Posts filed under 'Lethal Injection'

1982: Charles Brooks, Jr., the first by lethal injection

Add comment December 7th, 2018 Headsman

Besides being Pearl Harbor Day and Noam Chomsky Day, December 7 is a black-letter anniversary for capital punishment as the date in 1982 when the United States first executed a prisoner by means of lethal injection.

Charles Brooks, Jr. — who had by the time of his death converted to Islam and started going by Shareef Ahmad Abdul-Rahim — suffered the punishment in Texas for abducting and murdering a car lot mechanic. With an accomplice,* he had feigned interest in a test drive in order to steal the car, stuffing the mechanic in the trunk and then shooting him dead in a hotel room.

The “modern” U.S. death penalty era had just dawned with 1976’s Gregg v. Georgia decision affirming new procedures meant to reduce systemic arbitrariness — and the machinery was reawakening after a decade’s abeyance.

In the wake of the circus atmosphere surrounding the January 1977 firing squad execution of Gary Gilmore, the laboratories of democracy started casting about for killing technologies that were a little bit less … appalling.

“We had discussed what happened to Gary Gilmore,” former Oklahoma chief medical examiner Jay Chapman later recalled. “At that time we put animals to death more humanely than we did human beings — so the idea of using medical drugs seemed a much better alternative.”

This was not actually a new idea: proposals for a medicalized execution process had been floated as far back as the 1880s, when New York instead opted for a more Frankenstein vibe by inventing the electric chair. And the Third Reich ran a wholesale euthanasia program based on lethal injections.

But 1977 was the year that lethal injection was officially adopted as the lynchpin method for regular judicial executions. It happened in Oklahoma, and Chapman’s three-drug protocol — sodium thiopental (an anaesthetic), followed by pancuronium bromide (to stop breathing) and potassium chloride (to stop the heart) — became the standard execution procedure swiftly taken up by numerous other U.S. states in the ensuing years. As years have gone by, Chapman’s procedure has come under fire and supply bottlenecks have led various states to experiment with different drug cocktails; all the same, nearly 90% of modern U.S. executions have run through the needle.*

Texas was one early adopter, rolling in the gurney to displace its half-century-old electric chair. Its debut with Charlie Brooks was also Texas’s debut on the modern execution scene, and both novelties have had a lot of staying power since: every one of Texas’s many executions in the years since — 557 executions over 36 years as of this writing — has employed lethal injection.

* For up-to-date figures, check the Death Penalty Information Center’s executions database.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,Theft,USA

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2009: Bobby Wayne Woods

1 comment December 3rd, 2018 Headsman

Bobby Wayne Woods was executed by lethal injection in Texas on this date in 2009.

A proud bearer of the classic middle name, Woods in 1997 broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home and kidnapped her two children, both of whom he did to what he thought was death. (11-year-old daughter Sarah Patterson, whom Woods also raped, did die; nine-year-old son Cody Patterson survived a savage beating, barely.)*

What distinguished Woods from a run-of-the-mill capital murder was his disputed competency — a product of what Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald aptly termed a “legal grey area.” A landmark 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case, Atkins v. Virginia, bars the execution of mentally disabled prisoners … but punts the definition of this protected class to the very states that are trying to execute them. Ah, federalism.

Woods was a barely-literate middle school dropout with I.Q. test scores ranging from 68 to 80; the commonplace threshold for mental disability is about I.Q. 70. He definitely did the crime, but was he entitled to protection under Atkins?

The case stuck in the judicial craw, scratching a scheduled 2008 execution and resulting in appeals that resolved only half an hour before Woods received the needle. The whole thing was essentially stalemated by dueling experts on retainer who made the arguments you’d expect them to make for their sides. And since the legal standard is whatever Texas feels like enforcing, that means the guy is not disabled.

* The victims’ mother, Schwana Patterson, was convicted of felony child neglect for failing to intervene in the abduction, out of fear of the assailant; she served eight years in prison for this.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Kidnapping,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Texas,USA

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2009: Xu Wei, Jilin gangster

Add comment November 5th, 2018 Headsman

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported thusly:

CHANGCHUN, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) — A Mafia ring leader, who is also son of a former high-ranking city official, was executed Thursday by lethal injection in Changchun, capital of northeast China’s Jilin Province, according to a court statement.

Convicted of murder, kidnapping, intentional injury, extortion and other crimes, Xu Wei, 42, was sentenced to death by the Changchun Intermediate People’s Court on Sept. 20, 2007. The Higher People’s Court of Jilin Province ruled against Xu’s appeal and upheld the first-instance verdict on July 10, 2008. The Supreme People’s Court approved the death sentence after reviewing the case.

