The frontier town Tombstone, Arizona saw its first legal hanging on this date in 1884 — and its second, third, fourth, and fifth besides.
On the 8th of December ult., Daniel “Big Dan” Dowd, Comer W. “Red” Sample, Daniel “York” Kelly, William “Billy” Delaney and James “Tex” Howard rode into the nearby town of Bisbee in an attempt to seize the $7,000 payroll for the Copper Queen Mine.
Sadly the bandits mistimed the arrival of the boodle. Having already committed to the raid, they improvised a plunder of the general store and the valuables of any nearby customers they could lay the sight of their sixguns upon. And then on the way out, villainous mustaches a-twirl, the gangsters shot up the town and slew four good residents of Bisbee.
The survivors telegraphed the sheriff of Tombstone, the seat of Cochise County.*
Arrayed against Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday at the O.K. Corral** had been the so-called “cowboys”, a network of desperadoes who found this last vanishing enclave of the lawless frontier a congenial environment for opportunistic outlawry: livestock rustling, smuggling, stagecoach robbery, and the like.
The line between legitimate businessman and criminal element was as permeable as the nearby Mexican border. As Tombstone’s posses hunted down the five Bisbee shooters over the ensuing weeks, interrogations would reveal that Bisbee saloon-keeper John Heath — an Ohio native of shady reputation who could be found during the gunfight cowering behind his own bar — was actually the moving spirit behind the raid. He would later testify in a piece of hairsplitting vainglory that of course it was he who conceived it all, as his henchmen were too stupid for such a plan … but the part where they started shooting people was none of John Heath’s idea.
Heath was smart enough to get his own trial separate from his goons, and smart enough to work a jail sentence where his cronies were set up for execution.
Folk in Tombstone were incensed at this leniency and on February 22 they reversed it by extracting Heath from his irons and lynching him to a telegraph pole at First and Toughnut.
The Alfred Henry Lewis Wolfville books (available in the public domain) dramatize a fictitious western town loosely based on Tombstone … complete with vigilance committee and a strong female character named Nell.
It was fairly clear under the circumstances that the five toughs awaiting their March 28 hanging date had no need to entertain any hope of mercy.
Nonetheless, legendary frontierswoman Nellie Cashman — later to be inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame for her exertions in that arctic gold rush was at this time resident in the silver boom town of Tombstone.
So appalled was the Irishwoman at the highly improper festive civic atmosphere prevailing in Tombstone as the executions approached that she organized a gang of her own: a team that on the eve of the hangings secretly dismantled a grandstands some ghoulish entrepreneur had erected in order to at least permit the event to go off with some modicum of solemnity.
(Thanks to Michael DeHay for the autobiographical guest post, originally published — too late for DeHay to see the byline — in the Prescott, Arizona Miner‘s January 21, 1876 edition. Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum unearthed this fascinating frontier confessional and posted it on its library archives site. The Prescott Daily Courier also published an abridged version, complete with an old photo of 1870s Cerbat (it’s a ghost town today). -ed.)
I, Michael DeHay, being fully aware of my approaching fate, and though recognizing the justice of my sentence, feel impelled to give to the world this, my dying statement, hoping that my fate may prove a warning to others similarly situated as I have been, and praying that the circumstances which have hurried me on to a disgraceful end may be avoided by others so situated.
I was born in Mongoup, Sullivan Co., N.Y., April 10, 1830, and am now 45 years of age. At 18 years of age, I went to Greenwood, McHenry Co., Ill., where my father and family had previously settled. In 1850 I went to California — crossing the plains. For three years I was mining and prospecting in different places there, and then returned to Illinois; afterwards going to Minnesota and thence to Wisconsin, where in 1856 I became acquainted with and married Esther Hemstock, near La Crosse.
In 1857 I returned to California with my family, where I remained for four years, working at mining and at my trade as a carpenter. These dates may not be correct, as I have only my memory to rely on, but they are as near as I can now remember.
In 1861 I removed to Nevada with my family; lived at Aurora in Esmerelda County, about seven years or until 1868, and then removed to White Pine, and the next Spring to Pioche, and thence to Parabnega Valley in Lincoln County, where my family resided, until in August 1875, at which time I was at work in Groom District (60 miles distant from my family), as there was no work nearer my home where I had a ranch.
I was working to get money ahead with which to remove my family to some place where I could educate my children, whom I deeply love. I was one of a Committee to get a school started, and had hired a teacher and made arrangements to remove my family to Hiko (NV). At this time, when I was filled with bright hopes for the future for my children, I was almost crazed to learn that my wife had left my home, taking with her my children, team and wagon and most of my household goods, and had started towards Arizona with a Mr. Suttonfield, an entire stranger to me, and who I learned had camped for a few weeks on my ranch. The man who gave me this information was a Constable, who at the same time served a summons on me in favor of Mr. Wilson, a store keeper, for $51, most of which my wife had obtained in supplies just before leaving for Arizona.
I immediately returned to my desolate home, and the next day started in pursuit. My first and great object in following was to get possession of my dear children. I passed them at Chloride, six miles from Mineral Park, where they had camped. Had I then followed the dictates of my almost crazed brain, I should have then and there stopped and shot both the man and woman who had, as I felt, brought ruin on both myself and children, but my better judgment prevailed and I went on to Mineral Park and laid my case before Mr. Davis, to whom I had been recommended to go for advice. Under his advice, I got out a process and had them brought into Mineral Park, but nothing came of it.
I then got a house for my family to live in, and went to work and got provisions for us to live on. I did all I could to make them comfortable, and tried by every means to induce my wife to live with me as before and was willing to forgive the past. To all my appeals she turned a deaf ear, continually declaring that she never would resume her marital relations with me.
