Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

2012: Zhang Jianfei, job-seeker

Add comment May 11th, 2020 Headsman

From Xinhua on May 12, 2012:

A 50-year-old man was executed in Beijing Friday for killing two and injuring 14 others in the capital’s downtown area in 2009.

Zhang Jianfei, a native of northeast China’s Jilin province, was found guilty in 2010 of endangering public security by stabbing two to death and injuring another 14 in the Dashila area on Sept. 17, 2009.

Tourists, security guards and salesmen at roadside shops were among the victims.

Zhang, a former worker at a primary school in Yongji county of Jilin, blamed his actions on him becoming emotionally distraught while looking for a job.

He argued that he was drunk at that time, and but forensic doctors concluded following an investigation that Zhang was only slightly drunk and had the full ability to control himself.

Zhang’s death penalty was meted out in November 2010. The verdict has been approved by the Supreme People’s Court, as required.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder

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1682: Four at a Lisbon auto de fe

Add comment May 10th, 2020 Michael Geddes

(Thanks to Scottish Church of England clergyman Michael Geddes for the guest post. Geddes had occasion to witness the May 10, 1682 auto de fe in Lisbon on account of serving as the chaplain to the factory there, and left this account of it in volume I of his 1709 page-turner, Miscellaneous Tracts. Geddes’s detailed account of the Inquisition’s operation in chapter V forms the bulk of our text here, and it’s no surprise from what he writes that the Inquisition’s protests forced him out of Portugal a few years afterward. In Chapter VI, he provides brief vignettes enumerating the offenses of the dozens of subjects of our May 10 auto, from which we have highlighted only the executions — all four of them “New Christians” condemned for continuing to practice Judaism. -ed.)

A View of the Court of Inquisition in Portugal:

With a List of the Prisoners that came forth in an Act of the Faith celebrated at Lisbon, in the Year 1682.

The Court of Inquisition, which in Portugal is commonly called, The Holy Office, and The Holy House, consists of an Inquisitor General, the Supreme Council, Inquisitors, Assessors, Qualificators, a Secretary, an Advocate Fiscal, a Treasurer, Familiars, and Goalers.

The Inquisitor General, who is commonly called the Inquisidor Mor, is named by the King, but confirmed and authorized by the Pope, to act as his Delegate. He lives constantly at Lisbon, in an House in the Inquisition, which belongs to his Office. It is a Place of so great Dignity and Profit, that the Cardinal Infante Don Henry, and Albert Cardinal, Archduke of Austria, were in it, and Don Verissimo Alencastro left the Primacy of Braga for it.

The Counsellors of the Supreme Court are al named by the Inquisitor Major, but must before they act have the King’s approbation. The Council sits constantly twice at Lisbon.

The Inquisitors, who are commonly Secular Priests, do belong either to the Supreme Court which is fixed at Lisbon, or to the Inquisitions of Conimbra, Ebora, or Goa in the East Indies, which Courts have all the same inferiour Officers, and Stiles, and have all their Acts of the Faith.

The Assessors are Divines, Civilians, and Canonists, which are consulted by the Inquisitors in all difficult Cases.

The Qualificators are employed in correcting and amending of Books, and are commonly Dominican Fryars.

It [is] to be hoped, the Heresy of Doctrines is better understood by these Qualificators, than the Etymology of the word Heretick was by the Writer of their Repertorium, printed at Venice in the Year 1588, who to shew his Critical Learnings, faith, the word Hereticus, according to some, is compounded of Erro, and Recto; because an Heretick errs from what is right. According to others it is derived from Eristor, which signifies to divide; and according to some it comes from Adhereo, because it is one’s adhering obstinately to an Error, that makes him an Heretick. And with the same stocks of Learning it was, that another Inquisitor proved from St. Paul’s Words, Hereticum devita, that Christians were commanded to deprive Hereticks of their Lives.

The Secretary writes down whatever is said judicially in the Inquisition.

The Advocate Fiscal prosecutes the Prisoner with his utmost skill and diligence to convict him of Heresy.

The Treasurer has the Estate and all the Goods of the Prisoner put into his hands, when the Prisoner is apprehended.

The Familiars are the Bayliffs of the Inquisition; which tho it is a vile Office in all other Criminal Courts, is esteemed so honourable in this of the Inquisition, that there is not a Nobleman in the Kingdom that is not in it, and such are commonly employ’d by the Inquisitors to apprehend People; Neither is it any wonder, that Persons of the highest Quality do desire to be thus employ’d, since the same plenary Indulgence is by the Pope granted to every single Exercise of this Office, as was granted by the Lateran Council to those that succoured the Holy Land.

The Goalers are directed by the Inquisitors, how to dispose of, and how to treat their Prisoners, and are straitly charged not to give, nor to suffer them to have any manner of Intelligence.

The Inquisitors, and all their Officers do take an Oath, not to discover any thing that is said or done within the Walls of the Inquisition to any Person whatsoever, neither is there any thing more severely punished by this Court, than the Violation of that Oath.

And whereas the Pope’s having thus appointed Inquisitors to be the Judges of Heresie, was a great Incroachment on the Episcopal Jurisdiction, which the Papal eyes since it pretended to be Monarchical, has sought by a thousand ways to lessen; the Popes, to make this Encroachment go down the easier, allowed two Privileges to the Bishops; the one was, that the Inquisitors should not have Authority to Imprison a Bishop: And the other was, that before they condemned any Person as a Heretick, they should send to the Bishop of the Place, to concur with them in that Sentence; which two Constitutions, though they are still in force, are of little benefit to the Bishops; who tho they may not be imprisoned upon suspicion of Heresy by the Inquisitors, may be confined to their Houses by them, until they have inform’d the Pope, as the Archbishop of Toledo was in the Reign of Philip II. And if the Bishop, when he is acquainted with the Process of the Prisoner, should refuse to agree to his being condemned, the Inquisitors may pass Sentence notwithstanding; for in this, as in all other Cases, the Divine Authority of Bishops, when it happens to clash as they term it, with the Papal, must still give way to it.

The Court of Inquisition proceeds summarily, and most commonly upon a Denuntiation, as they term it, which does not, like an Accusation, disable the Person that makes it to be a Witness. The Inquisition forceth all to inform that can do it, by Edicts in the Form following.

To all, and singular Christians, as well Ecclesiasticks as Laicks of both Sexes, of whatsoever Degree, Order, Condition, Preeminence, Dignity, or Authority, the highest not excerpted. Know ye, That we by the Series and Tenor of these Presents, and by our Authority, and by that of the Office we execute here, do Charge and Command, That within twelve Days after the Publication hereof, (the first four of which are to be as the first, and the next four as the second and the last four as a peremptory and third Canonical Admonition) all that do know or suspect any of Heresy, do come and inform against them, upon Pain of the greater Excommunication latae Sententiae, which shall be ipso facto incurred, and from which they cannot be absolved by any, but by our Lord the Pope, or by us. And we do further Certify, That whosoever, despising the Penalty of this Excommunication, shall forbear to inform us, shall moreover be proceeded against as a Favourer of Hereticks.

