Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

2010: Liu Lieyong and Chen Xiaohui, Hubei gangsters

Add comment January 13th, 2011 Headsman

Two “prime members” — in the words of the Xinhua report — of a central China gang were executed on this date last year in Hubei province.

Liu Lieyong* was sentenced to death for the crimes of organizing and leading an organized criminal gang, murder, blackmail, illegal possession of arms and gambling, said a statement from the SPC.

Chen Xiaohui was convicted of participating in an organized criminal gang, murder, intentional injury, inciting disorder and illegal possession of arms.

Another 19 people convicted in the case received jail terms from one year with two-year reprieve to suspended death sentences, said the statement.

The crime gang, founded by Liu in the city of Xiantao in Hubei in 2001, had opened casinos, which were illegal in China, illegally forced the transfer of shares in local bus companies and manipulated local cement and food markets.

Liu instructed gang members, including Chen, to murder one person. Chen was also held responsible for another death and nine injuries, the statement said.

The statement did not give details about their victims. According to a report in the Wuhan Morning Post in February 2008, one of the victims was Hu Dongfeng, head of a rival gang in Xiantao. Six of Liu’s gang members ambushed him and shot him dead.

* Not to be confused with the singer and actress Liu Liyang.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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2010: Gary Johnson

2 comments January 12th, 2011 Headsman

“I never done anything in my life to anybody,” insisted 59-year-old Gary Johnson as he received on this date last year a lethal injection for a 1986 double homicide.

Life may be a journey and not a destination, but Johnson didn’t have far to travel: he was convicted of a murder just 10 miles outside Huntsville, where the state death house resides.

Specifically, he and his brother Terry allegedly burgled a ranch — and then shot dead the two men who responded to a concerned neighbor’s call about the suspicious activity. One of the victims was heard begging for his life before being shot execution-style.

(Terry Johnson copped a plea and is serving a 99-year sentence. Gary Johnson took his chances at trial.)

Without going so far as to advance any particular brief for Johnson’s actual innocence, we’re compelled to retch a little at this footnote to the Associated Press wire story:

[Gary Johnson’s trial prosecutor Frank] Blazek said investigators found the same slogan etched in concrete outside Johnson’s home and on a T-shirt he was wearing in a photograph: ”Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

What … like the everyday Metallica shirt? Or did he mean the Special Forces icon?*

”It indicated a callousness about human life,” he said.

This guy needs to get out more.

Similar fatuous claims about pop-death iconography as indicia of guilt were leveraged in the now-infamous Cameron Willingham case; there’s something rather troubling about the fact that a quarter-century on, and even with the Willingham embarrassment fresh in the headlines, the prosecutor still finds this inconsequential sidelight compelling enough to mention — and an institutional journalist finds it serious enough to print.

* The last link in this sentence was formerly to a Special Forces gear page showing items for sale with this same logo; the link was in no way sponsored (no link on this site will ever be sponsored), and it was completely relevant to the text since it not only displayed the message in question but the fact that that message is a going commercial concern — i.e., one can easily buy a shirt with it. Twenty-eight months after that link was posted, a Google bot declared it unnatural and penalized not my site but the recipient of the link. As usual, Google’s error-prone summary judgments come with no channel for appeal. Though I’ve reluctantly altered the link since the other site doesn’t deserve Google’s vindictiveness, I note here, for the record and biliously, the editorial muscle unjustifiably arrogated by Google’s slipshod algorithm police.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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2010: Salah ibn Rihaidan ibn Hailan Al-Johani, Medina serial rapist

Add comment January 11th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2010, Saudi Arabia carried out its first execution of 2010, beheading Salah ibn Rihaidan ibn Hailan Al-Johani for a reported rape spree in the Muslim holy city of Medina.

Al-Johani was convicted of four rape-robberies with a similar m.o.: pose as a taxi driver, then drive the female passenger to the outskirts of town and assault her.

The sex attacks were uncovered after an attempted rape — commonly referred to as the “Aziziyah girl case” — in 2005. The Aziziyah girl, a 19-year-old secondary school student, was with her sister-in-law heading for her uncle’s home at around 10 p.m. when they got into Al-Johani’s pickup.

As they came close to the uncle’s home, Al-Johani began driving around in circles, saying he was unsure of the location and then drove off at high speed. The two women became suspicious and the Aziziyah Girl threatened to throw herself out of the car if he did not stop.