Xu, deputy manager of Yushu City Thermal Power Co. and son of Xu Fengshan, former deputy mayor of Yushu city, was found to have provided guns to two gangsters who shot dead Xu’s business rival in 1997. Xu even pulled strings through his police complice and bailed out one of the killers, the court was told.

Believing a township head didn’t pay him enough respect, Xu ordered his men to beat him to death in 1998. In the end, the man was struck into coma and died in hospital in 2000 at the age of 49, court verdict said.

In a separate case, the father Xu Fengshan was sentenced to death with a reprieve of two years for taking more than 20 million yuan (2.93 million U.S. dollars) in bribery and harboring criminal organizations.

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

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1999: David Leisure, mob war veteran

Add comment September 1st, 2018 Headsman

Gangster David Leisure — not to be confused with the “Joe Isuzu” actor of the same name — was executed by lethal injection in Missouri on this date in 1999.

A rare real-life mafioso — perhaps the first executed in the United States since Murder, Inc. boss Louis “Lepke” Buchalter in 1944 — Leisure shattered the tense 19-day calm after St. Louis mob boss Anthony Giordano died in 1980.

What would the post-Giordano underworld look like? The Leisure family sized up 75-year-old James “Horseshoe Jimmy” Michaels Sr. as a rival to eliminate for reasons both personal and professional. Paulie Leisure, his brother Anthony, and their cousin, our man David Leisure, already held Michaels responsible for permitting the murder of another family member in 1964. But as a more direct inducement, Michaels purposed to wrest control of a mobbed-up union from the Leisures.

On September 17, under Paulie’s orders, David Leisure and Anthony Leisure tailed Michaels onto Interstate 55, where by remote control they detonated a bomb they’d attached to the undercarriage of their enemy’s Chrysler Cordoba.

A nationally known gangland war ensued, nicknamed the “Syrian-Lebanese War” — not in tribute to world news but because mobsters of Levantine descent were a principal St. Louis crime faction, and it was for primacy among them that the Michaels and Leisure circles murdered one another. The next year, Paulie Leisure lost his legs to a retaliatory bomb, which in turn led the Leisures to kill Michaels’s grandson, and on and on.

By 1983, FBI informants had brought all our Leisure characters under indictment. David Leisure already had lengthy prison sentences for racketeering and for a different car bomb murder by the time the Show Me State was ready to prosecute the Michaels murder. Paul Leisure never got the death penalty but he died in federal prison a few months after his cousin’s execution. The St. Louis mafia has been said to be reduced by the present day to little more than a social club for aging wiseguys from a bygone world.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Missouri,Murder,Organized Crime,USA

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2006: Sedley Alley

Add comment June 28th, 2018 Headsman

A gentleman with the interesting name of Sedley Alley was executed by lethal injection in Tennessee on this date in 2006, for the positively horrific rape-murder of Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins.

True crime writer John Douglas has explored this case in Journey Into Darkness and Law & Disorder.

The ghastly crime occurred in 1985, when the 19-year-old Collins went for a jog at Millington Air Force Base; her attacker stabbed her about the head with a screwdriver and raped her with a tree branch so violently that the branch tore the young woman’s lung.

Alley’s next-day confession followed by his shifting accounts of the events led him to try a hail-mary insanity defense at trial … a surprising contrast to the innocence claim he floated late in his appeals process.

The generation-long labyrinth of judicial appeals between homicide and execution led Collins’s parents, Jack and Trudy, to become outspoken victims’ rights advocates. “There never will be closure,” Jack Collins once told a filmmaker. “What you get is a modicum of peace. You get a feeling that somebody cares. The state of Tennessee cared enough about our daughter that it carried out an execution on her killer. But no closure until the day we die.”

On this day..

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

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1989: Stephen McCoy, botched

Add comment May 24th, 2018 Headsman

Rapist-murderer Stephen McCoy succumbed to a badly botched lethal injection in Texas on this date in 1989.

McCoy, according to the Death Penalty Information Center,

had such a violent physical reaction to the drugs (heaving chest, gasping, choking, back arching off the gurney, etc.) that one of the witnesses (male) fainted, crashing into and knocking over another witness. Houston attorney Karen Zellars, who represented McCoy and witnessed the execution, thought the fainting would catalyze a chain reaction. The Texas Attorney General admitted the inmate “seemed to have had a somewhat stronger reaction,” adding, “The drugs might have been administered in a heavier dose or more rapidly.”