If the Informer, when he comes in, names any Witnesses besides himself, they are sent for privately, and before they are examined, do take an Oath, not to discover to any Person their having been with the Inquisitors, nor to speak of any thing they said, saw, or heard within that Court.

All People, tho never so infamous, and tho they stand convicted of Perjury, are in favour of the Faith, and in detestation of Hereticks, admitted by the Inquisition to be Witnesses, Mortal Enemies only excepted.

This Exception is of little Benefit to the Prisoner, by reason of his not knowing who they are that have informed and witnessed against him.

The Depositions of the Informer, and Witnesses, if there be any, being thus privately taken, a Familiar is sent for, and being come, he has the following Order put into his Hand.

By the Command of the Reverend Father N. an Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity, let N. be apprehended and committed to the Prisons of this Holy Office, and not be released out of them but by the express Order of the said Reverend Inquisitor.

If several Persons are to be taken up at the same time, the Familiars are commanded so to order things, that they may know nothing of one another’s being apprehended; and at this the Familiars are so expert, that a Father and his three Sons, and three Daughters, who lived together in the same House, were all carried Prisoners to the Inquisition, without knowing any thing of one another’s being there, until seven Years afterwards, when they that were alive, came forth in an Act of the Faith.

The Prisoner being apprehended and carried with all possible Secrecy to the Inquisition, is delivered to the Goaler.

The Prisons of the Inquisition are little dark Rooms, and have no other Furniture but a hard Quilt, and an useful Pot. The Prisoners are not suffered to see any Body but their Keeper, who brings them their Diet, and with it a lighted Lamp, which burns about half an Hour; neither must their Keeper, without Leave from the Inquisitors, entertain any Discourse with them.

After the Prisoner has spent two or three Days and Nights, perhaps Weeks or Months, in his melancholy Apartment, he is carried by his Keeper before the Inquisitors; who, before they ask him a Question, do make him take an Oath to return true Answers to all their Interrogatories; and if he has ever been guilty of any Heresy to confess it to them.

The first Question the Prisoner is asked, is, Whether he knows why he was taken up by the Inquisition? And if he answers, That he does not know; he is then asked, Whether he knows for what Crimes the Inquisition useth to imprison People? If he answers, For Heresy; he is admonished, upon the Oath he has taken, to confess all his Heresies, and to discover all his Teachers and Complices. If the Prisoner denies that he ever held any Heresies, or had ever Communication with any Hereticks, he is gravely told, That the Holy Office does not use to imprison People rashly, or without having good Grounds for what they do, and that therefore he would do well to confess his Guilt; and that the rather, because the Holy Office, contrary to the Custom of all other Courts, is severe to those that deny, but merciful to all that confess their Guilt.

If the Prisoner persists in denying that he ever held any Heresies, his Goaler is called in, and commanded to carry him back to the Place from whence he came, and the Prisoner is admonished strictly to examine his own Conscience, that the next time they send for him, he may be prepared to make a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, Teachers, and Complices. The Prisoner having been allowed two or three Days, perhaps Weeks or Months, more to do this in, is brought before the Inquisitors a second time, and is asked, Whether he comes prepared to confess? And if he answers, That he cannot without accusing himself or others falsly, make any such Confession as they desire of him; they do then ask him, Where he was born, and what his Parents were, and where he went to School, and who were his School-masters, and where he has lived all his time, and with whom he has conversed most, and who has been his Confessor, and when he was last at Confession, and at the Sacrament? with twenty more such Questions: And being told, That they have sufficient Proof of his being an Heretick; they command him, since he cannot repent of his Heresies, unless he confesseth them all, to go back to his Prison, and there pray to God for Grace to dispose him to make a true and full Confession to the saving of his Soul, which is all they seek after. And being again allowed a considerable time to pray, and consider on what the Inquisitors have said to him, he is brought before them a third time; and in case he persists in pleading, Not guilty, he is then asked some Questions concerning divers Heretical Doctrines, but without acquainting him with the Particulars he is charged withal, for fear of leading him thereby to the Knowledge of the Informers or Witnesses: For Example, Whether he believes Christ to be bodily present in the Sacrament, and that it is lawful to adore Images, and to pray to Saints and Angels? And if he affirms, That he did always firmly believe these, and all the other Doctrines of the Roman Church; he is asked, If he always believed these Doctrines, how he came to speak against them? and if he denies that he ever did, he is then told, That since he is so obstinate in his Heresies, of which they have a sufficient Proof before them, they will order their Advocate Fiscal to form his Process, and to convict him of them. But in case the Inquisitors have not sufficient Evidence, notwithstanding that, to draw a Confession from the Prisoner, they have told him oftner than once, That they had, they do then fall a Note lower, and tell the Prisoner, That though they may not have sufficient Proof of his Heretical Words and Actions to convict him of them, that yet they have sufficient to put him on the Rack to make him confess them. And having fixed the Day when he is to undergo the Tortures, when that dismal Day comes, if he does not prevent it by such a Confession as is expected from him, he is led to the Place where the Rack is, attended by an Inquisitor, and a Publick Notary, who is to write down the Answers the Prisoner returns to the Questions which shall be put to him by the Inquisitor, whilst he is upon the Rack. During the time the Executioner is preparing that Engine of unspeakable Cruelty, and is taking off the Prisoner’s Clothes to his Shirt and Drawers the Inquisitor is still exhorting the Prisoner to have Compassion both on his Body and Soul, and by making a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, to prevent his being tortured. But if the Prisoner saith, That he will suffer any thing rather than accuse himself or others falsly, the Inquisitor commands the Executioner to do his Duty, and to begin the Torture; which in the Inquisition is given by twisting a small Cord hard about the Prisoners naked Arms, brought behind his Back, and hoisting him up from the Ground by an Engine to which the Cord is fastned: And as if the miserable Prisoner’s hanging in the Air by his Arms, were not torment enough, he has several Quassations or shakes given him; which is done by screwing his body up higher, and letting it down again with a jerk, which disjoints his arms, and after that the torture is much more exquisite than it was before.

When the prisoner is first hoisted from the Ground, an Hour-glass is turned up, and, which, (if he does not prevent it by making such a Confession of his Heresies as the Inquisitor that is present all the while, and is continually asking him Questions, expects from him,) must run out before he is taken down; To promise to make such a confession, if they will take him off the Rack, not being sufficient to procure him that Mercy, no more than his crying out that he shall expire immediately if they do not give him some Ease; that, as the Inquisitors tell us, being no more than all that are upon their Rack do think they are ready to do.

