Posts filed under 'Lethal Injection'

2004: David Harris, Errol Morris subject

Add comment June 30th, 2020 Headsman

Errol Morris’s classic 1988 docudrama The Thin Blue Line helped to exonerate former death row inmate Randall Dale Adams.* He’d been convicted of shooting a Dallas police officer to death during a traffic stop.

On this date in 2004, the man who really pulled the trigger, David Ray Harris, received lethal injection. It wasn’t the murder of Officer Robert Wood he was being punished for: after more or less confessing the crime to Morris’s recorders, Harris was never charged with it. By that time, he was already on death row for an unrelated 1985 murder.

Randall Adams published a book about his ordeal. He died of brain cancer in 2010.

* Adams avoided execution in 1980 and had his sentence commuted. He was still in prison, but no longer on death row, at the time of the film’s release. He was released outright in 1989. Filmmaker Morris describes how he came to make the film — and how Adams “never will be exonerated” officially — in this interview with Bill Moyers.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Texas,USA

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2002: Johnny Joe Martinez

Add comment May 22nd, 2020 Headsman

“My client, Johnny Joe Martinez, was executed on Wednesday, May 22. The time of death was 6:30. Two days before, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against commuting Martinez’s death sentence to a sentence of life in prison by a vote of 9 to 8.”

This is from a touchingly personal obituary written by Martinez’s attorney and friend, David Dow — a prominent anti-death penalty advocate who has bylined several books.

A few books by David Dow

As indicated by drawing eight favorable votes from the notoriously commutation-averse Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Martinez‘s was an unusually sympathetic case.

Twenty years old and drunk, he’d successfully shoplifted some stuff from a Corpus Christi 7-11 late one night, then impulsively returned and robbed the till with a pocket knife to the neck of the clerk, Clay Peterson. He got $25.65 from the register, then suddenly stabbed the unresisting Peterson about the neck, back, and shoulders. You already know that the wounds proved fatal.

Seemingly stunned by his own senseless action, Martinez fled the store in tears, confusedly discarding the knife, then directly turned himself in to police. He couldn’t explain why he’d attacked Clay Peterson. “I don’t know. That’s a question I will never be able to answer.”

He was always going to be convicted of this crime, but a robust defense during the penalty phase of the U.S.’s distinctive bifurcated capital trial process had a high probability of success. Martinez had no criminal history and was obviously sincerely remorseful. You’d have a strong argument to make that he posed as little a future risk to society as one could imagine of a murderer.

Such a defense was not forthcoming, and because the lawyers who handled Martinez’s state appeals (Mr. Dow did federal appeals) also failed to mention it, the entire question became procedurally defaulted. One does not wish to verge into special pleading on behalf of a man who gratuitously took a life. But, weighing aggravation and mitigation is the very crux of the entire enterprise: the point of the death penalty machinery is to select from among homicides the worst crimes and criminals most exceptionally deserving of capital punishment. Were the threshold of “worst” implied by Martinez’s sentencing to be applied generally, there would be thousands of U.S. executions per annum.

Martinez in the end had a better hearing on this score from Clay Peterson’s mother than from the courts. Lana Norris met with her son’s killer personally shortly before the execution — gave him her forgiveness — and appealed for his life, a gesture that Martinez recognized appreciatively in his last statement seconds before the lethal drugs began flowing.

“Please do not cause another mother to lose her son to murder, needlessly!” she wrote to that same clemency board that would refuse Martinez’s appeal by a single vote. “There is no doubt in my mind, that to execute Mr. Martinez would be a double crime against society. Here is a young man that has truly repented and regrets his actions.”

On this day..

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

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2020: Walter Barton, coronavirus milestone

Add comment May 19th, 2020 Headsman

Missouri graced America with her first coronavirus pandemic execution tonight.

Aptly emblematic of a moment where crumbling institutions reveal the post-Cold War empire’s far-advanced rot, Walter “Arkie”* Barton’s death on the gurney culminated three decades of shambolic re-prosecutions, reliant in the end for their victory on nothing but the unequal strength of the prosecutor’s office and the willingness of courts to certify junk science as real evidence.

The victim of the murder was the 81-year-old manager of Riverview Trailer Park, where Barton lived. He was friends with that woman, Gladys Kuehler, and visited her the afternoon of her murder; later, he together with Kuehler’s granddaughter and a neighbor discovered the woman’s body. She’d been sexually assaulted and horribly knifed, slashed and stabbed more than 50 times.