Al-Johani ignored their demands, and the 19-year-old threw herself out of the car. She died immediately from her injuries. Al-Johani then threw out the other woman who sustained serious injuries.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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2010: An al Shabaab rebel commander

Add comment January 10th, 2011 Headsman

According to a Reuters report, it was on this date last year that an al Shabaab militant was publicly shot in Somalia by a pro-government militia.

Al Shabaab — “the youth” — is an offshoot from the (now-history) Islamist alliance involved in that whole Black Hawk Down unpleasantness.

You might remember them from this summer’s World Cup: they’re the guys who bombed World Cup viewers in Uganda, killing 76. Al Shabaab (allegedly al Qaeda-linked) basically controls southern Somalia with its allies.

“We don’t normally kill al Shabaab members,” explained a spokesman for the Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a paramilitary, in cheerily chilling terms. “We arrest them and make them understand that Islam means peace.”

The unnamed character we notice this date apparently failed to “understand,” and was shot for not renouncing his affiliation.

“This commander insisted that all people were infidels except his group … We will execute al Shabaab members who insist that it can be right to kill the innocent. What else are we supposed to do to those who believe they will go to paradise for killing us and the whole human race?”

The execution nevertheless failed to quell the intractable Somali Civil War.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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2010: Six drug traffickers in Isfahan

1 comment January 9th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2010, Iran hanged six in Isfahan for drug trafficking.

According to the prosecutor — the partisan voice so often the only one audible from our distance —

Five of these people were members of an organized narcotics smugling league. They used false ID cards and cars with logos belonging to the revolutionary guards (IRGC) and security forces for drug smugling. The sixth person had previously been jailed for drug trafficking and was this time arrested with 38 kilograms of opium.

Iran’s use of the death penalty, liberal in any circumstances, ramped up significantly in 2010 in the aftermath of the near-insurrectionary protests that rocked the Islamic Republic after its dubious 2009 election.

Though Iran took, and in some cases hanged, election protesters, most of its executions have been of conventional criminals … although it’s difficult to differentiate, because Iran is also known to announce more palatable drug-trafficking charges against people who are actually political prisoners.

Under either rubric, the pace alone of those executions has conveyed a terrible message from Tehran.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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2010: Jeong Dae-Sung and Lee Ok-Geum, for escaping North Korea

Add comment January 8th, 2011 Headsman

On an uncertain date in early to mid-January 2010, North Korea put to death husband and wife Jeong Dae-sung and Lee Ok-Geum for attempting to defect, along with family friend Song Gwang Cheol for assisting them.

Early that month, the People’s Republic announced the “50-day battle” against unreliable elements … like defectors.

The “battle’s” battle plan included “shooting everybody connected to South Chosun [i.e., South Korea] no matter what they did. This case seems to be a model part of that battle.”

Bad timing for Jeong and family: they escaped North Korea to China in July 2009, along with two young children and Jeong’s 63-year-old mother. Their intent was to make it to Mongolia, and there catch a flight to Seoul.

Instead, they were caught by Chinese authorities and repatriated,* and interrogated — we expect not too gently — into giving up their neighbor Song Gwang Cheol.

After the executions, surviving members of both families were hauled away to a prison camp and to internal exile.

* North Koreans in China are in a pretty unenviable position. Beijing considers them economic migrants, not refugees, and therefore repatriates them to dreadful fates in their homeland; and yet, because of the militarized border between the Koreas, anyone wanting to defect or escape basically has to go to China, and then through China — either on to Southeast Asia, or across the Gobi to Mongolia. (Mongolia “repatriates” illegal Korean migrants back to South Korea.)

This Congressional Research Service report (pdf) makes depressing reading on the subject.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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1611: Three accomplices of Elizabeth Báthory, the Countless of Blood

7 comments January 7th, 2011 Headsman

Four hundred years ago today, on Jan. 7 1611, three servants of the legendary “Countess of Blood” Elizabeth Bathory (Báthory Erzsébet, in the Hungarian) were tried, convicted, and immediately put to death for the noblewoman’s stupendous career of homicide.

This date’s entry is occasioned by the deaths of three subalterns — manservant Janos Ujvary, beheaded; and female attendants Ilona Jo and Dorottya Szentes, fingers ripped off and burned — but the headline attraction is their employer, who was never tried or condemned.

Not, at least, juridically. Posterity’s condemnation of this classic vampire inspiration has been little short of … voluptuous.


A 1971 film based on Elizabeth Bathory’s exploits. Horror star Ingrid Pitt later reprised her “role” with guest vocals on a Cradle of Filth concept album devoted to the Countess, Cruelty and the Beast.