McCoy with two accomplices, James Paster and Gary LeBlanc, had committed a cut-rate murder for hire, grossing $1,000 to shoot someone’s ex-husband in the parking lot of a club. Paster, who actually pulled the trigger on that murder, suggested to his mates that they would all rest a little easier in one another’s silence if they jointly committed two more homicides, with each taking his own turn as the murderer.

To that end, they kidnapped one Diana Oliver in November 1980, gang-raped her, and had McCoy take her life with an improvised garrote. Their third victim was 18-year-old Cynthia Johnson, abducted from her stranded vehicle on New Year’s Eve 1980, and also raped and strangled to death.

Paster was also executed. LeBlanc copped a long prison sentence for cooperating with the state against his accomplices.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Texas,USA

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2016: Coy Wayne Westbrook

Add comment March 9th, 2018 Headsman

Going to his death on this date in 2016, Texas mass murderer Coy Wayne Westbrook was anything but.

I want to say that I’m sorry for the pain that I have caused you people. I’m sorry I can’t bring everybody back. I wish things could have been a lot different …

I can understand your outrage and why you are mad at me. God be with all of us.

He’d had a lot to say over the years about the incomprehensible quintuple shooting that brought him to that moment, a moment he claimed to be “looking forward to.”

Hoping to reconcile with his ex-wife, Gloria Jean Coons, Westbrook joined her at a small party at her Channelview, Texas, apartment. After several drinks, he says — and he’s the only witness remaining — he was incensed when Coons took two different men to the bedroom at which point Westbrook, to use the clinical term, flipped his shit.

“You hear all your life if you catch your old lady in bed with somebody, don’t just shoot her but shoot her lover too,” Wesbrook informed journos. “In her case, there was a bunch of lovers. I just took care of my business.” And also he had to shoot the other two people there when they came running at him for some reason.

The victims were Coons, 37; Diana Ruth Money, 43; Anthony Ray Rogers, 41; Antonio Cruz, 35; and Kelly Hazlip, 32. The state would argue that our man was being, well, coy about the degree of calculation in this rampage.

“As I saw her collapse and die, the spell was broken,” he said of Coons. “I could see her for what she was. I no longer found her attractive.”

In a different interview Westbrook said that he’d “regretted everything a trillion times.” But he struck a less penitent note in conversation with the television program 60 Minutes, saying that “I’m a victim in this as well as everybody else.”

The man’s already quite extensive roster of “everybody else” fortunately never came to include Westbrook’s first (pre-Coons) ex-wife, upon whom he allegedly tried to put out a hit while in jail.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,USA

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1999: Dobie Gillis Williams

Add comment January 8th, 2018 Headsman

Dobie Gillis Williams was executed by Louisiana on this date in 1999.

Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun of Dead Man Walking fame, ministered to Williams on death row and became convinced of his innocence — a perspective she argues forcefully in another book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.*

Sister Helen has been accused of overstating her argument here; certainly the state was able to develop a number of incriminating circumstances, like Williams’s observed absence from his home just a half-mile from the murder and abrasions that speculatively could have been incurred shimmying out the small bathroom window. The best forensic evidence was blood at the scene matched by type to Dobie Williams, although blood was oddly absent from the purported murder weapon dropped outside of Sonja Knippers’s Sabine Parish home one summer night in 1984.

Home on a prison furlough, Williams profiled as a central casting suspect and his un-recorded confession late that night would cinch the case. Williams’s attorneys throughout his 14-plus-year legal odyssey suggested that the borderline developmentally disabled Williams might have been manipulated into a false confession, a factor that today is today increasingly understood as a frequent contributor to wrongful convictions. What Helen Prejean wrote about back in 2005 of the possible dynamic could certainly be read as special pleading but her understanding of the interrogation as an event of collaborative storytelling full of subtle back-and-forth cues ran well ahead of the general public’s.

Dobie’s defense attorney, Michael Bonnette, in his cross-examination of the officers, pressed them on the way the confession had been obtained, taking Dobie in the middle of the night and questioning him over and over, feeding him information. Bonnette did get the officers to acknowledge two crucial pieces of information about the crime they had relayed to Dobie — that the victim had been stabbed and that the crime had taken place in the bathroom. Perhaps they had also pieced things together for him: If there was a stabbing, there had to be a knife — so where was the knife? And how did he enter and leave the apartment? Didn’t he leave through the bathroom window? Didn’t it have to be the bathroom window, since that was what Mr. Knippers reported his dying wife had said?

Coming up on two decades gone, Dobie Gillis Williams’s case isn’t widely remembered these days; the Death Penalty Information Center doesn’t even name him on its “Executed but Possibly Innocent” page.

