s concern, however, was of fading into ridiculousness and irrelevance, and the play here was to make an example of treachery. Without apparent legal sanction — the word of the shadow king Charles was law enough here, and his German hosts were content to look the other way — Manning was pistoled to death in a woods outside of Cologne, and the fact made known abroad.

Everyone who’s had a look at Henry Manning agrees that the guy was a small and abject man, easy prey for these great ministers of state. But then, when Thurloe himself was arrested for treason upon the monarchy’s eventual restoration, he procured his own parole by spilling his secrets to King Charles.

* The Gregorian date, per the Holy Roman Empire where Manning was shot — not the Julian date still in use in England. Note as well that the 15th is the most readily inferred date from the available evidence, particularly Manning’s letter of the 14th, but that the event itself does not appear to have been affirmatively recorded on this (or any) specific date by contemporaries. There’s little room for variance, as correspondents are commenting on the death of Manning by the end of December.

** “The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality.” –Sun Tzu

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Holy Roman Empire,No Formal Charge,Shot,Spies,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates

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1417: The Falstaffian John Oldcastle

3 comments December 14th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1417, the heretical knight John Oldcastle was burned at St. Giles Fields.

Oldcastle was a country gentleman who helped King Henry IV put down the Welsh and married up, into the Cobham family. He became good friends on campaign with Henry’s heir, the future Henry V.

Though Oldcastle was a privileged member of medieval England’s 1%, he supported positively dangerous change.

In Oldcastle’s youth, the radical preacher John Wycliffe was abroad in the land, and Oldcastle at some point — nobody seems able to say exactly when — cottoned to the egalitarian movement Wycliffe spawned, Lollardy.

A century-plus ahead of the Protestant Reformation, Lollards challenged the corruption and impiety of the Catholic Church, urging adherents to look to the scriptures themselves.

Protestant writer John Bale later reclaimed Oldcastle as a proto-Protestant martyr.

The truth of it is, that after he had once throughly tasted the Christian doctrine of John Wicliffe and of his disciples, and perceived their livings agreeable to the same, he abhorred all the superstitious sorceries (ceremonies, I should say) of the proud Romish church … He tried all matters by the scriptures, and so proved their spirit whether they were of God or nay. He maintained such preachers in the dioceses of Canterbury, London, Rochester, and Hereford, as the bishops were sore offended with. He exhorted their priests to a better way by the gospel; and when that would not help, he gave them sharp rebukes.

This sort of thing gave right-thinking Christians the vapors. It was in response to this “perverse people of a certain new sect” that England instituted the law authorizing heretic-burning, which would in Tudor hands become such a prodigious maker of martyrs.

Fresh to the throne as a 27-year-old, Henry V didn’t want to consign his old buddy to the flames, and generally stalled prosecution and leaned on his friend as much as he could.

But his friend remained obstinate in his errors, and eventually delivered a confession squarely rejected the Church’s authority.

Doomed as a heretic, Oldcastle busted out of the Tower of London when his sentimental sovereign gave him a lengthy reprieve — whereupon the condemned fugitive began fomenting rebellion with his outlawed movement.

although the King by proclamation promised a thousand markes to him that could bring him forth, with greate liberties to the Cities or Townes, that woulde discouer where hee was: by this it maye appeare, howe greatly he was beloued, that there could not one he found, that for so great a reward would bring him to light.

Holinshed’s Chronicle

It did take some doing but Oldcastle — the Lord Cobham — was finally hunted to ground in November 1417. Upon his return to London in chains, the heresiarch was condemned on the basis of his previous conviction, and “consumed with fire, gallowes, and all.” (Holinshed)

As the late king’s notorious boon companion, John Oldcastle was queued up for immortality in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part 1. But his part in this buddy play got rewritten at the last minute (and after the first draft) into the fellow we know as Falstaff.* It was reportedly the Lord Cobham of Shakespeare’s time who insisted upon the switch, squandering literary immortality for some passing family pride.** Traces of the original character remain in the text; in the play‘s opening dialogue, Prince Hal calls Falstaff “my old lad of the castle.”

