Archive for October, 2020

1979: Jesse Bishop

Add comment October 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1979, Jesse Bishop was gassed in Nevada.

The third person executed under the “modern” U.S. death penalty regime — after Gary Gilmore in 1976 and John Spenkelink earlier in 1979 — Bishop was a career felon with a years-long rap sheet of armed robberies and drug crimes.

In 1977, he was engaged in his customary business of knocking over the (now defunct) El Morocco Casino when a newlywed groom left his nearby wedding reception to stage a heroic intervention. Bishop gunned down David Ballard, “like a dog.”

Like Gary Gilmore in neighboring Utah, Bishop was a resolute volunteer for taking his punishment. In his last hours he had a telephone provided him, so that resuming his abandoned appeals would be within arm’s reach at any moment he desired. Bishop never touched it.

Breezily calling the death penalty an “occupational hazard” in his line of work, he was the calmest guy in the place when they sat him down for his hydrogen cyanide sauna. Time magazine cast the scene thus:

Dressed in a crisp white shirt and pressed Levis, he strode purposefully into the freshly whitewashed chamber at Nevada State Prison, near Carson City. “He looked as if he were ready to go to a disco,” recalls TIME’s Guy Shipler, one of 14 official witnesses.

Bishop was the last person to die in Nevada’s venerable gas chamber; all subsequent executions there have been by lethal injection.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Murder,Nevada,Theft,USA,Volunteers

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1647: Francesco Toraldo

Add comment October 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1647, Francesco Toraldo was put to summary death by rebelling Neapolitans.

Toraldo was a decorated commander during the Thirty Years’ War who was all set up to enjoy retirement as the Duke of Palata, a dignity conjured for him by the grateful Spanish.

This title persists in the Spanish peerage to this day, even though the namesake “duchy”, Palata, is a town in Italy — which is where Toraldo had some family holdings.

That meant he was in the neighborhood to get pulled into the action when Naples in 1647 rebelled against the King of Spain, the neglectful overlord of the City of the Sun.

In July 1647 a tax revolt led by a fisherman named Masaniello briefly gained control of the city.*


The Anti-Spanish Revolt of Masaniello in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples on 7 July 1648, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Viviano Codazzi, the latter of whom fled Naples because of this very event.

After the city’s merchants murdered Masaniello, Toraldo was called on as governor-general. He enjoyed widespread support among the still-restive populace, and when the Spanish royal house attempted a show of force under John of Austria to decisively quell the disturbance, Toraldo’s defense of the city might have led a more ambitious soul to declare himself the master of Naples. Indeed, many Neapolitans urged this course upon him — but Toraldo hewed to an increasingly untenable middle way of simultaneous fidelity to Spain and the Neapolitan masses that did for him in the end. (In fairness, the bolder attempt would surely have done for him just the same; his safety would have been in retiring.)

Hitherto the people had at least recognised the external sovereignty of Spain. Whilst they fought against the Spaniards, they professed their allegiance to the king of Spain; they rejected the accusation of rebellion, decidedly as well as vehemently; they had respected the pictures and arms of Philip IV and his ancestors, and always called themselves his most faithful people. But by degrees this had changed, and the unsuccessful expedition of Don John had given the last blow to this feeling of attachment to the royal family …A manifesto of the people on the 17th of October, 1647, set forth the grievance of the nation against their rulers, and invoked the aid of the Pope and the Emperor of kings and of princes. Political parties were formed; the most active at first were those who cried “Long life to the Pope! were he but our liege lord.” The Cardinal-Archbishop leaned to this side; the Nuncio Altieri was familiar with intrigues, and his brother was mixed up in it … Others, and amongst them some of the nobility, inclined towards France, and intriguers were not wanting who laboured in behalf of this power … Others again, considered a republic as feasible; but the great mass of the middle class began to perceive the danger into which they had fallen by the last steps taken in the revolution. They had been desirous of the abolition of burdens which were too oppressive, but not of a change in the government and dynasty. They had allowed the populace to have its own way about the gabelles. But when the populace prevailed, they changed their minds, as one insurrection followed upon another, when all commerce was at a stand-still, when all security was at an end, when the town was threatened with being turned into a heap of ruins, and that they were on the point of losing every thing, because they wanted too much. It was this middle class which later gave Spain an easy and bloodless victory.