Bathory was rarefied Hungarian nobility, the niece of the King of Poland, which is also the biography of countless aristocrats you’ve never heard of.

The world remembers Elizabeth Bathory because she exploited her rank to butcher hundreds of peasant girls, allegedly to bathe in their rejuvenating blood.

On one occasion, a lady’s-maid saw something wrong in [Elizabeth Bathory’s] head-dress, and as a recompence for observing it, received such a severe box on the ears that the blood gushed from her nose, and spirted on to her mistress’s face. When the blood drops were washed off her face, her skin appeared much more beautiful — whiter and more transparent on the spots where the blood had been.

Elizabeth formed the resolution to bathe her face and her whole body in human blood so as to enhance her beauty.


McFarlane Toys figurine of Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bathory from its grotesque “Faces of Madness” series.

These scrub-ups are what the Countess of Blood is best remembered for, but however striking the visual, it’s an atrocity that actually doesn’t turn up in the trial records.

But she could hardly complain of the embroidery, having given her interlocutors so much material.

Elizabeth Bathory is supposed to be responsible for over six hundred deaths, starting while her husband was away on campaign, and then carrying on into a wholesale operation after he died. When she and her servants were finally busted at Csejte Castle the end of 1610, their captors found a dead girl, a dying girl, and several others imprisoned and awaiting that fate.


Elizabeth Bathory, a sexually charged 1893 painting by Hungarian impressionist Istvan Csok depicting one of the countess’s victims being drenched in icy water for death by exposure.

So although the confessions the servants made this date to seal their own fates were undoubtedly torture-adduced, the documentary record turns out to be amazingly strong for such a fantastical spree. Hungarian King Matthias II convened a tribunal that examined 200 to 300 witnesses.

One can postulate that the woman ran afoul of a patriarchal culture affronted by her exercise of power or that she became a parable for the “unnatural” lust of a middle-aged woman … but so far as we are left to understand, Erzsebet Bathory really did lure young girls to her castle, and then inflict (pdf) a Nazi doctors’ litany of sadism on them … like jabbing them with needles to drain out their blood. She even kept a log of the victims in her own hand.

So, locals disappearing into the creepy castle, never to be seen again, or possibly to turn up pallid and dead. (Disposing of all those corpses became a logistical problem for the creepy castle.) No surprise to find it associated with the vampire legend.*

And no surprise that the tale became magnified, twisted, and reconfigured by popular culture.

In 1817, as accounts of the testimonies about the alleged murders and sadistic tortures were published for the first time, national and international headlines sensationalized the already misconceived story. From that on [sic], the literary countess took on a life of her own: the Grimm brothers wrote a short story about her, the romantic German writer, Johann Ludwig Tieck (1774 – 1853), cast her as a Gothic femme fatale, Swanhilda, in his short story Wake Not the Dead. It is alleged that Sheridan le Fanu shaped his female vampire Carmilla on Elizabeth Bathory. If we can believe some etymological explanation the compound English word blood-bath is of mid-nineteenth century origin possibly connected to the bloody countess’ rising popularity in England.

-László Kürti, “The Symbolic Construction of the Monstrous — The Elizabeth Bathory Story,” Croatian Journal Of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Jan. 2009

A few books about Erzsebet Bathory

To say nothing of the death porn (link not safe for work).

The noblewoman never faced an executioner herself, owing to her rank; she was shut up in the castle.

* As it turns out, a Bathory ancestor actually fought with the “original Dracula” Vlad the Impaler in the 15th century.

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1939: Joe Arridy, on Woodpecker Hill

4 comments January 6th, 2011 Headsman

Update: Embargoed as of this post’s publication, Joe Arridy’s growing ranks of supporters had submitted to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter an application for a posthumous pardon. On January 7, 2011, Gov. Ritter granted that pardon — a fitting conclusion to a cinematically heart-rending story.

“Granting a posthumous pardon is an extraordinary remedy. But the tragic conviction of Mr. Arridy and his subsequent execution on Jan. 6, 1939, merit such relief based on the great likelihood that Mr. Arridy was, in fact, innocent of the crime for which he was executed, and his severe mental disability at the time of his trial and execution. Pardoning Mr. Arridy cannot undo this tragic event in Colorado history. It is in the interests of justice and simple decency, however, to restore his good name.”

-Gov. Bill Ritter


On this date in 1939, Joe Arridy “walked to his death with the faith of a child” (Los Angeles times, Jan. 7, 1939) up “Woodpecker Hill” — where the victims of Canon City, Colorado’s gas chamber (since retired) were buried.