If the Prisoner endures the Rack without confessing any thing, which few, or none, though never so innocent, are able to so do; so soon as the Hour-glass is out, he is taken down, and carried back to his Prison, where there is a Surgeon ready to put his Bones in joint. And though in all other Courts, the Prisoners having endured the Rack without Confessing the Crimes for which they were tortured, clears ’em and makes void all the Evidence that was against them, yet in the Inquisition, where whatsoever Humanity and right Reason have established in favour of the Prisoner, is left to the Discretion of the Judge, it is commonly otherwise; the Prisoners that will not confess any thing, being usually racked twice; and if they stand it out, tho few of them can do that, thrice.

But if the Prisoner makes the Confession the Inquisitor expects he should on the Rack, it is writ down word for word by the Notary, and is, after the Prisoner has had a day or two’s Rest, carry’d to the Prisoner, to set his hand to it, which if the Prisoner does, it puts an end to his Process, the want of sufficient Evidence to have convicted him, being abundantly supply’d by this extorted Confession, being thus signed by him. But in case the Prisoner, when it is brought to him, refuseth to sign it, affirming it to be false, and to have been extorted from him by the Extremity of the Torture, he is then carried to the Rack a second time to oblige him to repeat and sign the same Confession.

It is a very hard matter for any one that is a Prisoner in the Inquisition for Heresy, to escape the Rack, since neither the professing and maintaining the Doctrines to be true wherewith he is charged, nor the denying of them, can secure him from it, the first being commonly Racked, to make them discover their Teachers and Accomplices; and the second, to oblige them to confess their own Guilt. And if a Prisoner does confess his having spoke some Heretical Words, but to save his Estate, stands in his having spoke them rashly, and in a Passion, without an Heretical Mind, he is racked to make him discover whether it was so or not, or whether his Thoughts were not the same with his Words. If a Prisoner either makes no Confession at all, or does not confess the particular Heretical Words or Facts wherewith he stands charged, and with which the Inquisitors will never acquaint him; he is asked whether he has any thing besides his Denial to offer in his own Defence, and if he has to make use of it: For now the Advocate Fiscal, upon their having Evidence enough against him, is ordered to form his Process. Here, if the Prisoner alledgeth, that unless they will be pleased to let him know the particular Heretical Words, or Facts, he stands charged withal, and who the Persons are that have informed and witnessed against him, it will not be possible for him to make any Defence; he is told, that cannot be done, because, to let him know the particular Heretical Words or Facts, might lead him to the Knowledge of the Informers and Witnesses; who by the fundamental Law of the Inquisition, must never either directly or indirectly be discovered to him.

Now for this singular and inhuman Custom of not letting their Prisoners know the particular Facts they stand charged withal, nor who they are that have informed and witnessed against them, the Inquisitors have nothing to say, but that it is necessary to the Security of the Lives of the Accusers and Witnesses, who if they were known, would be in so great danger; that none would dare to venture to inform or bear Witness against Hereticks in their Court. Which Pretence, tho it might have some Ground when Courts of Inquisition where first erected, no Cty, no not Rome itself, having submitted quietly to them when they were first introduced; it is now notorious to all the World, and to none more than to the Inquisitors themselves, that it is altogether groundless, and especially in Spain and Portugal, where the Inquisition is not only established by Law, but by a wonderful Fascination, is so fixed in the Hearts and Affections of the People, that one that should offer the least Affront to another, for having been an Informer or Witness in the Inquisition, would be torn in a thousand Pieces: And did the Prisoners that have been in the Inquisition but know certainly, who the Persons were, that had informed and witnessed against them, they durst not for their ives speak one word against them, or shew them the less Respect on that account.

Now for a Court to continue a Custom so singularly unjust and cruel, and upon a Pretence all the World knows to be altogether groundless, is a Confidence not to be matched any where, that I know of.

The Prisoner being thus deny’d the knowledge of the Things and Persons, without which it is scarce possible for him, tho never so innocent, to make any Defence, he is notwithstanding that, graciously asked by the Inquisitors whether he desires to have an Advocate and Proctor to help him to make it. If the Prisoner saith he would, he is not to name them, but must take those the Inquisitors shall appoint, who before they have seen their Client, must take the following Oath.

J.N. Doctor of both Laws, do in the Presence of the Lord’s Inquisitors of this Place against Heretical Pravity, having my Hand on the Holy Gospel of God, promise and swear sncerely and faithfully to defend and maintain the Cause of N. a Prisoner in the Prisons of this holy Office, who stands accused and impeached for Causes mentioned in its Acts; but so, as not to use any Trick or Cavil, or to instruct my said Client how to conceal the Truth in Judgment. And I do farther promise and swear, That if I shall by any way discover my said Client to be guilty of the Crime or Crimes wherewith he stands charged, I will thereupon immediately dismiss his Cause. And if by having searched narrowly into his Case, I shall discover that he has had Complices in his Heresies, I will give Information against them to this holy Office: All which I do promise upon Pain of Perjury, and of an Excommunication, from which I cannot be absolved by any but by this holy Office. So help me God, and these holy Gospels.

The same Oath is taken by the Prisoner’s Proctor, as the Inquisitors call him, tho in Truth, both he and the Advocate are the Inquisitors Engines, made use of to fish what they can out of the Prisoner against himself and his Friends, rather than any thing else.

The Prisoner being thus fitted with an Advocate and Proctor, who are not suffered to know any thing more of his Accusers, and of the Witnesses against him, than he himself knows; he is asked by them whether he would have any Questions put by the Inquisitors to those that have informed and witnessed against him, or would have them examined upon any Points: And in case the Prisoner furnisheth his Advocate with any such Questions or Points, they are put by him into Form, and delivered to the Inquisitors.

The Prisoner is asked also whether he has any Witnesses of his Orthodoxy; and if he names any, they are sent for, and heard by the Inquisitors. And as these Witnesses do go to the Inquisition with trembling Hearts, so they are extremely cautious, not to say any thing concerning the Prisoner, that shall imply their having lived in any intimacy with him, for fear of bringing themselves under a Suspicion of Heresy. And by the Laws of the Inquisition, no Relation of the Prisoners within the fourth Degree can be a Witness for him. When the Prisoners Advocate and Proctor are dismissed, they take an Oath that they have no Copy of the Defence the Prisoner made for himself, and that they will never speak of it to any Person whatever, neither is the Prisoner ever suffered to see the Depositions of his own fearful Witnesses, no more than the Depositions of those that are against him.

Beside the fore mentioned, there is another common Process in the Inquisition, which is against those that have murder’d themselves, or died a natural Death in their Prisons. The Process against the first is short; A Prisoner’s having murdered himself being judged such an Evidence of his Guilt, as is sufficient to convict him of the Heresies wherewith he was charged. The Process against the second is carry’d on by the Advocate Fiscal in the same manner as it would have been, had the Prisoner been alive, and the Prisoner’s Relations and Friends, or any other that have any thing to offer in Defence of the Deceased, are by a publick Edict summon’d to appear before the Inquisitors within forty Days, to give their Evidence; and if upon this Summons none do appear to offer any thing in Vindication of the Deceased, as I believe few are ever so hardy as to do that, the Deceased, after the Expiration of that Term of Days, is acquitted, or condemned, in the same manner that he would have been had he been alive. And if he is condemned, his whole Estate is forfeited, and his Body and Effigies are burnt at the next Act of the Faith, as are the Bodies and Effigies of those that have murdered themselves.