But till this happened, Naples continued the theatre of horrible scenes. As the negotiations with Don John of Austria led to no results, the people tried to drive away the troops from the posts which they still occupied within the town. Thus Michele de Santis, the butcher who had murdered Don Giuseppe Carafa, led six hundred men against the Spanish post at Porta Meina. The Viceroy, after whom it was called, as has already been mentioned, had built this gate in the wall of Charles Vth, upon the heights of Montesanto, on the slope of the mountain upon which is situated the Carthusian convent and Sant’Elmo. Here stood fifteen Spaniards, armed only with pike and swords; they drove back six hundred men. The leaders perceived that, without the advantage of a commanding position, all individual detached successes were of no avail. Santa Chiara had resisted all their attacks. On the 21st of October a mine was sprung under the tower. Don Francesco Toraldo, who had been too weak to extricate himself, as he might possibly have succeeded in doing from his false position, and who now acted as a sort of check upon the people, commanded the attack in person. The mine was sprung, but being improperly laid, it only injured the neighbouring buildings, which buried numbers of the champions of the people under the ruins. The garrison of the convent made a sally at the same time, and the bands of the assailants withdrew, with the cry of treason. Their unfortunate leader was to atone for the treason; they seized him and dragged him to the market-place. In vain did Don Francesco Toraldo attempt to speak, in vain did his adherents try to silence the mad men. He sank down at the fish-market; they cut off his noble head upon a stone fish-stall. They stuck it upon a speak; thus had first [Don Giuseppe] Carafa’s head been carried in triumph, then that of Masaniello. They tore the still warm heart from the mangled corpse, and carried it in a silver dish to the convent, where Donna Alvina Frezza, the very beautiful wife of the unfortunate man, was staying. The savage murderers desired that the princess would show herself at the gate of the convent to receive the heart of her husband. The nuns, horror-struck, refused to deliver the message: then these savages collected the wood and faggots that were about to set fire to the convent. Toraldo’s widow, informed of the danger appeared at the threshold, and was obliged to receive from the hands of the barbarians this dreadful though beloved present. Many even of the mob wept at this sight. The corpse remained hanging on the gallows for two days, then they took it down, and in one of those sudden revulsions of mind that so often take place amongst the rude masses, they buried their murdered Captain-General with great pomp. (Source)

This fresh detonation of the powder keg led to the populace declaring itself the Neapolitan Republic; as the passage above hints, that project did not long survive the Spaniards’ pressure.

* Masaniello’s populist revolt left a wide literary footprint. Of special note is the opera La Muette de Portici, whose performance in Brussels in 1830 helped catalyze the Belgian Revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Gibbeted,History,Italy,Lynching,Naples,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1526: Bianca Maria Gaspardone, the Insatiate Countess

Add comment October 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1526, Bianca Maria Gaspardone was beheaded at Milan’s Castello di Porta Giova, the present-day Castello Sforzesco.

She was only about 26 years old, but onto her second* dynastic marriage — this to Renato di Challant.

As the story was later recorded in Matteo Bandello‘s Novelle,** the young woman had wealth and options, and with her husband off fighting in Milan’s war against France, she indulged a series of boudoir intrigues — critically for our purposes, one Ardizzino Valperga, Count of Masino.

Per Bandello, the Lady of Challant grew annoyed by him and tried to dispose of him by provoking a quarrel between he and another of her lovers, the Count of Gaiazzo — but the two men compared notes and simply arrived at a mutual contempt for her.

The count made the sign of the cross, and all full of wonder said: Fie, shameless slut that she is. If it weren’t a dishonor for a knight to imbrue his hands in the blood of a woman, I would gouge out her tongue through the back of her neck; but first I would like her to confess how many times she begged me with her arms on the cross, that I have you killed! And so they repeated in public and private the crimes of this dishonest woman until they were on every person’s lips. She, hearing what these gentlemen said about her, even if she pretended no concern for it, was angry with indignation and thought of nothing else but to be highly avenged.