Shortly before execution, Joe Arridy gives away the toy train he received from warden Roy Best to a fellow prisoner.

A young Syrian-American with the mental age of a six-year-old riding the rails during the Depression, Arridy was picked up for a teenage girl’s rape-murder in a literal lynch-mob environment: he was nearly pulled from his cell for summary punishment.

Instead, the good citizens let justice run its course to the same conclusion.

The damnable thing — well, the other damnable thing — is that we have about as much reason to believe Joe Arridy committed the crime as we do you or I.

He was linked to the murder by nothing but an evolving series of unreliable confessions fed by the sheriff to his suggestible prisoner (and, later, a single “matched” hair with a suspicious chain of custody; matching hair without DNA is still an unreliable forensic technique today). The real murderer was even in custody, and was executed for the same crime while Joe Arridy’s appeals ran their futile course.

“Believe me when I say that if he is gassed, it will take a long time for the state of Colorado to live down the disgrace,” Arridy’s appellate lawyer pleaded to a deaf court.

Robert Perske’s Deadly Innocence, about Joe Arridy.

Executed Today is honored to welcome Robert Perske, a pioneering pastor to the intellectually and developmentally disabled whose book Deadly Innocence helped pull the Arridy case out of obscurity.

This post is an edited version of Perske’s affidavit to the governor’s office in support of the pardon.


On March 28, 1992, Sociologist Richard Voorhees sent me a poem from an out-of-print book that described a warden weeping as he watched a man in a death row cell playing with a toy train before being walked to a gas chamber (“The Clinic” (.doc) by Margeurite Young in Moderate Fables, 1944).

“The man you kill tonight is six years old,
He has no idea why he dies,”
Yet he must die in the room the state has walled
Transparent to its glassy eyes.

I sent a copy of the poem to Watt Espy, Director of the Capital Punishment Archives, in Headland, AL. Espy researched and responded with information that tied the poem to the life and trials of Joe Arridy who at age 23 was executed on January 6, 1939.

During the next two years after receiving the poem, I traveled up and down the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains from Cheyenne to Pueblo, and to Grand Junction on the Western Slope. News stories were discovered from the reading of old microfilm rolls in The Pueblo Chieftain, The Denver Post, The Rocky Mountain News (Denver), The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction) and Wyoming Tribune (Cheyenne). Archivists and historians were interviewed at The Regional History Division of Western Colorado (Grand Junction), Wyoming State Archives (Cheyenne), District Archives of the Pueblo Public Library, Local History Center of the Cañon City Public Library, and the Colorado State Archives (Denver).

Joe Arridy’s Earliest Years

Joe Arridy was born to non-English speaking Syrian immigrants in Pueblo, Colorado on April 29, 1915. He attended the first grade in Bessemer Elementary School. At the beginning of his second year, the principal called on the Arridy family and told them that their son could not learn and asked them to keep him at home. The parents reported that for the next four years, Joe stayed around the house. He was a passive but happy child. According to his parents he was the happiest when he was alone playing all by himself. His favorite pastime was making mud pies.

Intelligence Testing and Institutionalization

At age 10, Joe was committed to the Colorado State Home and Training School for Mental Defectives, in Grand Junction. He was administered the Binet-Simon Test. The results showed that he was unable to repeat four digits (4-3-7-9). When shown the color red, he said it was black and that green was blue. He usually spoke in incompete two or three word sentences. As the questions became harder to answer, he remained silent. The examiner listed him as “an imbecile with an IQ of 46.” Later his institutional records showed no critical incident reports. For the most part he was a shy and quiet loner.

Nine months later, Joe’s father missed his son. He asked for his son to be returned home. The request was granted. Upon his return, he tended to take lonely walks all over town. These walks continued for three years.

At age 14, the walks came to an end when a probation officer caught a gang of boys performing sexual acts on him. The officer wrote an angry letter to the court, labeling Joe as “one of the worst mental defective cases that I have ever seen.” The court ordered his immediate return to the institution in Grand Junction.

During the next seven years at the institution, his records show that he was incapable of working on the farm crews or sitting in classrooms. Therefore, he was given a “day activity,” working side by side with a kindly kitchen worker, “Mrs. Bowers.” The worker reported that Joe was only capable of “Tasks of not too long duration, can wash dishes, do mopping of floors, can do small chores and errands. He depends on others for leadership and suggestions.”