But the Power of the Inquisition extends not only to those that died in its Prisons, but to the Bodies, Estates and good Names of all, that, after their Decease, shall be convicted of having died Hereticks. And tho as to the Estates of those that are convicted of having dy’d Hereticks, they can go no farther than forty Years, as to the taking of their Bones out of their Graves and burning them, and the depriving them of their good Name, there is no Limitation of Time.

When a competent number of Prisoners are convicted of Heresy, either by their own voluntary, or extorted Confession, or upon the Evidence of certain Witnesses, a Day is fix’d by the chief Inquisitor for a Jayl-delivery, which is called by them, an Act of the Faith, and which is always upon a Sunday. In the Morning of the Day the Prisoners are all brought into a great Hall, where they have the Habits put on they are to wear in the Procession, which begins to come out of the Inquisition about 9 of the Clock in the Morning.

The first in the Procession are the Dominican Fryars, who carry the Standard of the Inquisition, which on the one side hath their Founder, Dominic’s Picture, and on the other side the Cross, betwixt an Olive Tree and a Sword, with this Motto, Justicia & Misericordia: Next after the Dominicans come the Penitents, some with Benitoes, and some without, according to the nature of their Crimes. They are all in black Coats without Sleeves, and barefooted, with a Wax Candle in their hands. Next come the Penitents who have narrowly escap’d being Burnt, who over their black Coat have Flames painted, with their Points turned downward, to signify their having been saved, but so as by Fire. This Habit is call’d by the Portugueze, Feugo [sic] revolto, or Flames turned up side down. Next come the Negative or Relapsed that are to be Burnt, with Flames upon their Habit, pointing upwards, and next come those who profess Doctrines contrary to the Faith of the Roman Church, and who besides Flames on their Habit pointing upward, have their Picture, which is drawn two or three days before upon their Breasts, with Dogs, Serpents, and Devils, all with open Mouths painted about it.

Pegna, a Famous Spanish Inquisitor, calls this Procession, Horrendum ac tremendium Spetaculum, and so it is in truth, there being something in the Looks of all the Prisoners, besides those that are to be Burnt, that is ghastly and disconsolate, beyond what can be imagined; and in the Eyes and Countenance of those that are to be Burnt, there is something that looks fierce and eager.

The Prisoners that are to be Burnt alive, besides a Familiar, which ll the rest have, have a Jesuit on each hand of them, who are continually preaching to them, to abjure their Heresies; but if they offer to speak any thing in defence of the Doctrines they are going to suffer Death for professing, they are immediately gagg’d, and not suffer’d to speak a Word more.

This I saw done to a Prisoner, presently after he came out of the Gates of the Inquisition, upon his having look’d up to the Sun, which he had not seen before in several Years, and cry’d out in a Rapture; How is it possible for People that behold that glorious Body, to worship any Being but him that created it? After the Prisoners comes a Troop of Familiars on Horseback, and after them the Inquisitors, and other Officers of the Court upon Mules; and last of all comes the Inquisitor General upon a White Horse, led by 2 Men, with a black Hat, and a green Hatband, and attended by all the Nobles, that are not employ’d as Familiars in the Procession.

In the Terreiro de Paco (which may be as far from the Inquisition as White-hall is from Temple-bar) there is a Scaffold erected, which may hold two or three thousand People; at the one end sit the Inquisitors, and at the other end the Prisoners, and in the same order as they walked in the Procession, those that are to be burnt, being seated on the highest Benches behind the rest, which may be ten Foot above the Floor of the Scaffold.

After some Prayers, and a Sermon, which is made up of Encomiums of the Inquisition, and Invectives against Hereticks, a Secular Priest ascends a Desk, which stands near the middle of the Scaffold, who having first taken all the Abjurations of the Penitents who kneel before him, one by one in the same Order they walked in the Procession, at last recites the final Sentence of the Inquisition upon those that are to be put to Death, in the Words following:

We, the Inquisitors of Heretical Pravity, having, with the Concurrence of the most Illustrations N. Lord Archbishop of Lisbon, or of his Deputy, N. called on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his Glorious Mother, the Virgin Mary, and sitting on our Tribunal, and Judging, with the Holy Gospels lying before us, that in our Judgment may be, is the sight of God, and our Eyes may behold what is just in all Matters betwixt the Magnifick Doctor N. Advocate Fiscal on the one part, and you, N. now before us on the other, we have Ordained, that is this place, and on this day you should receive your definitive Sentence;

We do therefore by this our Sentence put in Writing, define, pronounce, declare, and sentence thee, N. of the City of Lisbon, to be a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative, and Professed Heretick, and so be deliver’d, and left by us as such, to the Secular Arm: and we by this our Sentence, do cast thee out of the Ecclesiastical Court, as a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative and Professed Heretick, and we do leave and deliver thee to the Secular Arm, and to the Power of the Secular Court; but at the same time do most earnestly beseech that Court so to moderate its Sentence, as not to touch thy Blood, or to put thy Life in any danger.

Is there in all History, an Instance of so gross and confident a Mockery of God, and the World, as this of the Inquisitors earnestly beseeching the Civil Magistrates not to put the Hereticks they have condemned, and delivered to them, to death? For were they in earnest when they make this Solemn Petition to the Secular Magistrates, why do they bring their Prisoners out of the Inquisition, and deliver them to those Magistrates, in Coats painted over with Flames? why do they teach, that Hereticks, above all other Malefactors, ought to be punished with Death? And why do they never resent the Secular Magistrates having so little regard to their earnest and joynt Petition, as never to fail to Burn all the Hereticks which are delivered to ’em by the Inquisition, within an Hour or two after they have them in their hands? And why in Rome, where the Supreme, Civil, and Ecclesiastical Authority are lodged in the same Person, is this Petition of the Inquisition, which is made there as well as in other places, never granted? Certainly, not to take any notice of the old Canon, which forbids the Clergy to have any hand in the Blood of any Person whatsoever, would be a much less Dishonour to the Inquisition, than to pretend to go on, observing that Canon, by making a Petition which is known to be so contrary to their Principles and Desires.

The Prisoners are no sooner in the hands of the Civil Magistrate, than they are loaded with Chains, before the Eyes of the Inquisitors, and being carried first to the Secular Goal, are within an Hour or two brought from thence before the Lord Chief Justice, who, without knowing any thing of their particular Crimes, or of the Evidence that was against them, asks ’em one by one, In what Religion they do intend to die? If they answer, that they will die in the Communion of the Roman Church, they are condemned by him, To be carried forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes. But if they say, They will die in the Protestant, or in any other Faith that is contrary to the Roman, they are then sentenced by him, To be carry’d forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be burnt alive.

