Posts filed under 'USA'

1927: Pascual Ramos, the last execution in Puerto Rico

Add comment September 15th, 2020 Headsman

The last hanging in Puerto Rico history took place on this date in 1927.

Like most such instances, it was more remarkable as a milestone than as a crime. Pascual Ramos, piqued that he’d been fired from a night watchman job upon his boss’s accusation of theft, revenged himself upon that man:

According to eye witness accounts, on December 23, 1926, Pascual Ramos went to the Hacienda Sabater and “[n]ervously … circled the oxcart where Rosso was working. He stalked his prey for forty minutes, waiting for the proper moment to strike the mortal blow.” Those present were unaware of [Carlos] Ramos’ “fierce intentions” and, because of this “unfortunate circumstance, Pascual [Ramos] was able to close in reepeatedly, machete in hand, where Carlos Rosso was working.” Ramos tarried, “waiting for the moment in which Rosso was more exposed so as not to miss and make the blow more effective” …

The “lethal instant came” when Rosso kneeled to unscrew the wooden slab usually placed below an oxcart to keep it horizontal, lightened the load for the oxen while the cart was at rest. As Rosso “lowered his head” Ramos, “with the agility fo a beast, with the speed of a lightning bolt, lifted the weapon and let it fall with all his strength” in the center of Rosso’s neck, “miraculously not completely severing it … The head was left dangling from a thin muscle and, as Rosso’s body fell, lifeless, it resembled a heap of human flesh”.

Twenty-seven people were executed in Puerto Rico under American auspices, after the U.S. seized the territory during the Spanish-American War — including at least five via the holdover Spanish execution method of garroting.

The Puerto Rico legislature abolished the death penalty in 1929, and that prohibition was enshrined in the island-territory’s constitution in 1952. (Article 2, Section 7: “The right to life, liberty and the enjoyment of property is recognized as a fundamental right of man. The death penalty shall not exist.”)

The death penalty remains broadly unpopular in Puerto Rico, and the fact that one of the most prominent recent wrongful conviction cases on the mainland involved a Puerto Rican man, Juan Melendez, surely does the executioner’s standing no further favors. U.S. federal death penalty prosecutions there have a tough row to hoe.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Puerto Rico,USA

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2014: Steven Sotloff, two lives

Add comment September 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On or just before this date in 2014, American journalist Steven Sotloff was beheaded by his Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh) captors.

A “standup philosopher from Miami” as he self-described, Sotloff was four months past his 18th birthday when the planes struck the towers. The grave that the American empire dug for itself thereafter had an annex sized for Steven Sotloff, too.

After post-graduate studies in Israel Sotloff reported from around the Middle East, notably filing some early stories from the 2012 attack on U.S. agents in Benghazi in a Libya consumed by chaos after NATO deposed Muammar Gaddafi.

On August 4, 2013, Sotloff was kidnapped entering Syria from Turkey. Actually, contrary to this post’s lead paragraph, ISIS wasn’t his captor — just the entity that received him from the Northern Storm Brigade, a US- and Turkish-backed rebel militia that bankrolled itself through smuggling and kidnapping.

“The so-called moderate rebels that people want our [the Obama] administration to support, one of them sold him for something between $25,000 and $50,000, and that was the reason he was captured,” a Sotloff family friend announced — voicing the taboo open secret of the violent Sunni extremists at the heart of the anti-Assad Syrian rebellion.

The journalist now became a chit in the nightmare economy of hostages and spectacle murder. When fellow American kidnap victim James Foley was beheaded in August 2014 in retaliation for American attacks on Da’esh in Iraq, the video of his execution warned that Sotloff would be next. As attacks on ISIS’s Iraqi positions did not abate, he was.

Days after Sotloff’s slaying was released to the world’s digital snuff film archives, the U.S. for the first time escalated its interventions in Syria to overt air strikes on ISIS’s in that country.

As Mark Ames summed up the dog’s breakfast, “here you have this CIA-backed and -trained militia group that kidnaps civilians, photographs with John McCain, allies with ISIS, kidnaps an American, sells him to ISIS, he winds up getting killed, and that winds up triggering American intervention into Syria.”