Railroad Boxcar Riding

At age 22, he and a few other inmates watched men riding on top of railroad boxcars that passed the institution. So together they wandered off the institution grounds and also jumped on boxcars. They took the 24-hour ride through the mountains to Pueblo. Later they took the trip back. Joe was last seen in Grand Junction on the evening of August 13, 1936. He was believed to have jumped onto a boxcar either that night or on the next morning.

After that, Arridy disappeared from sight until he walked up to the kitchen car of a railroad work gang on August 20, in the East Railroad Yards of Cheyenne, Wyoming, dirty and hungry.

Rape and Murder in Pueblo

On Saturday evening, August 15, 1936, slightly before or after midnight, Dorothy Drain, 15, and Barbara Drain, 12, were bludgeoned about their heads while sleeping together in the same bed, at 1536 Stone Avenue in Pueblo. Dorothy was raped and beaten to death. Barbara was near death, but survived. Later, she identified Frank Aguilar as the attacker at his trial. She was not present at Joe Arridy’s trial. She did not even identify Joe Arridy as a co-attacker.

Sheriff Gets a Confession from Arridy Even Though the Real Killer is Already in Custody

On August 26, 1936, Joe Arridy was arrested by two railroad detectives and turned over to Sheriff George Carroll. Carroll, like all law officers in all of the towns up and down Colorado’s Eastern Slope, was actively picking up suspects and interrogating them regarding the attacks on the Drain girls in Pueblo.

After an hour and a half of questioning, Carroll called a reporter and told him that he had just received a complete confession for the Pueblo crime from Arridy. He recited to at least one reporter a long series of wordy, complete sentences that Arridy purportedly uttered. According to Carroll, Arridy was the lone killer and he committed the crime with a club.

At first, when Pueblo Police Chief J. Arthur Grady received news of the confession, he was shocked. The real killer, Frank Aguilar, a former WPA worker who had been supervised by the Drain girls’ father, had already been arrested for the crime.

Aguilar had been arrested during the funeral of Dorothy Drain. The Pueblo police had even recovered the weapon used in the crime. It was the head of a hatchet with nicks that matched the wounds on the girls. The Pueblo police kept all this evidence in silence because Aguilar vehemently denied committing the crime.

Following that, Sheriff Carroll changed his story. After conducting another interrogation, he then reported to the press that a hatchet—not a club—was used in the crime. He also claimed that Arridy did not do the crime alone. According to Carroll, Arridy said he did it “with Frank.”

Sheriff Carroll was a famous but loquacious individual who was known to talk long and loud about being in the posse that finally caught up with and finished off the notorious Barker gang.

Now with his regular announcements to the press he remained at his long-worded best. Carroll had been so totally verbal in his interrogations of Arridy, nothing was written down on paper. Nor was any confession signed. Consequently the confessions and changes in them were dictated daily to reporters.

Later, in the trial of Arridy, Sheriff Carroll became the star of the case. He spoke in his heroic, over-wordy style. According to the press, he did not speak from a single note. He simply testified from memory.

Frank Aguilar is Quickly Convicted

Aguilar’s trial came quickly, starting on December 15, exactly four months after the crime. It ended seven days later. His executed came quickly, too: on August 15, 1937, just two days short of the anniversary of Dorothy Drain’s murder.

Aguilar Identified as Lone Murderer in an Identical Crime in the Same Neighborhood

After the death sentence, Aguilar was brought face to face with Mrs. R. O. McMurtree, 58, who identified Aguilar as the lone attacker in a similar crime that happened two weeks earlier and just three blocks away from the Drain crime. She and her aunt, Sally Crumply, 72, were sleeping in the same bed when Aguilar attacked. He beat them on the heads as he had done in the Drain home. Like Dorothy Drain, Sally Crumply was bludgeoned to death.

Sheriff Carroll Assumes Leadership in all Aspects of the Arridy Investigation

After announcing Arridy’s first confessions to reporters and Chief Grady, two Pueblo detectives sped through the night to Cheyenne. The next morning, they joined in an added interrogation with Carroll leading it. Then they drove back to Pueblo.

Later that day, Carroll drove Arridy to Pueblo. He was present at the Pueblo Police Station when Arridy and Augilar may have been brought together. He took leadership when Arridy was taken to the Drain home and the crime was reenacted. He was present at the prison in Cañon City when Aguilar gave a signed confession that marginally included Arridy’s initials in a lower left column. That confession was printed in its entirety in the Pueblo Chieftain but was withdrawn and was never heard in a court.