The key bits of evidence convincing jurors — several of whom submitted affidavits during Barton’s clemency stage regretting their findings — that Barton had been the author of this savage attack were essentially two:

  1. Blood-spatter expert testimony that a drop of blood on Barton’s shirt that was a DNA match for Gladys Kuehler had arrived there via a “high-impact” splat at velocity –i.e., flying fast off the murder weapon. This stuff is humbug of the same genus as the burn pattern pseudoscience that wrongly executed Cameron Willingham, and more importantly it’s conspicuously silent on why Barton, who didn’t change or wash his clothes, wasn’t ribboned with high-impact bloodstains from his slasher-film murder. His own hypothesis that he picked up a spot of blood at the time he helped discover the body is at least as compelling an explanation.
  2. The ubiquitous jailhouse snitch, behind bars for a list of frauds as long as your arm, to whom Walter Barton, that fool, just spontaneously confessed even while otherwise maintaining his innocence to everyone else who would listen. The use and abuse of these finks, whose comforts are directly controlled by one party in the adversarial hearing, is a factor in a great many wrongful convictions.

Aggressively prosecuted by an attorney general — Jay Nixon, subsequently Missouri’s governor — more politically ambitious than forensically rigorous over the span of no fewer than five trials, then upheld by a split 4-3 vote in the state’s highest court, this met the emptiest formal standards of technical sufficiency to take the life of Arkie Barton, a sort of hollow malevolent pantomime of a functioning liberal democracy’s justice system.

Barton’s was just the sixth U.S. execution of 2020, and the first since COVID-19 torpedoed everything in mid-March. The last previous U.S. execution was that of Nathaniel Woods in Alabama, on March 5. Various states have delayed scheduled execution dates during the 11 intervening weeks, but those and others loom on the dockets as states push to reopen once it’s semi-safe to operate the machinery of death.

* Because he hailed originally from Arkansas.

On this day..

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

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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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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.

On this day..

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

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2020: Nathaniel Woods, #SaveNate

Add comment March 5th, 2020 Headsman

Nathaniel Woods was controversially executed by lethal injection at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, tonight at 9:01 p.m. U.S. Central Time.

Woods and Kerry Spencer — a co-defendant who is awaits execution for the same affair — were in a Birmingham trap house when officers Charles Bennett, Harley Chisholm III, Carlos Owen and Michael Collins arrived to serve a warrant. Of the four, only Collins would outlive the deadliest day in Birmingham police history.

While the facts of the case are contested, one that is universally agreed is that Kerry Spencer, not Nathaniel Woods, killed all three officers. Woods met them but as the police were in the process of taking him into custody, Spencer — just waking up from the commotion, he claimed — burst onto the scene firing an SKS.

“When I looked to the side, there was two police officers trying to train their guns on me so I opened fire with the fucking rifle. I wasn’t trying to get shot, period. I got a rifle in my hand. They’re going to shoot me,” Spencer told CNN. “You point a gun at me, bitch, I’m fixing to shoot.”

Woods said he simply fled from an unexpected crossfire, and Spencer agrees. “Nate is absolutely innocent,” he said. “That man didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody just like I didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody that day, period.” Alabama prosecutors characterized Woods as conspiring with Spencer to lure the cops into an ambush.

Woods and Spencer not only deny this, but developed an explosive appellate argument — never probed by any court — that the slain policemen were hassling the place as part of a routine police shakedown racket, to which the apartment’s owner had fallen behind on payments, and intimidated that owner out of providing exculpatory evidence.

But at a minimum, Woods’s execution presented the disturbing spectacle of a non-triggerman being punished for actions to which he might have been little other than a bystander. The #SaveNate campaign garnered a wide and fruitless call for clemency compassing civil rights leaders …

… celebrities …

… and at least one relative of a victim.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drugs,Execution,Innocent Bystanders,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wrongful Executions

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2014: Li Hao

Add comment January 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2014, China executed a man named Li Hao “for keeping six women in a dungeon as sex slaves and killing two of them,” per CNN’s gloss on Xinhua reports.

A Luoyang government clerk, this Gary Heidnik-like monster turned his basement into a cramped prison where he held six women lured into his clutches from nightclubs and karaoke bars. All were subjected to rape and forced prostitution; two he eventually forced their fellow-inmates to murder.* His spree ended only when one of his captives managed to escape and take the report to police — whose failure to have detected the predator earlier became a public scandal.

“The victims ranged from about 16 to 23 in age, and one who was 20 at the time of kidnap became pregnant,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Their lengths of captivity in Li Hao’s personal hell ranged from two months to nearly two years.

* Three of the women Li kidnapped were also convicted of murder. In view of their coercion, they received light sentences (three years for one of them; probation for two others). While this is certainly preferable to execution, there was also understandable protest about victims in such a desperate and traumatic circumstance being prosecuted at all.

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

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1994: Raymond Carl Kinnamon, filibusterer

Add comment December 11th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1994 — the ten-year anniversary of the robbery-murder that earned him his death sentence — Raymond Carl Kinnamon died to lethal injection despite his loquacity.

A career criminal with 17 felony convictions and three prison stints previously to his name, Kinnamon robbed a Houston bar at gunpoint on December 11, 1984. The crime escalated to murder when one of the patrons, Raymond Charles Longmire, smacked the gunman’s hand away from his pocket.