There’s a Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial 2LIVES Foundation that works in his memory, its name drawn from an elegant line in a letter Sotloff managed to have smuggled out of captivity: “Everyone has two lives; the 2nd one begins when you realize you have only one.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Hostages,ISIS/ISIL,Jews,No Formal Charge,Ripped from the Headlines,Syria,USA,Wartime Executions

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2006: James Malicoat, little Pranzini

Add comment August 31st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2006, James Malicoat was executed in Oklahoma for beating to death his 13-month-old daughter.

As a criminal case, the matter was open-and-shut. “Malicoat admitted hitting Leadford’s head on a dresser a few days before she died and punching her twice in the stomach the day she died, causing her to stop breathing,” the Oklahoma Attorney General’s statement noted. “Malicoat used CPR to revive her before lying down beside her to take a nap. When he awoke, Malicoat noticed Leadford was dead. He put her in her crib and covered her with a blanket before going back to sleep. When Leadford’s mother returned from work, the couple rushed the child to the emergency room, but staff there determined she had been dead for several hours.” The killer never attempted to deny what he had done; even at his clemency hearing, he didn’t request mercy.

While his case made its ponderous path through the judiciary, Malicoat came into the correspondence of a Benedictine monk from a nearby monastery.

“When I first saw the crime, I thought, ‘He needs a friend more than the others. Everyone is going to shrink back because the crime was so horrendous,'” said Brother Vianney-Marie Graham in this moving profile of the two men’s relationship, which spanned the last five years of Malicoat’s life.

In long letters and intermittent visits, Graham coaxed the already-penitent Malicoat towards a spiritual catharsis — often calling him “my little Pranzini” in reference to an inspiration for his mission, the condemned 19th century French murderer Henri Pranzini whose soul was famously won for God by the ministry of Saint Therese of Lisieux. By coincidence — or was it more? — Pranzini and Malicoat shared an August 31 execution date.

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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1929: John Fabri, condemned

1 comment August 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1929, John Fabri — or Giovanni Fabri, as you’d call him in his native Italy — died in Sing Sing prison’s electric chair.

This case is the subject of an episode from the well-producedd Syracuse.com miniseries The Condemned. Enjoy it here; the entire series is here.

Thanks to @kilamdee for the tip on this resource.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1955: Emmett Till lynched

Add comment August 28th, 2020 Headsman

Emmett Till was lynched on this date in 1955.

He’s surely the most recognizable and symbolically powerful of America’s many lynch victims, thanks in large measure to his mother’s Mamie Till’s insistence on an open-coffin funeral that put Emmett’s mutilated face in front of media consumers worldwide.

In its narrow particulars, it resembles more closely a private vendetta than the mob justice evoked by a term like “lynch law”: in the dark hours after midnight the night of August 27-28, two white Mississippians, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, barged into the home of a sharecropper named Moses “Preacher” Wright and at gunpoint forced him to surrender his nephew. Chicago-raised and thus insufficiently alert to the full rigor of the color line, young Emmett had transgressed it a few days prior by apparently* hitting on Bryant’s wife, boasting of his prowess with white girls up north.

In retaliation for this offense, the two intruders bundled Emmett into their truck, took him to a barn where they bludgeoned him into the deformed horror that later shocked so many newspaper subscribers — after which they finished him off with a gun and dumped his remains into the Tallahatchie River.

While this was not as exalted as the more recognizably execution-esque summary justice of the whole town, no reader in this year of our lord 2020 can fail to recognize the wanton self-appropriation of policing power by vigilantes justifiably confident in their impunity. This informal extension of the state’s legitimate violence via extralegal but allied actors is a hallmark of lynch law, however its definitional boundaries are drawn.

And indeed an all-white jury predictably acquitted the killers in what they later acknowledged was an act of race-based jury nullification. In a jaw-dropping post-trial Look magazine interview, the pair — shielded from a “double jeopardy” re-trial by their acquittal — matter-of-factly admitted the murder. To the reporter’s eyes they behaved as if they “don’t feel they have anything to hide; they have never regarded themselves as being in legal jeopardy. Not even psychologically are they on the defensive. They took it for granted before the trial that every white neighbor, including every member of the jury and every defense attorney, had assumed that they had indeed killed the young Negro. And since the community had swarmed to their defense, Milam and Bryant assumed that the ‘community,’ including most responsible whites in Mississippi, had approved the killing.”

Yet Till as portrayed by his executioners was a far finer man than they.