(In part 2, Shakespeare’s epilogue goes out of the way to insist that “Falstaff shall die of a sweat … [while] Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man”. Hal does eventually execute his old buddy, Oldcastle-style, in Henry V: that buddy is not Falstaff, but their mutual drinking companion Bardolph.)


No actual John Oldcastle connection, but if Shakespeare gets to pun around with the name …

* Cadging the name from another Hundred Years’ War soldier, John Fastolf.

** The Lord Cobham whom Shakespeare wished to avoid offending was involved just a few years later in the anti-Stuart Main Plot — and only spared execution by a last-second pardon while he was literally standing on the scaffold.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Nobility,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Treason

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1861: William Johnson, impulse deserter

Add comment December 13th, 2011 Headsman

One hundred fifty years ago today, a now-long-forgotten deserter from the Union Army was shot in Washington, D.C. This sad event in the then-novel American Civil War received lavish coverage in the pages of Harper’s Weekly, which we reproduce below.

THE EXECUTION OF JOHNSON.

ON page 828 we illustrate the military execution of Johnson, who was shot at Washington for desertion on 13th. The culprit’s crime is clearly described in the following extract from his confession:


Contemporary illustration from Harper’s Weekly.

I had not the slightest intention of deserting up to a few minutes before I started in the direction of the enemy’s lines. The way I came to leave our army was this: I was on the outposts, and after dinner, when out watering my horse, I thought I would go to the first house on the Braddock road and get a drink of milk. When I rode up to the house I saw a man and a boy. I asked the man for some milk and he said he had none, and to my inquiry as to where I could get some, he said he did not know, except I should go some distance further on. I said I thought it would be dangerous to go far, and he remarked that none of the rebels had been seen in that vicinity for some time. It was then that I conceived the idea of deserting. I thought I could ride right up to the rebel pickets and inside the enemy’s line, go and see my mother in New Orleans, stay for a few weeks in the South, and then be able to get back to our regiment again, perhaps with some valuable information. I never had any idea of going over to the rebels, and as it is I would rather be hung on a tree than go and join the rebel army. I don’t see what under heaven put it into my head to go away. I acted from the impulse of the moment. When the man at the house said none of the enemy had been seen lately in that vicinity I asked where it was that the five rebels I had heard of had been seen some time ago, and he said it was at the round house on the left-hand side of the road. I asked him where the road led to. He said to Centreville, and so I went that way. Riding along on the Braddock road, some miles beyond our pickets, I suddenly came across Colonel Taylor, of the Third New Jersey regiment, with his scouting party. I thought they were the rebels, but at first was so scared that I did not know what to say. However, I asked him who they were, and he said they were the enemy. Said I to him, “I’m all right, then.” “Why so?” said he. “Because we are all friends,” said I; “I am rebel too—I want to go down to New Orleans to see my mother.” Then he asked me how our pickets were stationed. I told him two of our companies which had been out went in that day toward the camps. He asked if I thought he could capture any of them, and I told him I did not think he could. He asked why, and I replied that there were a number of mounted riflemen around. The head scout asked me what kind of arms the Lincoln men received, and at the same time said, “Let me see your pistol.” I handed him my revolver. Colonel Taylor took it, and cocking it, said to me, “Dismount, or I will blow your brains out!” I was so much frightened I thought my brains had been blown out already. 1 dismounted, delivered up my belt and sabre, while at the same time they searched my pockets, but there was nothing in them except a piece of an old New York Ledger, I believe. Then he tied my hands behind me, and sent me back to camp in charge of three men, besides another who took my horse.

He was duly tried by court-martial and found guilty. The sentence having been approved, it was ordered that it be carried into effect on 13th. The following extracts from the Herald report complete the melancholy history:

The spot chosen for the impressive scene was a spacious field near the Fairfax Seminary, a short distance from the camp ground of the division. The troops fell into line, forming three sides of a square, in the order designated in the programme, precisely at three o’clock P.M.

In the mean time the funeral procession was formed at the quarters of Captain Boyd, Provost Marshal of the Alexandria division, near the head-quarters of General Franklin. Shortly after three o’clock it reached the fatal field.