It was in those days in Milan there was one Don Pietro di Cardona, a Sicilian, who governed the company of his legitimate brother Don Artale. This Don Pietro was a young man of twenty-two, dark-faced but proportionate in body and melancholy appearance, who one day seeing Mrs. Bianca Maria fell wildly in love with her. She judging him to be a pigeon of first feather and instrument capable of doing what she so longed for, lured him to better ensnare and dazzle him. He, who had never before loved a woman of account, considering her to be one of the first in Milan, pined miserably for her sake. In the end she made it one night to go and sleep with him, and took such loving pleasure together that he believed himself to be the happiest lover in the world, and not long after asked the young man to kill the Count of Gaiazzo and Signor Ardizzino.

Don Pietro obligingly ambushed Signor Ardizzino and did him to death. Arrested thereafter, he was equally obliging in giving up his paramour as the moving spirit, and she foolishly admitted as much by trying to bribe her way out of trouble.

Don Pietro was permitted to flee from prison. But the unfortunate young woman, having confirmed her lover’s confession with her own mouth, was condemned to have her head cut off. She, having heard this sentence, and not knowing that Don Pietro had run away, could not be prepared to die. At the end, being led onto the ravelin of the castle facing the square and seeing the block, she began to cry in despair and beg for the grace that, if they wanted her to die happy, they would let her see her Don Pietro; but she sang to the deaf. So the poor woman was beheaded. And whoever longs to see her face portrayed in life, should go to the Chiesa del Monastero Maggiore, and there he will see her painted.


Bandello’s closing remark about her painting has commonly been understood to claim her as the model for this fresco of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Leonardo da Vinci follower Bernardino Luini (1530). More recent research has cast doubt on that notion: scholars now prefer to reckon her image as that of a kneeling patron (along with her first husband) in a different image.

This tale made its way from Bandello’s pen into subsequent literature, notably a Jacobean English sex-romp tragedy called The Insatiate Countess, and a 19th century Italian play, La Signora di Challant; the whole thing appears overall to have unrealized potential for digital-age revival as sultry costume drama for prestige television.

* First hubby Ermes Visconti was beheaded in 1519.

** Bandello’s Novelle stories, which mix history and folklore, also include a version of the pre-Shakespeare Italian Romeo and Juliet drama.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milan,Murder,Nobility,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Women

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1928: Frank Sharp, palm printed

Add comment October 19th, 2020 Headsman

From the Scottsbluff (Nebraska) Star Herald, October 19, 1928:


Sharp Dies in Chair, Protesting Innocence

Executed for Murder of Wife in 1926; Mother’s Plea to Governor Fails.

Tells All “Goodby”

Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 19 (AP) — Maintaining his innocence to the last, Frank Sharp, 52, twice convicted and twice sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Harriett, near here in March, 1926, was electrocuted in the Nebraska penitentiary at 6:29 a.m. today.

A current of 2,400 volts was allowed to course through his body.

Sharp was apparently the calmest man in the room as the attendants strapped his arms and legs to the chair. He was breathing a little heavily and he moved his finger nervously, but otherwise displayed no emotion.

“Good-by and God bless you,” he said to reporters, witnesses and physicians in the room.

Sharp listened attentively while prayers were said by Father Ford and by Chaplain Maxwell.

Visited by Relatives.

Sharp repeated a prayer with the priest while holding a small crucifix in his left hand.

When the chaplain extended his hand toward Sharp, the prisoner said “you’ll have to come over to me. I can’t move my hand.”

“I am not afraid to die, gentlemen,” Sharp said while guards ripped his trousers to clamp part of the death harness on his leg. “There’s no reason for me to be afraid.”

“All right, sir,” he told the executioner after a request that he close his eyes. “Fix things to suit yourself. Whatever you do is all right with me.”

Even after the head piece was placed on him and the heavy strap over his face, Sharp continued to talk.

“You’re smashing my nose,” he said twice before the executioner adjusted it.