At the place of Execution, which at Lisbon is the Ribera, there are so many Stakes set up as there are Prisoners to be burnt, with a good quantity of dry Furz about them. The Stakes of the Profess’d, as the Inquisitors call them, may be about four Yards high, and have a small Board [whereupon] the Prisoner is to be seated, within half a Yard of their top. The Negative and Relapsed being first strangled and burnt, the Profess’d go up a Ladder betwixt the two Jesuits which have attended them all Day; and when they are come even with the forementioned Board, they turn about to the People, and the Jesuits spend near a Quarters of an Hour, exhorting the Profess’d to be reconciled to the church of Rome; which if they refuse to be, the Jesuits come down, and the Executioner ascends, who, having turned the Profess’d off the Ladder upon the Seat, and chained their Bodies close to the Stakes, he leaves them, and the Jesuits go up to them a second time, to renew their Exhortation to them, and at parting tell them, That they leave them to the Devil, who is standing at their Elbow to receive their Souls and carry them with him into the Flames of Hell-Fire, so soon as they are out of their Bodies. Upon this a great Shout is raised, and as soon as the Jesuits are off the Ladders, the cry is, Let the Dog’s Beards, Let the Dog’s Beards be made; which is done by thrusting flaming Furzes fastened to a long Pole against their Faces. And this Inhumanity is commonly continued until their Faces are burnt to a Coal, and is always accompanied with such loud Acclamations of Joy as are not to be heard upon any other occasion; a Bull-Feast, or a Farce being dull Entertainments to the using of a profess’d Heretick thus inhumanely.

The Professt’s Beards having been thus made, or trim’d, as they call it in jollity, Fire is set to the Furz which are at the bottom of the Stake, and above which the Professt are chained so high, that the top of the Flame seldom reacheth higher than the Seat they sit upon; and if there happen to be a Wind (to which that Place is much exposed) it seldom reacheth so high as their Knees: So that though if there be a Calm, the Professt are commonly dead in about half an hour after the Furz is set on fire; yet if the Weather prove windy, they are not after that dead in an hour and a half, or 2 Hours, and so are really roasted, and not burnt to Death. But tho out of Hell there cannot possibly be a more lamentable Spectacle than this, being joined with the Sufferers (so long as they are able to speak) crying out, Misericordia por amor de Dios, Mercy for the love of God; yet it is beheld by People of both Sexes, and of all Ages, with such Transports of Joy and Satisfaction, as are not on any other occasion to be met with.

And that the Reader may not think that this inhumane Joy may be the Effect of a natural Cruelty that is in those Peoples disposition, and not of the Spirit of their Religion, he may rest assured, that all publick Malefactors, besides Hereticks, have their violent Deaths no where more tenderly lamented, than among the same People, and even when there is nothing in the manner of their Deaths that appears inhumane or cruel.

Within a few Days after the Execution, the Pictures of all that have been burnt, and which were taken off their Breasts when they were brought to the Stake, are hung up in St. Domingo’s Church, whose West End, tho very high, is all covered over with these Trophies of the Inquisition hung up there in honour to Dominic, who, to fulfil his Mother’s Dream, was the first Inventor of that Court; Dominic’s Mother, when she was ready to be brought to Bed of him, having dream’d that she was delivered not of a humane Creature, but of a fierce Dog, with a burning Torch in his Mouth.


A List of the Persons who received their Sentences n the Act of the Faith, celebrated in the City of Lisbon, on the 10th of May, 1682.

[We omit numerous people whom Geddes itemizes having died in prison or sentenced sub-capitally, e.g., flogging, imprisonment, deportation to colonial Brazil, the galleys, and so forth. -ed.]

The Persons delivered to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 43, Gaspar Lopez Pereire, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Batchelor, the Son of Francisco Lopez Pereire, a Native of the Town of Mogadouro, an Inhabitant of Madrid, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, and Impenitent.

[Age] 33, Antonio de Aguiar, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Native of Lamilunilla, near to Madrid, an Inhabitant of Sevil, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

[Age] 42, Miguel Henriques da Fonseca, a New Christian, an Advocate, Native of the Town of Avios, an Inhabitant in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

These three were burnt alive, within two Hours after the Inquisition had delivered them to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 32, Pero Serraon, more than half a New Christian, a Batchelor the Son of Antonio Serraon, an Apothecary, who is in the List, a Native, and Inhabitant of this City, convicted, Negative, and Obstinate.

This last was first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes with the other Three.

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1935: John Stephenson Bainbridge, ten-minute alibi

Add comment May 9th, 2020 Headsman

The defense attempted to show that Bainbridge could not have committed the crime because Mr. Herdman’s daughter stated in court that she and Bainbridge left her father in the house at 7.55pm and testified that the clock was 10 minutes fast. Herdman was supposed to be murdered between 7.50 and 9.50pm. The judge noted that if that were true and the clock were not fast then Bainbridge was innocent. The is why the case was known as the “Ten Minute Alibi”.

-From the May 9, 2020 Facebook post of the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page. Click through for a lovely photo in the comments of the crime scene, in present day.

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1811: Arthur William Hodge, brutal slaveowner

Add comment May 8th, 2020 Headsman

West Indies planter Arthur William Hodge hanged on this date in 1811 — a distinctive punishment, for the crime imputed was the murder of his own property, a slave named Prosper.

The Oxford-educated gentleman ruled an estate upon Tortola called Bellevue, aptly called* for Hodge gives every symptom of laboring under some sort of madness, even beyond that madness which might be inherent to a slaveholding society. Famous among other planters for his cruelty long before he came to his own grief, Hodge had allegedly reduced through sheer barbarity his own farm’s slave roster from 140 in 1803 to 35 by the time of his death. (This allegation seems to be contradicted by a post-execution advertisement for the sale of his estate enumerating 160 slaves.)

Documents published in 1811 as a Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge, Esquire — available here and here — are thick with blood-curdling reports of Hodge’s “repeated and excessive acts of cruelty towards his slaves,” e.g.

That a slave, called “Tom Boiler,” between three and four years ago [i.e., circa 1807-1808 -ed.], was by order of the said Hodge, laid down and cart-whipped without intermission for at least an hour; that the said Arthur Hodge stood by and saw it done … that when the said negro slave “Tom Boiler,” after the infliction of said punishment attempted to rise, he could not stand, but was taken up and carried to the sick-house, from whence he never came out, but died in about a week …

That this deponent hath known the said Hodge to order, at different times, kettles of boiling water, prepared for the purpose of pouring said water down the throats of his negroes, who had offended him.

