Posts filed under 'Ripped from the Headlines'

2020: Daniel Lewis Lee

1 comment July 14th, 2020 Headsman

This morning in Terre Haute, Indiana, like the French guillotine making its way to the western front, America’s twilight men saluted Bastille Day by animating their empire’s creaking machinery on an absurd project to kill one guy to nobody’s edification in the midst of a rolling bloodbath.

Back in 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee traveled from Washington state to Arkansas with fellow white supremacist Chevie Kehoe where they slaughtered a family of three in the course of a robbery aimed at financing a racist enclave in the Pacific Northwest. Gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and their eight-year-old daughter Sarah Powell were bound hand and foot and suffocated with plastic bags taped over their heads, before being dumped in a bayou. Kehoe and Lee netted $50,000 in cash and weapons.*

Yet family members of those victims were the most vocal critics of executing Lee.

For one thing, everyone involved in the case, including the prosecuting attorney and trial judge, agrees that Kehoe was the instigator of the crime. But perversely, it was Kehoe who received the lighter sentence. Sometimes this occurs when a wily ringleader turns state’s-evidence against his confederates; in the case at hand, it might have been nothing but the comparative visual affect presented to jurors by the baby-faced Kehoe as compared to the menacing Lee, one-eyed (courtesy of a bar fight) and swastika-tattooed. The two were tried and convicted together in a death case; when the jury returned a life sentence for Kehoe, the U.S. Attorney on the case attempted to withdraw the death notice still pending against Lee, only to be overruled by higher-ups at the Department of Justice.

Earlene Peterson, Nancy Mueller’s mother and Sarah Powell’s grandmother, “believes the jury’s prejudices led to Kehoe and Lee receiving different sentences,” according to a Reason magazine profile.

“Chevie Kehoe was dressed very nicely, like a young businessman, and Daniel Lee was not,” Peterson said, noting that Lee was missing an eye and had a swastika tattooed on his neck. “He looked like an outlaw,” and “was instantly judged the minute he walked into the courtroom,” she says.

And Peterson, joined by several other family members, didn’t want anyone whether businessman or outlaw executed in her name.

Peterson, her granddaughter Monica Veillette, and Kimma Gurel (Nancy Mueller’s sister) sued in federal courts arguing that conducting the execution in the midst of the dangerous COVID-19 outbreak frustrated their right and expressed desire to witness Lee’s execution. But what they would have preferred most of all would have been no execution at all, regardless of COVID; they petitioned President Trump to this same effect.** “For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” Veillette told the press.

As everyone knows, victims/survivors with an attitude of clemency get no special consideration in the breach from the closure-for-victims crowd. Thus while Attorney General William Barr scheduled Lee’s execution — along with four others — last year to the familiar strains of “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” his agency defeated these victims’ family members by arguing that their allowance to witness the execution was in fact not any sort of “right” that anyone was “owed.” The first federal execution in 17 years was delayed half a day from its Monday-afternoon schedule by a last-minute judicial injunction that was predictably reversed by the Supreme Court: that issue concerned the lethal injection drug selection.

Peterson, Veillette, and Gurel did not in the end attend the execution, for fear of the coronavirus. Besides being afoot broadly, it was known to have broken out in the Terre Haute federal prison. In fact, one of the execution planners tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the execution and the small viewing chamber reserved for official witnesses makes no allowance for social distancing. (Prison officials and the “Appalachian pagan minister” present to conduct the execution itself also wore no masks, nor did the executed criminal himself.) Considering the short shrift federal authorities have given to protective measures surrounding people who didn’t commit triple homicide, it’s no surprise that the pandemic was also no obstacle, with Barr making the Orwellian assurance — which doubles as a distillation of his philosophy of governance — that his team could “carry out these executions without being at risk.”

* Lee later also pipe-bombed the Spokane, Washington, city hall.