The doomed man had cheerful good-bys for the warden, chaplain, priest and his friends and in each case ended by saying “God bless you.”

The current was turned on at 6:29 and after 45 seconds was turned off. The doctors examined the body and pronounce Sharp dead at 6:32.

His body was claimed by his family and will be buried at the local cemetery.

The condemned man’s brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Charley Sharp, visited the death cell yesterday evening.

Wife Slain in 1926.

Among those who were present at the execution were the murdered woman’s brother, Homer Wilis, and her son by a former marriage, Art Ostbloom.

Mrs. Sharp was killed on the night of March 16, 1926. Her body, its skull mutilated by blows of a hammer, was found in the family [obscure], two miles northeast of Havelock, the next morning, after an all-night search by local police.

Blood stains on his clothes directed suspicion toward Sharp. Foot prints near the murder scene that were found to coincide with the shoes Sharp was wearing that night. Other circumstancial evidence also was found, the most important of which was a palm print of the hammer, used to kill Mrs. Sharp.

Convicted on Palm Print.

This print was declared by experts to be similar to Sharp’s and had a large part in his conviction. It is believed Sharp was the first man to be executed largely on palm print evidence.

His first conviction was reversed by the supreme court on technical errors, but his second conviction was affirmed.

Sharp always contended he was held up by robbers who bound and blindfolded him and abducted his wife. This was the story he told when he aroused a farm home on the night of the murder and to which he staunchly clung during his trials and his appeal to the state pardon board in a final attempt to escape the death penalty.

Without retracting this story, Sharp remained composed and apparently confident. He declared he was ready to die and forgave everyone concerned with his conviction.

“Innocent as a Child.”

After Warren W.T. Fenton had read the death warrant, the condemned man asserted that he was as innocent as a child. “If it will help things any to kill me,” he said, “it is all right with me.” He then handed his statement to the warden and asked the newspapers to print it. The statement, written in long hand with a pencil, follows:

Frank Sharp’s final statement to the newspapers:

I have always contended the facts would come to light before I would go to the electricity chair.

I hold no imminity to anybody.

I want to thank everybody that tryed to help me in my last hour.

The state onley claims circumstanced evidents in my case and I believe the evidents proves my innocents far beyond a doubt. I wish to forgive everybody that hold an evial thought against me and may God bless them.

And all I have to ask for is a chance to prove my innocents.

FRANK E. SHARP.

Members of the Sharp family called at the capitol last evening to make a last presentation to Governor McMullen. Mrs. A.G. Sharp, 75, mother of Sharp, was leaning on the arm of one of her sons. The group comprised two brothers of Sharp, a son, two sisters and the mother. They were received in the governor’s private office and remained half an hour. Governor McMullen explained the manner in which the board of pardons had considered Sharp’s allegation of newly discovered evidence and its decision that the facts presented had no bearing on the case and told them of the powers and duties of the governor and of his inability to take further action. Upon taking their leave members of the party said they had no fault to find with the governor’s decision of his duty in the case.

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Feast Day of Saint Justus

Add comment October 18th, 2020 Headsman

October 18 is the feast date of early Christian (and possibly legendary) martyr-saint Justus of Beauvais.

He’s supposed to have been decapitated for the faith while en route to Amiens, France, around 287, and thereafter scooped up his head in his arms to join the cephalophore club.


The Miracle of Saint Justus, by Peter Paul Rubens (1630s).

Widely venerated in France, he bequeathed the place-name of Saint-Just on a number of villages, which of course makes him by indirect means* the namesake of the French Revolution figure Louis Antoine de Saint-Just — Robespierre’s ferociously irreligious “angel of death” and a great enthusiast of (and eventual prey to) the guillotine.

* As his ancestors come from Oise, the specific “de Saint-Just” in their names might refer to Saint-Just-en-Chaussee.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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1271: Not Nichiren, at the Tatsunokuchi Persecution

Add comment October 17th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1271, the Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren was taken away to be executed by his political foes … only to find them spooked off completing their mission by terrifying heavenly signs.

