1941: Sheyna Gram and the Jews of Preili 1944: Eliga Brinson and Willie Smith, American rapists abroad

1966: James French, fried

August 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1966, James French went to the Oklahoma electric chair, clinching his spot in perpetuity on last-words listicles by cracking to the press pool, “Hey, fellas. How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? French Fries!”*

French had enjoyed five years to work out this chill fare-thee-well since the calculated murder of his cellmate in 1961, back when he, French, was already serving time for murder.

It’s alleged that French committed this ruthless deed in pursuit of the mercy seat, as a form of suicide by executioner; whether this is or isn’t so he had certainly embraced the consequence by the time he presented himself to the judiciary.

“He deserved to die,” the expansive French once informed an interviewer. “And now because of what I did, I deserve to die, too. I don’t want to die. Who does? But the rules are clear: to take a life is to forfeit your own.”

It’s just that his letters imploring speedy implementation of justice could not override procedural errors in his first trial (they biased the jury by presenting French in manacles) nor his second trial (bad jury instruction by the judge) until the third time charmed in 1965.

The man could have lived a long life punning on his surname — perhaps he would have insisted on going by James Freedom as a post-9/11 America blundered into Iraq? — had he chosen to fight his death sentence, for even then the law’s French frying apparatus was grinding to a halt. Just two more executions — Aaron Mitchell and Luis Monge, both in 1967 — would take place in all the land before capital punishment went into a decade-long hiberation during which all previously existing death sentences were invalidated. French’s was the last death by electric chair until John Spenkelink in 1979 and the last ever electrocution in Oklahoma (which has used lethal injection in the modern, post-1972 era).

* His actual, and better, last words in the death chamber were by way of declining to make a final statement: “Everything’s already been said.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Gallows Humor,Milestones,Murder,Oklahoma,USA

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One thought on “1966: James French, fried”

  1. Curt Kastens says:

    This reminds me of one of my more practical and ethical proposals. Any prisoner of a national prison system should still have one key freedom left. The Freedom to commit suicide at government expense. No of course the government should not do anything that would encourage such behavior. But allowing prisoners to die with government assistance when they really wnat to do so is much more humane than making them slit their rists with a crude cutting instrument in the middle of the night.
    Ok lets say that you are a conservative and you want the prisoner to suffer longer than it would take by being shot by a firing squad. Well then consider that feeling of the janitors that are going to have to clean up the mess left by someone committing suicide in an unauthorized fashion.
    Would prison officials and employees abuse this rule to kill prisoners? My answer is if they want to kill prisoners they do not need this rule.

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