That Margaret, the cook, and Else, a washer, were served so; that said Hodge said they were going to poison Mrs. Hodge and the children, and he would put an end to them — that this deponent did not see the boiling water poured down their throats, because she had not the heart to be present; but heard the screams of Margaret, and saw both Margaret and Else running afterwards with scalded mouths, &c. …

That this deponent in passing the sick-house saw a child, about ten years of age, named Sampson, with the skin all off … that this deponent made enquiry concerning said child, and learnt by general report on the estate, from the negroes, that said child had been by order of said Hodge, dipped into a copper of boiling liquor.

-Deposition of a free black woman named Perreen Georges who was intermittently employed at Bellevue

Another negro slave, about nineteen years of age, was by order of said Hodge very severely cart-whipped and put in heavy irons, crook puddings, &c. and allowed little or nothing to eat. That he was burnt in the mouth with an hot iron, and that he, this deponent, saw him in consequence thereof, with his mouth all raw, and that he shortly after died …

That a free man, named Peter, was hired by said Hodge … to work as a cooper, on said Hodge’s estate. And that he, this deponent, has seen said Hodge in his presence, cart-whipping said Peter repeatedly, at short quarters,** and every other way, and put chains upon him, and had him worked upon his estate with the field negroes; that Peter died as this deponent believes, in consequence of the ill treatment of said Hodge …

That Bella, a small mulatto child, reputed to be the natural child of said Hodge, by his female slave Peggy, (then about eight years of age, as this deponent believes) was repeatedly cart-whipped by order of said Hodge; and this deponent further saith, he hath more than once seen the said Hodge strike said child with a stick, upon her head, and break her head; and hath repeatedly seen him kick her so violently in the lower part of her belly, as to send her several feet on the ground, from whence, he, this deponent, thought she never again would rise.

-Deposition of Stephen M’Keough, a former overseer on Hodges’s Bellevue estate

It’s a matter of speculation just why it was that Hodge’s excesses were judged by his peers sufficiently outrageous to merit what appears to be the first and only execution doled out in the British empire to a slaveholder for mistreating his chattel. Was it fear in the wake of the Haitian Revolution that his behavior invited a jacquerie on this sugar colony where the slave population outnumbered the white landowners 7:1? A stirring of the advancing abolitionist spirit that had barred the slave trade in 1807? Notably, this prosecution in 1811 for a three-year-old crime took place only with the advent of a new anti-slavery governor.

That crime, however dated when finally brought to bar, was every bit as dreadful as the sampling above from Perreen Georges and Stephen M’Keough — and Virgin Island elites gave short shrift to the planter’s defense “that a Negro, being property, ‘it was no greater offense in law for his owner to kill him, than it would be to kill his dog.'” “My God! Are we patiently to hear such a declaration?” the Crown prosecutor answered in horror. “If we one instant even tacitly acquiesced we could expect nothing short of the vengeance of heaven to overtake us and the judgments of an offended Deity, with plague, pestilence and famine to be our merited punishments.”

Prosper caught Hodge’s fury on account of losing a mango and when he was unable to produce payment for the fruit he was flogged 100 times on consecutive days, until he was too weak even to cry out. Carried to a sick-house and abandoned there without rations, he was “found there dead, and in a state of putrefaction, some days afterwards; that crawlers were found in his wounds, and not a piece of black flesh was to be seen on the hinder part of his body where he had been flogged.” With the colony in a state of outrage at these charges — “I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood,” Hodge said in his unsuccessful closing statement to his jurors — the court defied all precedent to condemn him. In the few days before the sentence was executed, Tortola was heavily locked down to preempt possible disturbances around the public hanging, which went off without incident.

However anomalous the execution of a slaveowner, Hodge’s tyranny would be invoked again and again in a project to reform judicial administration of the West Indies that stretched into the 1830s. The concern, as Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford describe in Rage for Order, was that these reservoirs of local and private power, barely checked in a distant colony where the justices deciding cases were hopelessly compromised by their membership in the same social circles and economic engines as their fellows, corrupted the law, bringing Britain herself into disrepute. “The flywheel of this project,” Benton and Ford note, “was the subordination of masters to imperial authority, not the championing of the rights of slaves.”

* The New York asylum by which the innocent name Bellevue attains its association with psychiatric disorders did not open until 1879.

** M’Keough’s testimony digresses to define close or short quarters as Hodge’s own term, meaning “the most cruel and severe mode of cart-whipping, as the whip is shortened and goes all round the body, cutting every part, particularly the stomach and belly, making no noise, which he believes to have been an inducement with said Hodge to practice it.” While we’re dallying with definitions, a cart-whip is described as “a certain instrument of punishment … made of wood and rope of the value of one shilling” used to flog and beat slaves.

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1720: James Cotter the Younger

Add comment May 7th, 2020 Headsman

Just, Prudent, Pious, everything that’s Great
Lodg’d n his Breast, and form’d the Man complete,
His Body may consume, his Virtues shall
Recorded be, till the World’s Funeral.

-broadsheet elegy from Cork: History & society

On this date in 1720, Irish Catholic landlord James Cotter the Younger was hanged at Cork City. The charge was rape — but in the eyes of most it was his politics that were really on trial.

In a way it was the dexterity of his old man, James Cotter the Elder, for navigating the English Civil War that set up his offspring for this unfortunate fate. A second son of an ancient house, this man made a scintillating career as a royalist officer who went into exile during the Cromwellian interregnum.

Naturally Cotter-Elder made out like a Cotter-Bandit upon the monarchy’s restoration, proving his zeal by hunting down and slaying an absconded regicide.* Emoluments ensued, eventually raising the man to a colonial governor. With the resulting wealth he consolidated his family’s fragmented estates and became one of southwestern Ireland’s greatest landholders — yet his deft political touch enabled him to keep his station intact after the Glorious Revolution deposed the Stuart dynasty he had served so excellently. Still, Cotter’s survival in the anomalous position of a Catholic Jacobite lord under a regime which Jacobites thirsted to overthrow required some tradeoffs; according to this Carrigtwohill newsletter (scroll down to p. 62), he had to let his son be raised as a Protestant to insure his inheritance. The family apparently found a loophole by marrying him young to a Protestant, which provided the youth a legal foothold to secure his position whilst openly returning to the old faith.

Unfortunately the ample rents that the 16-year-old Master Cotter became entitled to upon his father’s death in 1705 did not come with dad’s diplomatic talent.

In the wake of the failed 1715 Jacobite rising, a Protestant rival accused Cotter of abducting and raping a Quaker woman named Elizabeth Squibb. In Catholic eyes, the whole proceeding was a naked assassination, with partisan judges and jurors ramrodding a dubious conviction to reduce a major Catholic family. If so, it was successful; Cork noblemen preferred the charge to Dublin. The conviction was enforced with speed — allegedly to preempt any possible pardon — despite the outrage of a good portion of the populace. On execution day, it was necessary to improvise a rope pegged to an obliging post, because angry Cotter supporters had destroyed the gallows which was to bear his body. Gnashing of teeth among the printed-word set ran to some 20 still-surviving poems and broadsheets lamenting

* The assassination target was parliamentarian John Lisle. In 1685, Lisle’s widow was targeted for a still-infamous judicial killing after the Whig rebellion of Monmouth failed.