Sheriff Carroll Became Chief Presenter of Evidence Against Arridy

During the prosecutor’s evidentiary presentations, Sheriff Carroll took the stand five different times. The transcript shows how Carroll was allowed to launch forth as a riveting story teller. He testified that Arridy was in complete control of his thoughts, and speaking in clear sentences that described the colors on the walls in the bedroom and the colors of nightgowns that the girls wore, and even the colors of the dresses the girls would be wearing when they went to the Sunday church services.

The Joe Arridy that Carroll described was a far cry from the Arridy who often spoke in unfinished sentences and did not know who Franklin Delano Roosevelt was. Nor did he know what a hatchet was or that his own father was present in the courtroom.

The Defense Loses in a Sanity Hearing, and Eschews an Evidentiary Defense

The defense argued at a pre-trial sanity hearing that Arridy was “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”. The question before the court: “Does Joe Arridy have the capacity to tell good from evil and right from wrong?” If not, he should be found to be insane and not guilty. Three psychiatrists testified that Arridy did not know right from wrong, but they hedged by saying that he was not insane. According to them, one needed to be normal first before ever being insane, and they claimed that Arridy had never been normal.

The jury deadlocked at six to six, but an hour later, voted that Arridy would have to go on trial for murder.

As strange as it may seem today, the defense attorney had conducted no investigation in the case. At the beginning of the trial he announced that he would not present an evidentiary defense and would only cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution.

He then requested that the judge set aside the earlier sanity trial verdict and that he be given permission to argue a sanity case one more time. He furthermore requested permission to make his opening argument only after the prosecution had completed with its evidentiary case. The judge agreed to all of these conditions.

The same three psychiatrists (joined by a fourth) gave the same testimony once again.

But Sheriff Carroll voiced his views unchallenged. After touting his 30 years of experience and claiming that he interrogated Arridy for “six or seven hours,” the prosecutor asked him, “Based on your experience [is] Joe Arridy capable of distinquishing right and wrong?” Carroll responded, “I think there is no doubt, whatever, but what he is”.

A verdict of “guilty” was rendered on April 17, 1937, and Arridy was sentenced to death.

On August 13, 1937, Frank Aguilar was executed, and on the same day, Sheriff Carroll and two railroad detectives received a $1000 reward for making the arrest of Joe Arridy in Cheyenne.

For a year and a half, a pro bono “Citizen Lawyer” Gail Ireland fought valiantly to save the life of Joe Arridy. During that period, Ireland managed to win at least six stays.

On January 6, 1939 at 6:15 p.m., the Colorado Supreme Court voted 4-3 to deny the last petition. Governor Teller Ammons called the warden at 6:30 p.m. and ordered that the execution be carried out.

The chaplain administered the Roman Catholic Church’s “Last Rites for a Child.” It called for the Chaplain to recite each phrase of “The Lord’s Prayer,” one at a time with Arridy repeating it, all the way to the “Amen.”


Joe Arridy’s rusty motorcycle plate served as his grave marker for 71 years, until it was replaced with a headstone reading Here Lies an Innocent Man

This volume by Perske addresses the criminal justice system’s (mis)handling of the developmentally disabled. He’s written a number of other books, fiction and nonfiction, humanizing this.

Robert Perske also graciously agreed to address a few additional questions that we had for him.

ET: How did you come to this case?

RP: It’s almost a magical thing to me. Back in 1991, I got a poem from a valued colleague of mine who is a professor, a sociologist. He was digging through some old books in Greenwich Village, and he found a poem about a warden weeping before the pellets were dropped and all of that, and how the warden cried, and how he complained about how this man playing with a toy train would die.

And I got ahold of it and went down to my buddy Watt Espy [of the Espy file -ed.], and he found it. He really dug for me, what a guy, and he found it and I headed for Pueblo and dug and dug and dug from 1991 to 1995.

What motivated me was that after coming out of World War II, I went to school and became a chaplain at an institution for mentally disabled people in Kansas. I worked my ass off to be a good pastor to them, and so when I found this much, I really started digging.

Did they lead him into the confession?

Oh, yes. He was arrested in the railyard by Sheriff George Carroll. And Carroll was a swashbuckler. He was a hero, and he was a mouthy sonofagun, and he pretty well set up the case.

As soon as he got the so-called confession, he [Carroll] didn’t call the police chief first — he called the press. He said he had the guy who did it.

But they already had the guy in Pueblo, Frank Aguilar.