** Lee’s was the first execution to proceed on Donald Trump’s say-so.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indiana,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft,U.S. Federal,USA

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2014: Mahmoud Al Issawi, murderer of Laila Ghofran’s daughter

Add comment June 19th, 2020 Headsman


Hiba Al Akkad (standing) embracing her famous mother.

Mahmoud Al Issawi was hanged at Wadi el-Natrun prison outside Cairo on this date in 2014.

In 2008, he stabbed to death Hiba Al Akkad, the 23-year-old daughter of Moroccan star singer Laila Ghofran, along with Heba’s friend Nadine Gamal, in the course of a botched burglary in Cairo’s affluent Sheikh Zayed suburb.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Notably Survived By,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft

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1996: Huugjilt, wrongful execution

Add comment June 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1996, a Chinese Mongol with the singular name of Huugjilt was executed by gunshot for rape and murder at Hohhot. With benefit of hindsight, it’s come to be viewed as “one of the most notorious cases of judicial injustice in China.”

Huugjilt discovered the body of a woman named Yang in a public toilet at a factory, on April 9, 1996 — just 62 days before the execution. She’d been raped and strangled, and that official tunnel vision common to wrongful conviction scenarios immediately zeroed in on Huugjilt himself. With conviction quotas to fulfill, authorities abused Huugjilt into a confession and an overhasty conclusion.

“It has not been rare for higher authorities to exert pressure on local public security departments and judiciary to crack serious murder cases,” China Daily editorialized. “Nor has it been rare for the police to extort confessions through torture. And suspects have been sentenced without solid evidence except for extorted confessions.”

This conviction unraveled in 2005 when a serial sex predator named Zhao Zhihong admitted the murder. (He was charged with many similar crimes besides.) The belated investigations ensuing from the resulting uproar cleared Huugjilt, even to the extent of holding a formal posthumous retrial that overturned the original verdict.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Murder,Posthumous Exonerations,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Shot,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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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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2015: Mohammad Qamaruzzaman, militia commander

Add comment April 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2015, Bangladesh hanged the former assistant secretary-general of the militant Jamaat-e-Islami party, Mohammad Qamaruzzaman.

He’d been sentenced for crimes against humanity during the 1971 war of independence that separated Bangladesh — the former “East Pakistan” — from Pakistan; his was just one of several high-profile 2010s prosecutions (and the second execution) by a special tribunal to settle scores from that bloody parting.

Jamaat-e-Islami’s party history traces back to the British Raj and versions of it exist in each of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. In the 1971 war, that Islamist party was ferociously anti-independence, collaborating with the Pakistani military’s violent attempted suppression of the rebellion; according to Al Jazeera, Qamaruzzaman was convicted of having “headed an armed group that collaborated with the Pakistani army in central Bangladesh in 1971 and was behind the killings of at least 120 unarmed farmers.”

Qamaruzzaman proudly (and also realistically) declined to bend the knee in hopes of an unlikely presidential pardon and swung serene in the rightness and future triumph of his cause.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Bangladesh,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers,Terrorists

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2020: The Nirbhaya Gang Rapists

Add comment March 20th, 2020 Headsman

Akshay Thakur, 31, Pawan Gupta, 25, Vinay Sharma, 26, and Mukesh Singh, 32, were hanged at Delhi’s Tihar Jail today — four of the six* widely hated perpetrators of in infamous 2012 gang rape.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and call center worker named Jyoti Singh was returning from the cinema with a male friend on a private bus in a South Delhi neighborhood when the five other passengers plus the driver sealed the doors and assaulted them. After the man was knocked out with an iron rod, the five passengers turned on Singh and horrifically gang-raped her while the driver continued to steer the bus, even using a wheel jack to sodomize the struggling woman. By the time it was finished, and both victims tossed out of the moving vehicle, she’d suffered “massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines.” (Per medical examiners.) She succumbed several days later after desperate surgeries, but she lived long enough to identify her attackers, who were being arrested by the very next day. (Her male friend, Avanindra Pandey, survived the attack with broken ribs.)