He’s the founder of the still-extant school of Nichiren Buddhism, his name concatenating the words for Sun (Nichi) and Lotus (Ren) — for he centered his philosophy on the Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was a major, and controversial, teacher in the mid-13th century: attributing a series of devastating natural disasters in the 1250s to the enervated spiritual condition of the populace owing to non-Lotus Sutra strains of Buddhism attracted enough enmity that he faced multiple assassination attempts, and was exiled to the Izu Peninsula in 1261. (He was suffered to return a couple of years later.)

Nichiren’s doomsaying got a lot more credible — a lot more dangerous — by the end of that decade when the expanding Mongols reached the coasts of China and Korea and started threatening Japan. He’d literally forecast foreign invasion as a consequence for failing to get your lotus right and the arrival of that very prospect drew followers to Nichiren. He intensified his preaching against the rival, but state-favored, varietals of Buddhism.

Summoned to court for questioning, Nichiren remonstrated effectively with his opponent Hei no Saemon. By the prophet’s own account, “on the twelfth day of the ninth month” of Japan’s lunisolar calendar — corresponding, per this calendar converter, to the 17th of October of 1271 by the Julian calendar — an armed host abducted Nichiren and carried him to Tatsunokuchi for beheading.

Instead the would-be executioners were shaken to their core, as Nichiren described in his autobiographical The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra.

That night of the twelfth, I was placed under the custody of the lord of the province of Musashi and around midnight was taken out of Kamakura to be executed. As we set out on Wakamiya Avenue, I looked at the crowd of warriors surrounding me and said, “Don’t make a fuss. I won’t cause any trouble. I merely wish to say my last words to Great Bodhisattva Hachiman.” I got down from my horsee and called out in a loud voice, “Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, are you truly a god? When Wake no Kiyomaro was about to be beheaded, you appeared as a moon ten feet wide. When the Great Teacher Dengyo lectured on the Lotus Sutra, you bestowed upon him a purple surplice as an offering … If I am executed tonight and go to the pure land of Eagle Peak, I will dare to report to Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, that the Sun Goddess and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman are the deities who have broken their oath to him. If you feel this will go hard with you, you had better do something about it right away!” Then I remounted my horse.

Finally we came to a place that I knew must be the site of my execution. Indeed, the soldiers stopped and began to mill around in excitement. Saemon-no-jo, in tears, said, “These are your last moments!” I replied, “You don’t understand! What greater joy could there be? Don’t you remember what you have promised?” I had no sooner said this when a brilliant orb as bright as the moon burst forth from the direction of Enoshima, shooting across the sky from southeast to northwest. It was shortly before dawn and still too dark to see anyone’s face, but the radiant object clearly illuminated everyone like bright moonlight. The executioner fell on his face, his eyes blinded. The soldiers were filled with panic. Some ran off into the distance, some jumped down from their horses and huddled on the ground, while others crouched in their saddles. I called out, “Here, why do you shrink from this vile prisoner? Come closer! Come closer!” But no one would approach me. “What if the dawn should come? You must hurry up and execute me — once the day breaks, it will be too ugly a job.” I urged them on, but they made no response.

The warriors could by no means be persuaded to do their duty in the face of this dread omen. Eventually the lot of them — executioners and former prisoner alike — wandered off together and drank some well-earned sake as comrades. Nichiren’s official pardon arrived the next morning.

The incredible event is known as the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, and (obviously) remembered as a watershed moment in Nichiren’s life.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Japan,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Power,Religious Figures

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1817: Manuel Piar, Bolivarian general

Add comment October 16th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1817, the Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar stained his hands with the execution of one of his great generals.

Bust of Piar in Maturin, Venezuela. (cc) image from Cesar Perez.

A mestizo of mixed Spanish-Dutch-African, Manuel Piar (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was a self-taught and self-made man and a true revolutionary spirit. By the time he joined Bolivar’s rising against Spanish rule in Venezuela, he had already fought in similar campaigns in Haiti (against France) and his native Curacao (against the British).

His prowess in arms saw him rise all the way to General-in-Chief for Bolivar, but it could not bridge the gap in background and outlook between them. Bolivar was of European aristocratic stock, and he did not share Piar’s expectation that their revolution would also entail overturning the racial caste system.