Was there outright misconduct by the investigators here? Did they realize, or should they have, that they might be railroading someone?

Here’s the deal. People with so-called mental retardation were seen as nobodies in those days. They didn’t have community services, so they all went like Joe, to the institution.

In the year I was born, 1927, Oliver Wendell Holmes issued his ruling that all such people could be sterilized.

Carroll knew he had somebody like that in Joe. There was a lynch mob starting to form in Pueblo, because this head of the WPA was a good solid citizen, and when his daughters were hit, and one killed and raped, there was a lot of hiding of people.

I’ve known a lot of Joes. And he’s lovable, and he’s trusting, and he’s naive, and he’s concrete-thinking, so half of the things he says, he doesn’t really understand. But on the other hand, very dependable, and very lovable. Nobody in Pueblo saw that, but [Warden Roy] Best picked it up, and then the inmates in prison picked it up too.

In their hearts of hearts, yeah, they knew. But they figured he wasn’t worth anything. He was retarded, mentally defective was the word they used. They knew they had the real killer, but they go back and get Joe to amend the confession and now he was there “with Frank”.

If you’ve got a serious mental limitation and you’re facing a capital charge in the criminal justice system today, what’s going to happen to you?

In the year 2002, Atkins v. Virginia, they banned the death penalty in those cases. And they played around with the IQ number, but in some states they’re going farther than that because you have all kinds of other disabilities. I’d say by and large, except for Texas, people are looking at these people — not more kindly, but not looking at them as people who should be executed.

If we would have had that for Joe, he would not have been executed.

Can you give us a lay definition of developmental disability?

The most prominent one I’ve seen when I worked in the institution, and yet today when I work the streets and agencies and group homes and that sort of thing, is the inability to abstract from concrete things. For example, I’ve had guys say to me, I’d say, “why did you waive the right?” and they say, “you’ve got to waive it the right, you can’t waive it the wrong.”

Barry Fairchild, down in Arkansas — Barry thought that the reading of the rights was some kind of opening prayer.

These people survive on the basis of having abstract thinkers as their friends and protectors, so consequently guys like Richard LaPointe had cops as their friends, because they leaned on authority figures. And of course the police department are committed to secure the safety of the neighborhood, but then if there’s a terrible murder and somebody starts to blame them, they’re going to cooperate with that.

I’ve got one where, on a tape recorder, they’re saying, “if you tell us, we’ll all go home”. So that’s concrete thinking that my guys usually have.

Richard Lapointe is still in prison, not on death row. He has hydrocephalus, it’s called Dandy-Walker syndrome, so he’s a guy with all kinds of disabilities. He’s not athletic at all and gets dizzy when he stands up or stops suddenly, and yet they got him to confess to a highly athletic murder of a woman with multiple violent stab wounds and moving the body.

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1917: Sub-Lt. Edwin Dyett, shot at dawn

6 comments January 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1917, Edwin Dyett was shot for desertion and cowardice.

After the disastrously ineffective Somme offensive in late 1916, British Field Marshal Douglas Haig decided to pick up the men’s spirits. And what better way to motivate than by shooting more officers?

If one proceeds from the premise of the British brass that the main problem with its military ineffectiveness was the men in the field, there was something in the cruelly “progressive” about the order: luckless enlisted fellows from the lower classes were smoking last cigarettes by the bushel, but gentry-stock officers were more liable to get the kid-gloves treatment .

Haig was taking the kid gloves off.

“A soldier’s tale cut in stone to melt all hearts,” said Winston Churchill of this pathbreaking novel thought to be based on Edwin Dyett. The first novel about executed World War I deserters, it is thought to have influenced later portrayals of such executions and the sub-heroic literary context for the Great War.

Within two months of that order, our man Dyett was up against the stake at St. Firmin, France — perhaps the most famous shooting among the officer corps.

Perhaps presuming upon the traditional leniency extended to the better classes, Dyett had little inkling of his fate during the weeks after his arrest. He’d been collared during the aforementioned Somme campaign for “deserting” for two days when he’d taken umbrage at being directed to the front by an inferior officer and instead returned to headquarters for orders.

As late as Christmas Eve, he was still keeping his parents in the dark, certain that the misunderstanding was not enough to even “cause a sitting.”

That sitting, however, occurred forthwith on Boxing Day, with only a half-hour for the defense to prepare. That defense was less than robust, and the court clearly disinclined to a sympathetic reading of the circumstances.