The victim became publicly known as “Nirbhaya”, meaning “fearless”, owing to laws against doxxing sex crime victims, but her parents revealed her identity in the media in 2015. “We want the world to know her real name,” her father told British media. “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

Instantly iconic, the case gestated huge public protests against endemic sexual violence, and allegedly contributed to a massive decline in tourism by women costing India billions of dollars. The prosecutions were naturally fast-tracked by a judiciary under intense public pressure, and Delhi police handed down internal punishments to officers for failing to prevent the crime when it emerged that the crime-van had been used to rob another passenger earlier that same night. The seven-year span from crime to execution is relative lightning speed for a country which in recent times has only rarely enforced death sentences. But comparative timetables were of no comfort to Nirbhaya’s parents, who have been publicly implacable on the matter of punishment throughout.

“We all have waited so long for this day,” her mother said upon news of the men’s execution. “Today is a new dawn for daughters of India. The beasts have been hanged.”

This case has been the subject of considerable international commentary, most controversially a BBC documentary titled India’s Daughter (often available on YouTube despite its copyright) which includes interview footage with one of the now-hanged defendants attributing the attack to Jyoti Singh’s “indecency”. The film is still banned in India as of this writing.

* Besides the four executed, a fifth man, the driver Ram Singh, was found hanged in pretrial detention — either suicide or murder — and a sixth was underage. The latter has long been released from his juvenile sentence; he’s reportedly working as a cook, ostracized by his family.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,India,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines

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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.

On this day..

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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2016: Mumtaz Qadri, assassin of Salman Taseer

Add comment February 29th, 2020 Headsman

On Leap Day in 2016, the bodyguard-turned-assassin of Punjab governor Salman Taseer was hanged for murder.

A longtime activist of the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party, Taseer was a prominent public figure for thirty-plus years and wrote a biography of hanged PPP Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1980.

A millionaire through financial services businesses and a minister in the federal government from 2007, Taseer became governor of the Punjab region in 2010. But as a secular- and liberal-minded elite, he was already becoming an artifact from a different Pakistan, and indeed his party was routed at the 2013 election.

The specific grievance nursed by our date’s principal Mumtaz Qadri, a former police commando recruited in 2010 to the personal security detail of the businessman/politician, was Taseer’s support for reversing the high-profile death sentence for blasphemy against a Pakistani Christian woman.* On January 4, 2011, Qadri opened up on his protective charge in an Islamabad marketplace, shooting him 28 times.

As a legal matter, this was all open and shut — but Qadri’s strike on behalf of Islamic militancy earned him wide admiration that reminded some observers of the Raj-era Punjabi assassin Ilm Deen. Hundreds of lawyers clamored to represent him pro bono while “cheering supporters clapped Qadri as he was bundled into court. ‘Death is acceptable for Muhammad’s slave,’ they chanted.” (Guardian)

Death is what he got, of course, although thousands subsequently marched in mourning and staged a parliament sit-in to demand sharia law. On the same day as that march, a suicide bomber attacked a Christian Easter gathering in a Lahore public park, killing 75 or more.

* After a yearslong legal odyssey, Asia Bibi’s conviction was vacated by the Pakistani Supreme Court only in 2018. She was allowed to emigrate to Canada in 2019. (Here’s a short interview with her Incidentally, a second politician, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated in 2011 for advocating her position.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Murder,Pakistan,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers

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1947: Jonas Noreika, “General Storm”

Add comment February 26th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan Jonas Noreika was executed in Moscow.

Memorial plaque honoring Jonas Noreika in Vilnius; it was destroyed in 2019 by an anti-fascist politician. (cc) image from Alma Pater.

Long held as a hero of Lithuanian patriots, “General Storm”* has been headline news in recent years having his legacy complicated.

It all started when author Silvia Foti, Noreika’s granddaughter, took up her late mother’s unfinished project to write a biography of their famous kinsman. At the time, she accepted the received lore that Jonas Noreika had been an anti-Nazi resister during the Second World War, prior to being an anti-Communist resister afterwards — a story facilitated by Noreika’s 1943 arrest and detention in the Stutthof concentration camp among dozens of other high-profile Lithuanians taken as hostages.