In 1817, conflict between them came rapidly to a head: Bolivar stripped Piar of his command — and then perceiving Piar to be conspiring with other of Bolivar’s rivals, had him arrested and tried by court-martial. It’s a blot on Bolivar’s reputation given his wrong-side-of-history position in their conflict, and also given that when confronted with multiple subalterns maneuvering politically against him, he chose to go easy on all the criollos involved but make an example of the one Black guy.

That example consisted of having Piar shot against the wall of the cathedral of Angostura, the Venezuelan city now known as Ciudad Bolivar.

Bolivar didn’t personally attend this execution — another demerit — but legend holds that upon hearing the volley of the firing squad he wailed, “I have shed my own blood!”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Venezuela,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1948: Arthur Eggers, by Earl Warren

1 comment October 15th, 2020 Headsman

Arthur Eggers was gassed in California on this date in 1948.

He had murdered his wife in December 1945, using his carpenter’s tools to saw off her head and hands to complicate identification. Although this gambit didn’t work, there was no clear motive or physical evidence to tie Eggers to the crime and he might have skated had he not put his used car up for sale a week later. It was bought by a sheriff’s deputy, who promptly found Dorothy Eggers’s blood in the boot. As it emerged, it seems to have been a crime borne from sexual rage, as the vivacious Dorothy apparently slept around and/or ridiculed Arthur’s impotence.

Eggers’s death warrant carried the signature of California Gov. Earl Warren, who at this moment was just a couple of weeks out from coasting to the White House as the Vice Presidential nominee on the Republican ticket. The ticket-topper Thomas Dewey was comfortably outpolling unpopular incumbent Harry S Truman, and merely running out the clock to a comfortable win universally anticipated by pundits.


lol.

Well actually, it turned out that Earl Warren would be cooling his heels in Sacramento for five more years.

Warren is an intriguing figure for our site‘s interests, for a couple of reasons.

Most obvious to U.S. readers is his 16-year stint as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. He was a liberal Republican, a once-numerous species subsequently hunted to extinction, and his tenure atop the “Warren Court” is synonymous with postwar liberal jurisprudence that has been anathema to his former party ever since. Warren retired in 1969 prior to the decision, but the landmark 1972 Furman v. Georgia rulng invalidating then-existing death penalty statutes is a legacy of that same epoch; even before Warren’s own departure from the court a nationwide death penalty moratorium had settled in, in anticipation of the federal bench sorting out whether the death penalty could continue to exist at all. (Warren died in 1974, so he never saw the triumphant return of capital punishment.) Beyond the specific issue of the death penalty, Warren’s court greatly strengthened the due process rights of accused criminals with consequences for every criminal prosecution down to the preseent day: it is this period that gives us the Miranda warning (“you have the right to remain silent …”), the right to an attorney for indigent defendants, and prohibitions on using evidence obtained by dodgy searches.

But we can also view Warren the Vice Presidential candidate as an oddity.

While we’ve dwelt here upon the rich death penalty history of U.S. Presidents, our future liberal legal lion appears to be the most recent Vice-Presidential nominee for either of the two major parties to have sent men to an executioner, at least a judicial one. For whatever reason, the VP bids subsequently have tended towards products of Congress rather than the governors’ mansions where the life-and-death calls get made; there’s an exception in 1968, when both Spiro Agnew (Republican) and Edmund Muskie (Democrat) had been governors … but Agnew was the brand-new governor of Maryland during the Warren Court’s aforementioned death penalty moratorium, and Muskie the previous governor of Maine, which abolished capital punishment in the 19th century. The sitting Vice President as of this writing, Mike Pence, would kill a human as easily as a fly, but no death cases reached his desk during his 2013-2017 spin as Governor of Indiana: ongoing wrangling over the availability and constitutionality of various lethal injection drugs has sidelined the Hoosier headsman for the best part of a decade.

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

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1780: The Biggerstaff Hanging Tree earns its name

Add comment October 14th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1780, American Revolution patriots hanged nine captive loyalist prisoners in North Carolina, in the wake of the Battle of King’s Mountain.