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1899: Kat-koo-at

Add comment May 5th, 2020 Headsman

From the Corvallis (Ore.) Gazette, May 9, 1899:

Says that the Clootchman Anna and Okh-kho-not are equally guilty — body delivered to the medical college for dissection.

Kat-koo-at, the Chilicat Indian who was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the United States Circuit Court for the murder of Thomas J. Brown, in Alaska Territory last January, was hanged yesterday afternoon. [This article is not explicitly datelined, but the day referred to is May 5, 1899 -ed.] United States Marshall Waters performed the unwelcome official duty of carrying into execution the sentence imposed by the court, and vindicated the outraged law. The execution took place in the jailyard, the same gallows on which James Johnson and Archie Brown suffered the extreme penalty of the law being used. Notwithstanding the public was well aware that Kat-koo-at was to be hanged there was very little excitement felt over the event and no guards or military companies were ordered out as in the case of Brown and Johnson. The stockade which had been erected to shut out public view from the appalling spectacle, did not prevent many from witnessing it who were not holders of tickets. Spectators were admitted until all the available space inside the enclosure was occupied, and many curiously disposed persons clambered up to the top of the fence and looked over, or peeped through the cracks between the planks and watched with evident interest the preparations which preceded the execution.

Kat-koo-at’s conduct.

Yesterday morning the doomed man ate a hearty breakfast at 6:30. After dispatching his meal Kat-koo-at sat down very composedly and smoked his pipe for some time. About 10 o’clock in the forenoon, Rev. W.C. Chattin called at his cell. Mr. Chattin, who converses quite fluently in the Chinook tongue, asked Kat-koo-at after the usual saluation if he was aware of the fact that he was going to die soon. The Indian replied:

“Yes, I know that; what time is it now?”

Mr. Chattin said “ten o’clock;” to which Kat-koo-at responded:

“Three hours yet before I die.”

He asked Mr. Chattin if he was afraid to die, to which he answered negatively.

This Indian it is said had been a regular attendant of the Mission School of the Greek church at Sitka, and has been taught about as much about God and Christ, and heaven and hell, as his untutored mind can comprehend. During his confinement, he frequently sung Sabbath school songs which he learned at Sitka.

Kat-koo-at was reminded by Mr. Chattin how upon the cross Christ forgave his enemies and asked whether he did likewise. Kat-koo-at answered: “Annie and Och-kho-not helped to kill Brown, and were as guilty as he himself; but I forgive them; I have put away all angry feeling; I feel as though you are the only friend I have, and I want you to be present with me to the last and pray for me.”

In the Prison.

U.S. Marshal Waters had made every preparation for the execution. The rope had been attached to the beam above the scaffold, the fatal drop drawn up to its proper position and all that was needed was the victim. To prevent a crowd, the court house doors were closed at 12 o’clock and about 75 persons who held tickets of admission were allowed to enter. In company with the officers, Rev. Mr. Chattin entered the cell of the doomed Indian at 12:45 and said (speaking the Chinook tongue), “Kat-koo-at, you are near your death.” He answered, “Yes.” Mr. Chattin continued, “You know it is a bad thing to die. Now tell me, were Annie and Och-kho-not equally guilty?” To which he responded “yes.” The question was asked Kat-koo-at whether his people would be angry with the whites for his execution, and whether they would take revenge for it. Kat-koo-at answered “no.”

The Fatal Drop.

Precisely 53 minutes past 12 o’clock Kat-koo-at, followed by U.S. Marshal A.W. Waters, Deputy Marshal W.P. Burns, Sheriff B.L. Norden, Constable M.B. Wallace, and Rev. W.C. Chattin, left the cell, ascended the steps leading to the scaffold, and took places thereon. As Kat-koo-at took his place in the center of the trap he surveyed the bystanders and made a profound bow. Marshal A.W. Waters then read the death sentence in paragraphs, which was interpreted to the Indian by Constable M.B. Wallace. At the conclusion of each paragraph, Kat-koo-at nodded assent. Mr. Wallace asked him whether he had anything to say, which was answered in the negative. Mr. Waters then drew the black cap quickly over the murderer’s face and adjusted the noose, while Mr. Burns placed handcuffs on the wrists and buckled a strap around the ankles. From the time Kat-koo-at came upon the scaffold until the drop fell, he maintained a stolid indifference, and not a quiver of a muscle was visible. However, he was under excitement, as his pulse beat 120 when he left his cell.

At 12:58, after the noose had been adjusted, Mr. Chattin advanced, and offered the following prayer in the Chinook tongue:

Oh, God! Thou art the Father of us all. Look in pity on this poor Indian, who is about to die. Although he has been a wicked man, he has renounced his sins and prays forgiveness.

The “Amen,” the click of the trigger, and a thud were then heard almost simultaneously. Kat-koo-at had stood too close to the edge of the trap, and as he dropped, his body struck the side of the trap-way and bounded to the other side. The breast heaved for two minutes and then the body was still. At 1:02 the shoulders were drawn up. This was the last perceptible movement of the body.

At 1:02½ Dr. Littlefield, the attending physician, felt the pulse and pronounced it very feeble.

At 1:03½ the pulse was barely perceptible.

At 1:04½ the pulse had ceased to beat, but by auscultation the feeble heart beats were counted 80 to the minute.

At 1:06, 58 to the minute.

At 1:09 there was only a slight murmur. At 12 he was pronounced dead, but the body was allowed to hang until 1:18, having hung a little longer than 19 minutes.

The fall was about 5½ feet — quite sufficient to have dislocated the Indian’s neck had he not struck against the edge of the scaffold. An examination was made after Kat-koo-at whas [sic] dead which disclosed the fact that death had been produced by strangulation instead of dislocation. After life was

Pronounced Extinct

The body was cut down and placed in a rude coffin. Subsequently it was conveyed to the medical college in conformity with the order of the court, and delivered to the professors and students of that institution.

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1630: Stine Teipel and Grete Halman, nine-year-old witches

Add comment May 4th, 2020 Headsman

Horribly, on this date in 1630 nine-year-old “witches” named Christine Teipel and Grete Halman were executed for witchcraft, in either Oberkirchen (where they were from) or Fredeburg (where they were tried).

For unknown reasons — maybe some deep well of trauma, or maybe just being a mischievous small child with no grasp of the consequences — “Stine” Teipel began spouting off in 1628 about being a witch herself, and about all the neighbors she knew who were also witches. The damage was not immediate — likely she wasn’t taken seriously — but the girl’s fabulisms lay around like dry tinder, perfect material in early 17th century Germany for gathering to a pyre.