On this unusual Sunday-morning execution, the death warrant specified the execution be completed before dawn. Kinnamon received a last-minute stay that was subsequently overturned by an appellate court, but the legal chicanery ate up most of the window. Seeing an angle, Kinnamon delivered a rambling, 30-minute last statement looking to run out the clock on his executioners. According to the Associated Press (here via the Paris News of Dec. 12, 1994), prison officials eventually forced the start of the lethal drugs while the prisoner was still mid-filibuster, to the complaints of Kinnamon’s family.

“I’ve got a few things to say,” Kinnamon said as witnesses filed into the death chamber about 5:15 a.m. CST.

Thirty minutes later, after thanking dozens of people, criticizing capital punishment, expressing love for his family and getting a drink of water from the prison warden, he was still talking.

“I can see no reason for my death,” he said, then began squirming, lifting his head and shoulders and tried sliding his right arm from a leather strap.

Warden Morris Jones and a prison chaplain, Alex Taylor, both stationed a few feet away at opposite corners of the gurney, stepped in to control the inmate and executioners behind a one-way mirror in an adjacent room began the lethal dose.

Kinnamon’s niece, standing with her mother and a friend behind a clear plastic shielded window, began sobbing loudly.

“They didn’t let him finish,” Natasha Fremin cried out. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

The dispatch notes that “it was not clear what would have happened if Kinnamon had continued to speak past sunrise.”

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

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2010: Li Haito, reliquarian

Add comment November 19th, 2019 Headsman

From IANS on Friday, Nov. 19 of 2010. (via)

China executes official for plundering cultural relics

Beijing, Nov 19 (IANS) China Friday executed an official for stealing and selling cultural relics protected by the state, reports Xinhua.

Li Haitao was the chief of the cultural relics protection authority of the imperial garden in the Hebei provincial capital of Chengde.

He was executed after China’s Supreme People’s Court approved the death penalty on a conviction of embezzlement, the Intermediate People’s Court of Chengde said.

By taking advantage of his post between 1993 and 2002, Li had stolen 259 cultural relics stored in the depository of the Eight Outer Temples, an imperial compound built on the three-century old Summer Mountain Resort.


Putuo Zongcheng, one of the Eight Outer Temples. (cc) image from Ana Paula Hirama.

Li, 50, replaced the relics with copies, inferior or incomplete objects, and asked his subordinates to alter the records.

The stolen items included gold gilded Buddha statues, five of which were listed as state relics under first class protection, 56 were in the second grade and 58 in the third.

Li pocketed more than 3.2 million yuan ($482,240) after selling 152 stolen pieces.

Police have seized 202 relics and are still hunting for 57 other items.

Li’s four accomplices — Wang Xiaoguang, Yan Feng, Zhang Huazhang and Chen Fengwei — were given jail terms of up to seven years with fines.

His crimes went unnoticed until a Chinese expert found two royal cultural relics belonging to Beijing’s Palace Museum at an auction in Hong Kong in 2002.

The expert reported his discovery to the state cultural heritage authorities, which prompted a probe that found Chengde was the source of the relics.

Covering an area of 5.6 million sq metres, the Summer Mountain Resort was the temporary imperial palace of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors Kangxi and Qianlong.

The mountain villa, the largest remaining classical imperial garden architecture in China, and the outlying temples were placed on the World Heritage list in 1994.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Intellectuals,Lethal Injection,Pelf,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft

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2006: Jeffrey Lundgren, cult killer

Add comment October 24th, 2019 Headsman

U.S. cult leader Jeffrey Lundgren answered on this date in 2006 for the murders of his disobedient followers.

Lundgren cleaved off a small sect of devotees cultivated while working as a tour guide at Kirtland Temple, a historically important church of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.*

Though they numbered fewer than 20, Lundgren’s followers bought into his prophetic-revelation act well enough to fork over thousands of dollars to him. Lundgren reciprocated by keeping them under his sway, eventually moving most of them into his own house the better to control them.

Except the family of Dennis Avery.

Avery, his wife Cheryl, and daughters aged 15, 13, and 6 attracted Lundgren’s ire for their reticence about the move-in, although to judge by their liberal contributions the family’s confidence in Lundgren was in no way shaken. Eventually the prophet out of whatever combination of pique, power-tripping, and religious fervor decided to “prune the vineyard” — his phrase — by having the whole quintet slaughtered by his live-in apostles at a camping retreat in April 1989.

This murder kept under wraps long enough for Lundgren to move his little cult to West Virginia, and a few months later to ditch his fellow cultists and move himself to California, before an informant tipped John Law to the shallow grave in early 1990. Besides the prophetic mastermind, Lundgren’s wife Alice and several of his followers caught long prison sentences in payment of the butcher’s bill.

* Rebranded (since 2001) as the “Community of Christ”, this is the more moderate or Protestant mainline-adjacent cousin of the better-known Latter-Day Saints movement, a.k.a. Mormonism — recognizing leadership succession through Joseph Smith‘s son Joseph Smith III instead of through the militant desert pioneer Brigham Young.

On this day..

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

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