Although the colonials would ultimately accomplish their break with the British Empire, the British and their local loyalists had a strong run in a southern campaign from about 1778.

But even at their acme, the redcoats could not extend their writ westward past the Appalachian Mountains, into the frontiers where hunger to swallow up Indian land made for ferocious adherence to the pro-independence cause, since the Crown was trying to limit settler expansion in those zones. The ones who turned their muskets against their king would become known as the “Overmountain Men” — and the Battle of King’s Mountain was their glory.

Feeling their oats after thrashing Horatio Gates‘s rebel army at the Battle of Camden — seen here in the Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger movie The Patriot

— the Brits sent the capable Scottish Major Patrick Ferguson into the mountains to roust out the irregulars. After some weeks of maneuver, Ferguson faced off with the Overmountain Men on October 7 at a wooded crag just south of the border between the Carolinas: barely a “mountain”, and definitely not the king’s. In an hourlong fight, the Overmountain militia overwhelmed Ferguson’s command, killing Ferguson himself.

Historical novel about the events surrounding King’s Mountain. (Review)

It was a stunning blow to the British, and checked that rampant southern campaign; as British prospects slipped away in subsequent years, King’s Mountain would loom as a mighty portent. The British commander Sir Henry Clinton considered King’s Mountain “the first link in a chain of events that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America.” In a more buoyant mood, Thomas Jefferson judged this battle “the joyful annunciation of the turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War, with the Seal of our independence.”

Not so joyful were nearly 700 Tory prisoners whom the colonial militia hurriedly marched west to Gilbert Town (present-day Rutherfordton) in the western reaches of North Carolina. The militia’s blood was up already from British atrocities; at King’s Mountain, the British had difficulty surrendering to baying guerrillas who killed the first man to offer the white flag, baying for revenge upon previous massacres of patriots.

While holding their prisoners at the farm of Aaron Biggerstaff — a Tory who had been killed at King’s Mountain, even as his Patriot brother languished in British custody — word reached the Overmountain Men that yet more revolutionists had been executed in British custody.

Vowing to put a stop to this this, they put 36 of their prisoners to a drumhead trial on October 14 and sentenced them all to death. Nine of them were actually hanged that evening, three by three: Ambrose Mills, Robert Wilson, James Chitwood, Arthur Grimes, Thomas Lafferty, Walter Gilkey, John McFall, John Bibby, and Augustine Hobbs. Mills, a colonel and the leader of the loyalist forces in this western county, was the most prominent of the bunch.

Intercession by Patriot officers and the Biggerstaff women put a stop to the proceedings; the other 27 “condemned” were simply suffered to return to the horde of POWs, and marched out the next morning.

A sign noting the place of the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree is one of the markers on the National Parks Service’s Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,North Carolina,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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1998: Jeremy Vargas Sagastegui

Add comment October 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1998, Jeremy Vargas Sagastegui completed his suicide-by-executioner.

Babysitting on November 19, 1995, for a friend in the small town of Finley, just east of the Tri-Cities, Sagastegui raped and drowned his three-year-old charge Kievan Sarbacher, then awaited the return of Kievan’s mother to shoot her dead too, along with her friend.

As a capper, he stole Melissa Sarbacher’s truck, too — but he wasn’t trying to flee. The next morning when detectives showed up at Sagastegui’s Kennewick apartment, he had his bloody clothes, his rifle, and the stolen vehicle waiting to turn over to them. From that time until he was stretched on a gurney at the Walla Walla penitentiary, he had one steadfast refrain: he wanted the death penalty, as soon as possible.

Sagastegui acted as his own attorney, and put on no defense save to encourage his jurors to end his life. “I killed the kid, I killed the mother and I killed her friend,” he advised them. “And if their friends had come over, I would’ve killed them, too.” He pursued no appeals, and fought off attempts by his mother to make legal interventions on his behalf — her arguments were that he was severely mentally ill, and had been abused as a child — and used the legal capital punishment apparatus to do himself in. There was no final statement.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,USA,Volunteers,Washington

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