Their intention was to “just whip him… and scare some sense into him.” And for this chore, Big Milam knew “the scariest place in the Delta.” He had come upon it last year hunting wild geese. Over close to Rosedale, the Big River bends around under a bluff. “Brother, she’s a 100-foot sheer drop, and she’s a 100 feet deep after you hit.”

Big Milam’s idea was to stand him up there on that bluff, “whip” him with the .45, and then shine the light on down there toward that water and make him think you’re gonna knock him in.

“Brother, if that won’t scare the Chicago ——-, hell won’t.”

But under these blows Bobo never hollered — and he kept making the perfect speeches to insure martyrdom.

Bobo: “You bastards, I’m not afraid of you. I’m as good as you are. I’ve ‘had’ white women. My grandmother was a white woman.”

Milam: “Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers — in their place — I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you — just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'”

Taken to the riverbank where he’d be slain, Emmett Till bravely spat on his killers’ last offer of domineering clemency.

They stood silently … just hating one another.

Milam: “Take off your clothes.”

Slowly, Bobo pulled off his shoes, his socks. He stood up, unbuttoned his shirt, dropped his pants, his shorts.

He stood there naked.

It was Sunday morning, a little before 7.

Milam: “You still as good as I am?”

Bobo: “Yeah.”

Milam: “You still ‘had’ white women?”

Bobo: “Yeah.”

That big .45 jumped in Big Milam’s hand. The youth turned to catch that big, expanding bullet at his right ear. He dropped.

* The specifics of what transpired at the Bryants’ grocery to trigger the lynching have been finely parsed and disputed ever since 1955. At a maximally “incriminating” interpretation, he made a crude but unthreatening pass at Mrs. Bryant. By other readings the whole thing might have been merely a misunderstanding. In this author’s opinion, indulging the question of whether Emmett Till was “actually innocent” of wolf-whistling a white woman concedes far too much ground at the outset to his murderers.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Children,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lynching,Mississippi,No Formal Charge,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Sex,Shot,Summary Executions,USA

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1909: Joe Gauvitte, wife-slayer

Add comment August 27th, 2020 Headsman

From the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, Aug. 28, 1909:

Joe Gauvitte Is Hanged

Pays Death Penalty for the Murder of his Wife

WALLA WALLA, Wash., Aug. 27. — Joe Gauvitte, the bartender of Spokane, who killed his wife, was hanged at 5:50 this morning in the penitentiary yard. There were few visitors present and the prisoner was not allowed to speak on the platform, although he desired to do so, it being the wish of the warden that no death statement be given there.

In lieu of this, Gauvitte asked Father Jones to issue a statement thanking the officers for their courtesies and declaring he desired death. Father Jones arrived at Gauvitte’s cell at 4 o’clock and remained with him until the execution. Contrary to custom, the condemned man ate no breakfast, but devoted the time to his conference with the priest.


Joseph Gauvitte, who was hanged yesterday for wife murder, was arrested some time before he killed his wife, the evning of June 27, for having attempted to stab her. At another time he was arrested by complaint of his wife on a charge of insanity. According to his confession he was afraid she was about to leave him and he said he could not bear the thought of the separation.

In his confession, made to Prosecuting Attorney Fred C. Push, Captain of Police Coverly, Sergeant McPhee and Deputy Sheriff George Sweet, after his arrest for the murder, Gauvitte said:

The thought of killing my wife came to me on Saturday afternoon when I was at work. I thought that if I could not have her no one else could. I took a few drinks early in the night to nerve myself. While I was in the Bodega saloon my wife passed on a Broadway car and I went hurriedly down College avenue to reach the corner of Maple street before she got there. I waited and saw her alight from the car. I waited until she was almost abreast of me and then made sure she was the right person. Certain of her identity, I stepped out from behind a tree and fired point-blank at her twice. She groaned and staggered into the street and I followed. I was afraid I might only have wounded her, and I wanted to be sure to kill her.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA,Washington

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2020: Lezmond Mitchell

Add comment August 26th, 2020 Headsman

Although overshadowed by wildfires, hurricanes, political drama, economic collapse, civil unrest, and a goddamned pandemic, a noteworthy federal execution took place on August 26, 2020.

Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, was killed by lethal injection at Terre Haute, Indiana for murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and her nine-year-old granddaughter Tiffany Lee. The offender and both victims were members of the Navajo Nation, and the crimes occurred on the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.

Mitchell and a companion named Johnny Osringer — underaged, and therefore serving a life sentence instead — were picked up hitchhiking by the victims in 2001. They stabbed Alyce Slim to death when she stopped to let them out, then to murder the terrified little girl in greater privacy, drove her 30 miles into the mountains sitting next to her grandmother’s bloody corpse.

The horrific crime carried with it a problematic jurisdictional question that’s legacy of the continent’s Anglo conquest.

Within their treaty lands, indigenous nations still assert internal sovereignty when it comes to handling criminal offenses — sovereignty that Congress has legislated against by placing some big-ticket crimes like murder and rape under federal jurisdiction.

Neither this arrogation of authority in general nor its application to Mitchell in particular have been embraced by the Navajo Nation, which has advocated against the execution for many years and on the day it occurred issued a statement denouncing it.

The Navajo Nation’s position, from the beginning, was to advocate for the sovereign status of the Nation. Our decision not to accept the death penalty in federal cases remains a Navajo decision, but in this instance the federal government ignored the Navajo Nation. This is an affront to our Nation because we should be the ones to decide these matters. The federal government charged a crime that was added in 1994 to the Federal Death Penalty Act and blindsided the Navajo Nation by using this to sidestep the Navajo Nation’s position.

We have a court system that is fair and just for all persons. We have laws that protect our People. We have brave men and women on our police force to watch over us. Crimes committed on the Navajo Nation are for us to decide. Our judicial and public safety system considers restorative justice in court cases as based on our custom and traditions of hozho’ and k’e. Federal officials may not understand our family connections and our strength in keeping harmony. So, we invite them to meet with us and find an answer to address this important death penalty matter.

The Navajo Nation asked for clemency in Mr. Mitchell’s case in changing his sentence to life in prison without possibility of release. This is the same request supported by U.S. Senators, U.S. House Representatives, Tribal Nations, and tribal organizations. But our collective voice was ignored. We don’t expect federal officials to understand our strongly held traditions of clan relationship, keeping harmony in our communities, and holding life sacred. What we do expect, no, what we demand, is respect for our People, for our Tribal Nation, and we will not be pushed aside any longer.

We thank the many Tribal Nations who supported the Navajo Nation’s stand on sovereignty, and we appreciate the Tribal organization’s letters advocating for tribal sovereignty. We now call on all Tribal Nations and Tribal organizations to begin a dialogue on a respect for tribal sovereignty, respect for all Tribal Nation, and respect for Native Americans. We are moving forward in this fight and we ask all to join us.

Mitchell’s was the fourth federal execution conducted in little more than a month as part of a calculated campaign by Trump administration attorney general William Barr. Prior to the current paroxysm, the United States federal government (as distinct from its 50 states’ separate jurisdictions) had conducted only three executions — all in the early 2000s, most notably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — in the past 57 years.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arizona,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,U.S. Federal,USA

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1982: Frank James Coppola, “further incarceration can only lead to my being stripped of all personal dignity”

Add comment August 10th, 2020 Headsman

Former Portsmouth, Virginia, cop Frank James Coppola was electrocuted on this date in 1982.

Coppola dropped appeals and “adamantly” volunteered for the mercy seat after being condemned for the 1978 home invasion robbery-murder of Muriel Hatchell. With a co-conspirator who lured her to open the door with a sham flower delivery, Coppola tied up Hatchell with Venetian blind cords, and bashed her head into the floor repeatedly to force her to yield up the hiding-places of her valuables. In the end, the felons escaped the house with $3,100 in cash plus some jewelry, and Muriel Hatchell died of her injuries.

Coppola continued to claim his innocence but he wasn’t into fighting about it. As Time magazine reported Coppola just wanted to skip to the end.

“Further incarceration,” he said, “can only lead to my being stripped of all personal dignity.” His one request: a summer date, to minimize the taunts to his two school-age sons.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,Theft,USA,Virginia,Volunteers

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1915: A day in the death penalty (and lynch law) around the U.S.

Add comment August 6th, 2020 Headsman

U.S. hangmen clocked overtime on this date in 1915. The Washington D.C. Herald of August 8 covered the bloodbath thus:

Robert Watkins and John Salter were executed for the murder of Mrs. Mary Lassiter at Evergreen. A militia guard prevented a mob from burning the negroes. The other two executions in Alabama [Millard Carpenter and George James -ed.] were for the murder of white men.