The next year, a Hexenprozess local maximum brought her charges into the ambit of a judiciary and she

told the court that, after some ointment had been applied under her arm, she had flown to a meeting place of witches, several of whom she had recognized. She had also been on a mountain where the devil had provided everyone with beautiful clothes, as well as beer and wine in barrels of gold. In her mind the sabbath was a sort of dressing-up party in which the villagers acquired higher status and partook in a splendid meal. Belonging herself to one of the poorest families of cotters, the feast represented a kind of Schlaraffenland (Land of Cockayne). The dance had lasted two hours, and her partner had had a ‘thing’ on his body, which he had put in her private parts, but it had not given her any pleasure. (The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft)

Grete Halman was another girl whom she accused, and who corroborated the charges, with their implications of various named adults then echoing in the customary fashion into secondary accusations and cross-confirmations. Both children, along with seven adults, were executed on May 4 — just a fraction of some 61 witches known to be put to death by this court over the span of about a year. Stine Teipell’s stepmother and Grete Halman’s parents were among the other victims.

Visitors to Schmallenberg can take in an exhibit on this particular horror at the local Holthausen museum.

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2012: Michael Selsor

Add comment May 1st, 2020 Headsman

Al Jazeera journalist Josh Rushing witnessed the May 1, 2012 execution of Oklahoma murderer Michael Selsor, after having interviewed that inmate for a documentary two years prior. He filed this report:

The full 2010 interview Rushing excerpts is transcribed here, part of the presentation of the Fault Lines documentary that originally brought killer and scribbler together.

Selsor’s case was distinguished by a legal oddity concerning the shifting status of the death penalty since the time of his crimes way back in 1975: originally death-sentenced under a statute that was vacated in 1976, he was in non-death row prison when he won an appeal in 1998 — and the resulting retrial enabled Oklahoma to seek the death penalty again under its updated legal regime.

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1876: Louis Thomas, gallows builder

1 comment April 28th, 2020 Headsman

This musing on the torments for condemned prisoners of seeing their own rickety gallows put up in their own prison yard comes via Ken Leyton-Brown’s The Practice of Execution in Canada … and culminates with a Winnipeg execution that took place on April 28, 1876.

In principle, hanging may be said to have begun when the procession arrived at the scaffold, at which point the hangman took control of proceedings, and to have ended with the death of the condemned. During what was supposed to be a brief time, the hangman was to perform a number of tasks. First, the condemned had to be positioned over the trap. In the years just after Confederation, this might be delayed while he made a short address to the assembled onlookers, but in later years, the address was rarely permitted. Second, the hangman would secure his ankles and sometimes his knees. Third, what was called a cap, but was actually a bag, was placed over his head, and the oose was put about his neck and tightened. And lastly, the trap would be released, allowing him to drop through the platform.

This seems a fairly simple set of operations, and it might be expected that hanging was generally quite straightforward, but in fact, problems could arise at every stage. The first of these sprang from the fact that hangings occurred at the prson where the condemned person had been held during trial. An inevitable consequence of this was that they took place in a large number of small facilities across the country, frequently in locations that had never conducted them before. This meant that the required apparatus had to be built from scratch, virtually always by people who lacked either plans or experience to guide them. Thus, predictably, it was not always a great success: a hastily erected scaffold might not work properly, and its construction could be unsettling, sometimes even cruel, to prisoners waiting to be hanged.

Even a hurriedly built gallows took some time to assemble because it had to be a substantial structure, able to meet the demands that would be placed upon it. It required a platform large enough to accommodate the various civic officials, one or more spiritual advisors, the hangman, and the condemned; it must include a trap door and a stout overhead beam; and it needed enough clearance underneath to allow for both the body to hang and the subsequent examination to ensure the death had occurred. None of this would be difficult for skilled carpenters, provided they had enough wood and nails, but the task did not necessarily appeal to them. Therefore, a gallows was often built to less than the desired standard, and on occasion this adversely affected its functioning. More serious, though, was that its construction meant for the condemned, and for everyone in the prison. It was a noisy project, and the sound of sawing and hammering, combined with the certain knowledge of what was being built and what would happen when it finished, preyed on people’s minds, especially, one supposes, on that of the condemned. Worse, they could sometimes see its manufacture, either from their cell or was they went for exercise, and could watch it take shape, knowng that they would die upon it. A Winnipeg Free Press discussion of the preparation of a scaffold for Philip Johnston and Frank Sullivan illustrates this well:

Reverberating through the precincts of the provincial jail today are the sounds of the hammer and saw and to the two men these sounds mean the beginning of the end of their existence. Formal announcement is expected today from Ottawa that no reprieve can be granted Frank Sullivan and Philip Johnson, the two men condemned to pay the extreme penalty of the law for the murder of Constable Snowden.

Yesterday’s word from Ottawa that John Stoike had been reprieved and the fact that no announcement was made in regard to a new trial for the other two men caused a start to be made on the erection of the scaffold. Unless Minister of Justice Doherty grants a stay of execution today in order to listen to a new witness the men will be executed at 7 o’clock Friday morning.

Ellis, the executioner, is expected to reach the city tomorrow. Last night the floor of the double scaffold had been constructed and the framework will be completed in time for a thorough test to be made by noon tomorrow.

A scaffold had to be a sturdy affair, and it was often left standing for long or short periods as a mute reminder to prisoners of what their future might hold if they were unlucky or did not mend their ways. Usually, though, the scaffold was taken apart after a hanging and the wood either salvaged or stored. A stored scaffold could be reassembled when next it was needed, a detail typically mentioned in newspaper accounts. The hanging of Louis Thomas in 1876 provides an example. In 1874 Joseph Michaud had been hanged at Winnipeg, and it appears that the scaffold had been dismantled and the pieces stored. Two years later, when Angus McIvor was executed, it was taken out of storage and reassembled. The scaffold was then left up, and four months later Thomas became the third person to die on it. The most macabre feature of this was that, while in jail, Thomas was required to help raise McIvor’s scaffold, all the while knowing that his life would probably end on the same apparatus.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder

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1663: Gustav Skytte, pirate

Add comment April 27th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1663, the Swedish pirate Gustav Skytte caught a fusillade.

A nobleman of illustrious lineage* during the height of Sweden’s great-power glory, Skytte (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) larped as a murderous buccaneer with some cronies from 1657, when he hijacked a Dutch ship.

The Baltic swash he buckled for the next several years from his secret refuge in Blekinge recommended him in time as the focus of a Romantic-era novel by Viktor Rydberg, The Freebooter of the Baltic. (You’ll need your Swedish fluency.)

He was survived by his 18-year-old sister and her husband, who had both been partners in his piratical enterprise but were able to flee to Denmark. They suffered property confiscation but were permitted to return to Sweden in 1668.

* His grandfather was a tutor of the great King Gustavus Adolphus.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Piracy,Pirates,Shot,Sweden

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