Dyett had only just turned 21, but clemency appeals around youth and the confusion of the situation would cut no ice. “”If a private behaved as he did,” wrote the officer charged to review it, “it is highly likely he would be shot.”

Lt. Dyett had only a single evening from hearing the bad news to prepare himself for what must have seemed to him a shocking turn of events. This time, he posted a different sort of missive to the home front.

Dearest Mother Mine, I hope by now you will have had the news. Dearest, I am leaving you now because He has willed it. My sorrow tonight is for the trouble I have caused you and dad. Please excuse any mistakes, but if it were not for the kind support of the Rev. W.C. — who is with me tonight, I should not be able to write myself. I should like you to write to him, as he has been my friend. I am leaving all my effects to you, dearest; will you give a little — half the sum you have of mine? Give dear Dad my love and wish him luck. I feel for you so much and I am sorry for bringing dishonour upon you all. Give — my love. She will, I expect, understand – and give her back the presents, photos, cards, etc., she has sent me, poor girl. So now dearest Mother, I must close. May God bless and protect you all now and for evermore. Amen.

Dad didn’t take it with the stiff upper lip; after a futile campaign to clear the boy, he renounced his citizenship and emigrated to America.

The Shot At Dawn site dedicated to executed first World War soldiers maintains a detailed (and very pro-Dyett) page about our day’s principal. There’s also a recent nonfiction book, Death for Desertion, which pleads Dyett’s case.

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1721: John Stewart, pirate

Add comment January 4th, 2011 Headsman

THE LAST SPEECH AND DYING WORDS,

Of John Stewart, who was executed within the Flood-
Mark at Leith, upon the 4th January 1711, for
the Crime of Piracy and Robbery.

UPON the 28 Day of March, one Thousand seven Hundred and Ninteen Years ; I Sailed from Dartmouth in England, in the Ship, called, the Mark de Campo, belonging to Ostend, Captain Mathias Garribrae Commander, in Order to make a Voyage to Guinea, and Mosambequie in the East-Indies; and having in some short Time thereafter arrived upon the Cost of Guinea; We hapned to our sad Misfortune upon the 2d Day of June next, thereafter, to be taken by a Pirate Ship, commanded by Captain Davies;* after we had made what Resistance we could, they compelled me and several others out of our Ship to go along with them; and upon our Refusal threatned to puts us immediatly to Death, or leave us upon some Desolate Island, which was nothing better than Death; and I refer it to every ode to Judge, whither or not any Man would have preferred immediat Death to go along with them, while there remained some Hopes of making an Escape, which I and those that were taken with me still endeavoured, and made several Attemps to Effectuat.

And I do solemnly Declare as a dying Man, that whatever I did while I was Aboard of the Pirate Ship, was by Force, and upon the Peril of my Life; and that I and these taken With me, are not only Innocent of What is laid to our Charge, but during the Time We Was Aboard of them, I never seed them wrong Man, Woman or Child; and I with several others having at last made our Escape, We Sailed for Britain, with no other Design but to free and clear our selves from the Tyranny of those Pirates, that had detained so fair contrary to our Inclinations; and having landed in the West of Scotland, every Body knew how we have been treated since that Time, and I might have purchast my
Life, had my Conscience allowed me to Comply with the Sollicitation of them, who would have had me appear as an Evidence against those that were as Innocent as my self, but I never could think of Saving my Life at so dear a Rate.

And for the Judge and Jury I shall not Reflect on them, but do declare that I am Innocently put to Death, as to the Crimes for which I am condemned; And beg GOD Almighty that he may not lay this Innocent Blood to their Charge, but forgive them as I do. And begs GOD may forgive my other Sins, (through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST my only Redeemer) which has been the Cause of this Dismal Death.

Into thy Hands, O GOD, I recommend my Spirit.

EDINBURGH, Printed by Robert Brown in Forrester’s-Wynd, 1721.

(From the National Library of Scotland’s Digital Library here.)

Okay, couldn’t pass on that name.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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www.thedailyshow.com
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* Stewart apparently refers to the Welsh buccaneer Hywel Davies, aka Howell Davis, and this story of hijacking would put Stewart in some pretty august company: it was approximately this time and area that the Davies crew captured the slave ship Princess carrying third mate Bartholomew Roberts, who was pressed into navigational service for the freebooters.

Davies was killed in another pirate adventure later that same month of June 1719, and Roberts was elected to succeed him despite being only a few weeks aboard the ship. The latter went on to one of the most illustrious raiding careers in the Golden Age of Piracy … the original Dread Pirate Roberts.

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