The Provost Marshal, mounted and wearing a crimson scarf across his breast, led the mournful cortege. He was immediately followed by the buglers of the regiment, four abreast, dismounted. Then came the twelve men—one from each company in the regiment, selected by ballot—who constituted the firing party. The arms—Sharp’s breech-loading rifle—had been previously loaded under the direction of the Marshal. One was loaded with a blank cartridge, according to the usual custom, so that neither of the men could positively state that the shot from his rifle killed the unfortunate man. The coffin, which was of pine wood stained, and without any inscription, came next, in a one-horse wagon. Immediately behind followed the unfortunate man, in an open wagon. About five feet six inches in height, with light hair and whiskers, his eyebrows joining each other, Johnson presented a most forlorn spectacle. He was dressed in cavalry uniform, with the regulation overcoat and black gloves. He was supported by Father M’Atee, who was in constant conversation with him, while Farther Willett rode behind on horseback. The rear was brought up by Company C of the Lincoln Cavalry, forming the escort.

Arriving on the ground at half past three o’clock, the musicians and the escort took a position a little to the left, while the criminal descended from the wagon. The coffin was placed on the ground, and he took his place beside it. The firing party was marched up to within six paces of the prisoner, who stood between the clergymen. The final order of execution was then read to the condemned.

While the order was being read Johnson stood with his hat on, his head a little inclined to the left, and his eyes fixed in a steady gaze on the ground. Near the close of the reading one of his spiritual attendants whispered something in his ear. Johnson had expressed a desire to say a few final words before he should leave this world to appear before his Maker. He was conducted close to the firing party, and in an almost inaudible voice spoke as follows: “Boys,—I ask forgiveness from Almighty God and from my fellow-men for what I have done. I did not know what I was doing. May God forgive me, and may the Almighty keep all of you from all such sin!”

He was then placed beside the coffin again. The troops were witnessing the whole of these proceedings with the intensest interest. Then the Marshal and the chaplains began to prepare the culprit for his death. He was too weak to stand. He sat down on the foot of the coffin. Captain Boyd then bandaged his eyes with a white handkerchief. A few minutes of painful suspense intervened while the Catholic clergymen were having their final interview with the unfortunate man. All being ready the Marshal waved his handkerchief as the signal, and the firing party discharged the volley. Johnson did not move, remaining in a sitting posture for several seconds after the rifles were discharged. Then he quivered a little, and fell over beside his coffin. He was still alive, however, and the four reserves were called to complete the work. It was found that two of the firing party, Germans, had not discharged their pieces, and they were immediately put in irons. Johnson was shot several times in the heart by the first volley. Each of the four shots fired by the reserves took effect in his head, and he died instantly. One penetrated his chin, another his left cheek, while two entered the brain just above the left eyebrow. He died at precisely a quarter to four o’clock.

The troops then all marched round, and each man looked on the bloody corpse of his late comrade, who had proved a traitor to his country.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,History,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions,Washington DC

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1952: Hard Luck Billy Cook

2 comments December 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1952, the short and brutal life of William Cook ended in the San Quentin gas chamber.

A quintessential “terrible upbringing” criminal, young Billy was ditched with his siblings by their alcoholic widower father in an abandoned mine when he was a small child.

Though brothers and sisters found foster parents, Billy — afflicted by physical deformity and an ungovernable temper — had to make his way as a ward of the state. Constantly delinquent through his adolescence, he was institutionally handed off to the state penitentiary at age 17.

He got out at 22, with a grudge against the world and a knuckle tattoo reading “H-A-R-D L-U-C-K”, resolved — so he told his derelict father — to “live by the gun and roam.”

In a 22-day spree looping from California to Texas and Oklahoma and then back again, Cook slew six people: an entire vacationing family in Oklahoma, and then another kidnapped motorist in California. Taking drivers hostage was how he navigated America’s growing intercity road network, making the Cook story readily adaptable to titillate cinema-goers who knew the loneliness of the open road, in 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker. (Teaser line: “Who’ll be his next victim … YOU?”)

Cook took little care for his own secrecy and had to flee to Mexico to avoid a dragnet. Surprisingly, even the police chief of Santa Rosaria in Baja California recognized the wanted man, and he was captured there unawares and extradited back to the Golden State.

“I hate everybody’s guts,” he reportedly explained upon his capture. “And everybody hates mine.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Murder,USA

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