At Fresno, Miss., Peter Bolen and Jim Seales, who killed another negro, were executed while 5,000 persons sang “There Is a Land of Pure Delight.” Bunyan Waters was executed at Fayetteville, Miss.

Nor were legal executions the end of it.

A dispatch from Shawnee, Okla., relating the story of the lynching of Ed Berry, stated that the affair was “one of the most orderly lynchings in the State.” Berry was hanged from a railroad bridge, and his body was riddled with bullets, after which the mob dispersed “in an orderly manner.”

In Trilby, Fla., a crowd of citizens lynched Will Leach, accused of attacking a 13-year-old girl.

Early today a report from Liberty stated that a lynching was almost certain if a mob caught a negro laborer who attacked a farmer’s wife near there.

While this piece focuses on the U.S. South, there was also a hanging on August 6, 1915, in Connecticut. Just minutes after midnight, with the words “Good-bye, Father, good-bye,” followed by a firm “not guilty!” from under the hood, Bernard Montvid died for murdering a Catholic priest named Joseph Zebris, along with Zebris’s housekeeper Eva Gilmanaitis in a home invasion/robbery that earned less than $5. Worse yet, Montvid had to split this paltry blood money with his partner, Peter Krakas — who had already been separately hanged by the time Montvid paid his own penalty.

The Espy file of U.S. executions, a wonderful resource but liable to errors, attributes an August 6, 1915 hanging to the state of Georgia. I’ve trawled several newspaper databases without substantiating this supposed execution of Henry Floyd.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Lynching,Mississippi,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1928: Jim Moss, former Negro League ballplayer

Add comment August 3rd, 2020 Headsman


Chicago Defender, Aug. 11, 1928.

Former Negro Leagues baseball player James Hugh Moss was electrocuted in Georgia on this date in 1928, along with a white man named Clifford Thompson.

The threesome of Moss, Thompson, and Thompson’s wife Eula, were Prohibition bootleggers from Etowah, in eastern Tennessee. A year before almost to the day (August 5, 1927), they had rolled up with a car full of moonshine whiskey to a general store in Chatsworth, Georgia, 45 miles away. Although it was after hours they were able to rouse the shopkeep Coleman Osborne. Some kind of argument ensued, and Osborne was shot dead.

All three of the smugglers were capitally convicted.

Eula Thompson’s electrocution was postponed and as we shall see, never ultimately conducted — but on the eve of the men’s death, she attempted to save them with a sketchy confession to an affair with a local farmer that necessitated Osborne’s murder when the latter found out about it. This sent Georgia Gov. Lamartine Griffin Hardman on an 11th-hour investigation into the exculpatory claim but as a physician he knew just what to do and according to a news report, “Governor Hardman announced recently that the phrenology of Clifford Thompson, the woman’s husband, and Jim Hugh Moss, Negro electrocuted for the murder of Osborne, played a part in his decision not to interfere in their cases.”

That gem comes from a writeup of the case at Baseball Prospectus, which notes that after Eula Thompson’s gambit to exonerate the boys failed, she resorted to a gambit to exonerate herself by blaming the whole thing on (the by then already-executed) Jim Moss. This got her a reprieve while Governor Hardman put his skull forceps to work and eventually the Peach State decided not to run any volts at all through the charming young lady. She married an admirer from the public, got paroled in the 1930s, and ended up back in prison for murdering her brother.

As to Moss’s former athletic feats, the thing that draws our attention in the first place, they’re only glancingly alluded to by the period’s press report. He would have played in the complex of black professional leagues during the period that Major League Baseball enforced a whites-only color line.

A Negro Leagues blog made a go at tracking him down and found that a guy named “Moss” (no first name given) made a single documented appearance in 1918 for the Chicago American Giants. The name subsequently appears on a lower-tier barnstorming team, the Havana Stars. (Chicago-based, despite what the name would suggest.)

Moss isn’t the only known ball player to sit in the mercy seat: check out this forum thread on executed players. And on our humble death blog, we’ve noticed other, more oblique contacts between the headsman and the seamhead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Entertainers,Execution,Georgia,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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