The likely reason is that Williams had a November 1998 execution date stayed so that DNA tests could be attempted on the bathroom curtains, the ones that had yielded the blood type match at the time of the trial — and the tested sample reportedly matched Williams. Helen Prejean is sticking to her guns; she explains why she doubts the lab’s conclusions here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Louisiana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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2005: Wesley Baker, the last in Maryland

2 comments December 5th, 2017 Headsman

The U.S. state Maryland executed Wesley Baker on this date in 2005 — the last man ever put to death there.

Baker accosted* a 49-year-old woman named Jane Frances Tyson in the parking lot of a Catonsville shopping mall after she’d finished shoe-shopping, shooting her point-blank while two young grandkids looked on in order to grab her purse. Had Baker and his getaway driver/accomplice Gregory Lawrence not been captured almost immediately — a bystander noted the license plate and called it in — they’d have had $12 to share.

Baker’s life, too, was cheap, according to a Washington Post profile.

Born unwanted to a teenage mother, he was sexually abused by age 5 and was using heroin regularly by age 10, his attorneys wrote in the petition to the governor. By 14, Baker was living with a prostitute twice his age, trading sex for drugs. He became a father the next year.

Maryland was a halfhearted readopter of the death penalty in its late-20th century “modern” era in the U.S., and by the 2000s Baker’s execution was delayed for a moratorium to study racial inequity in the system. After concluding that, yes, racial bias was rife in the Maryland capital punishment system, the state went ahead and executed him anyway.

But this proved to be a throwback to a disappearing law-and-order era. The very next year, complications with the state’s lethal injection procedures led Maryland courts to suspend executions, a situation that transitioned into another moratorium and eventually, in 2013, outright abolition. Maryland today has no death penalty, and its last four pre-abolition condemned prisoners had their sentences commuted on December 31, 2014 by outgoing Governor Martin O’Malley.

* Baker argued deep into his appeals that Lawrence was, or at least might have been, the gunman; the Fourth Circuit federal court of appeal agreed that proof that Baker fired the shot “was not overwhelming,” but did not mitigate the sentence.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Maryland,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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2013: Joseph Paul Franklin, Larry Flynt’s would-be assassin

Add comment November 20th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 2013, hoping “for people to think of me as a person who is filled with a lot of love for people, not filled with hate for people,” Joseph Paul Franklin was executed by lethal injection in Missouri for a three-year racist killing spree.

Born James Clayton Vaughn, Jr., before he renamed himself into a portmanteau of Paul Joseph Goebbels and Benjamin Franklin, our killer suffered by his own account a childhood warped by the disinterest of his mother and the physical violence of a usually-absentee father. He took up an interest in evangelical Christianity and white nationalism, and in 1977 began crisscrossing the country committing racially motivated attacks against Jews and African Americans.

He would later say that his intent was to trigger a race war. (Franklin renounced racism in prison.)

Victims fit many descriptions to enrage a white supremacist: mixed-race couples ambushed from sniper positions, two black youths walking home, a black fast food manager, a Jewish parishioner waiting for worship outside a synagogue, even two white girls he picked up hitchhiking who said something about a black boyfriend.

He wasn’t tried for all these murders and his own accounts of his career shifted over time; he’s estimated to have taken at least 18 lives in various near-random shootings covering 11 different states. If Franklin himself knew the exact count, he took it to the grave.

“Do you know how many people you murdered?” he’s asked in this interview.

“I’d rather not mention it.”

“By my count, it’s 22 people.”

“That’s approximately it.”

Whatever the exact body count, Franklin is best known for two killings he didn’t quite manage to commit.

On May 29, 1980, he shot civil rights activist Vernon Jordan in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jordan recovered, and President Jimmy Carter’s visit to Jordan’s bedside in hospital was the very first story covered on CNN’s debut broadcast on June 1, 1980.

Two years previous, incensed by Hustler magazine’s interracial spreads, Franklin had attempted to assassinate porn publisher Larry Flynt. Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down as a result: he’s been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Nevertheless, Flynt opposed Franklin’s execution. “I do not want to kill him, nor do I want to see him die,” Flynt wrote in the Hollywood Reporter a month before Franklin went to his death.

Franklin has been sentenced by the Missouri Supreme Court to death by legal injection on Nov. 20. I have every reason to be overjoyed with this decision, but I am not. I have had many years in this wheelchair to think about this very topic. As I see it, the sole motivating factor behind the death penalty is vengeance, not justice, and I firmly believe that a government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Missouri,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Ripped from the Headlines,Serial Killers,Terrorists,USA

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