But Foti’s understanding of events evolved painfully, as she described in a wrenching 2018 Salon article with the spoiler-alert title “My grandfather wasn’t a Nazi-fighting war hero — he was a brutal collaborator”.

According to Foti’s research in conjunction with the (since-deceased) director of Vilnius’s Sugihara House and Holocaust researcher Grant Gochin, Noreika was a principal of the anti-Soviet June Uprising sparked by the Nazi invasion of the USSR, but preceding the Wehrmacht’s actual arrival; in those days, Lithuanian militia seized control of towns, often massacring Jews (or, which was tantamount to the same thing, preventing their escape to the Soviet Union). Foti believes that Noreika did exactly this in his town of Plungė in the Samogitia region where he was later appointed as a county administrator during the German occupation.

[Sugihara House director Simon] Dovidavičius; was the first to suggest that my grandfather conducted the initial akcija (action) during World War II before the Germans arrived. It coincided with Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia, the same day Lithuania began its uprising with the Germans against the Soviets, marking the start of a Holocaust there, where 95 percent of its 200,000 Jews were murdered, the highest percentage of any country in Europe. (About 3,000 Jews remain in Lithuania today.)

Within three weeks, 2,000 Jew had been killed in Plungė, half the town’s population, and where my grandfather led the uprising. This preceded the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, when Nazi Germany decided to make mass-murder its state policy. Put in more chilling terms, Dovidavičius claimed that my grandfather, as captain, taught his Lithuanian soldiers how to exterminate Jews efficiently: how to sequester them, march them into the woods, force them to dig their own graves and shove them into pits after shooting them. My grandfather was a master educator …

By the end of the trip [to Lithuania] I came to believe that my grandfather must have sanctioned the murders of 2,000 Jews in Plungė, 5,500 Jews in Šiauliai and 7,000 in Telšiai.

Foti’s revelations have been roughly received in a country where the Holocaust complicity of anti-Soviet national heroes remains a very sore subject; there are still monuments to and streets named after her grandfather in Lithuania, and apparently a military academy there even published a prewar antisemitic essay by Noreika in 2016 in a wholly uncritical light.

* Not to be confused with a Philadelphia property repair contractor.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lithuania,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,USSR

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2019: Nine for assassinating Hisham Barakat

Add comment February 20th, 2020 Headsman

Last year on this date, nine men purportedly involved in the 2015 car bomb assassination of Egyptian prosecutor general Hisham Barakat were hanged at a Cairo prison.

Barakat had prosecuted thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a military coup in 2013.

“A monument to unfair trials in Egypt” in the words of Amnesty International, this case compassed 28 total death sentences,* supported by the exercises of Egypt’s feared torturers. “Give me an electric probe and I’ll make anyone confess to assassinating [the late President Anwar] Sadat,” was the videotaped courtroom quip of Mahmoud al-Ahmadi, who was one of those noosed on February 20, 2019. “We have been electrocuted so much we could power Egypt for 20 years.” Other defendants described being hung upside-down, menaced with knives, forced into stress positions, and coerced via threats to their family members.

Not particularly aggressive with (judicial) executions prior to the Arab Spring that brought Morsi to power, Egypt under his deposer/successor Sisi has warmed up its gallows and now perennially ranks among the most execution-happy jurisdictions in the world. As of this writing we’re still awaiting Amnesty International’s annual review of global death penalty trends, but in 2018 that organization “credited” Egypt with 717 death sentences and 43 executions. Those figures respectively were second in the world (behind China) and sixth in the world (behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq).

* According to Amnesty International, 13 of the 28 convictions were in absentia (although at least one of these 13 has since been repatriated to Egypt). Of the 15 whom Egypt convicted in the flesh, six had their sentences reduced on appeal.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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