During this time I was informed that she, from time to time, met Suttonfield at his house. This continued pressure upon my mind affected me both by day and night. I was troubled with horrid dreams, and at times was nearly crazed. The night the act was committed, I was completely weighed down with trouble and sorrow, and being suddenly awaked from my troubled sleep saw, or thought I saw, my wife standing over me with a butcher-knife in her hand. She had been sleeping in one room in our only bed with some of the children, and I in an adjoining room on the floor.
When I was thus suddenly awakened, I jumped up, clutching my revolver which was under my head and rushed after her into her room. She jumped into the bed and curled down, and I, in my frenzy, fired at her and drew her out on to the floor. When I saw the blood, and saw what I had done, I was horror-struck and rushed out of the house, determined to take my own life, and with this intent, placed my pistol to my breast and fired twice. I then ran down town and for hours have but a faint recollection of what occurred, except that I went up and down a ladder into a hay-loft. At the time I committed the deed, my brain seemed to be on fire and that my head was the center of fire and maddened frenzy.
During all the time after my arrival at Mineral Park, I had never thought or meditated on the murder of my wife, or to revenge myself on her for her act of desertion, but I had at times meditated on revenge upon Suttonfield, as I felt that he was the cause of all my misery. I had never had any serious difficulty with my wife more than a few hasty words such as are likely to occur between other husbands and wives.
I make this statement with a full knowledge that my end is drawing nigh, and that another day will launch me into eternity, where I shall meet my Maker face to face. I forgive all who have wronged me, as I hope myself to be forgiven by a kind and merciful God.
George Smiley’s execution in the Arizona Territory on this date in 1900 was a month late owing to a public relations debacle.
The first and only man ever hanged in Navajo County, Smiley had killed a railroad section foreman.
As his scheduled December 8 execution approached, sheriff Frank Wattron garlanded the routine invitation he was required to send to the official witnesses with a bit more exuberance than was usual for the genre.
The jaunty, gilt-edged communique found its way into the hands of newsmen who soon reported it coast to coast.
U.S. President William McKinley — Wattron’s ultimate boss, since Arizona was a pre-statehood federal territory at this point — was not amused by the officer’s jollity, and ordered a 30-day reprieve for Smiley and a do-over with a little solemnity this time for Wattron.
The sheriff’s compliance was not altogether in the spirit of the directive. On the eve of the hanging, when it was much too late for news cycles to create any upstairs blowback, he dispatched a black-framed invitation dripping in sarcastic gravity.
Revised Statutes of Arizona, Penal Code, Title X, Section 1849, Page 807, makes it obligatory on sheriff to issue invitations to executions, form (unfortunately) not prescribed.
Jan. 7, 1900.
With feelings of profound sorrow and regret, I hereby invite you to attend and witness the private, decent and humane execution of a human being; name, George Smiley, crime, murder.
The said George Smiley will be executed on Jan. 8, 1900, at 2 o’clock p.m.
You are expected to deport yourself in a respectful manner, and any “flippant” or “unseemly” language or conduct on your part will not be allowed. Conduct, on anyone’s part, bordering on ribaldry and tending to mar the solemnity of the occasion will not be tolerated.
Sheriff of Navajo County
I would suggest that a committee, consisting of Governor Murphy, Editors Dunbar, Randolph and Hull, wait on our next legislature and have a form of invitation to executions embodied in our laws.
On this day in 1923, Paul V. Hadley was executed for murder in Arizona.
His story, however, actually begins on March 20, 1916, when Paul Hadley and his wife Ida Lee — fugitives from Beaumont, Texas on an assault with intent to commit murder charge — were taken into custody in Kansas City, Missouri. He was running a movie theater by then, living under an alias.
Hadley seemed resigned to his fate after his arrest, and didn’t fight extradition. Sheriff W.J. “Jake” Giles was charged with transporting the fugitive and his wife back to Texas on a train. (Ida wasn’t facing any charges and was accompanying her husband at her own request. They said she could come if she paid for her own ticket.)
Sheriff Giles had known the Hadleys for years. He trusted them and didn’t bother to search Ida, and at some point during the ride he removed Paul’s handcuffs. He paid for his negligence with his life: just before the train entered Checotah, Oklahoma, Ida retrieved a gun she’d hidden in the women’s toilet and shot the sheriff in the back of the head. He died within minutes, leaving nine children orphaned.
Paul took the dead man’s gun and used it to persuade the engine driver to stop the train. He and Ida jumped off and disappeared.
The pair were arrested by a posse the next day, however, and charged with Sheriff Giles’s murder. Ida was judged insane, but she wanted to share her husband’s fate and insisted on pleading guilty to a conspiracy charge, so she got sent to prison for ten years rather than to a mental hospital.
Paul was sentenced to life in prison. He appealed his conviction, but the verdict was upheld in 1918.
But Paul found another way to get out of the pen: in 1919, he persuaded the state of Oklahoma to furlough him for a sixty-day period. Accounts vary as to the reason why; it may have been so he could visit his dying mother, or it may have been because he’d invented some gadget and needed to find investors for it.
Either way, it seems that, as long as he pinky-swore he would come back, the prison authorities had no trouble granting a leave to a cop-killer with a history of escaping from custody.
You’ll be shocked to hear that Paul Hadley didn’t turn up for re-incarceration. By the time the police went looking for him, the trail was two months’ cold. Hadley was gone.
By November 1921, he was going by the name William S. Estaever and hitchhiking his way west. In Denver, Colorado he got picked up by an elderly married couple named Peter and Anna Johnson, who were driving to California. Southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Hadley pulled a gun on Peter Johnson and forced him to pull over.
He ordered the couple out of the car and shot them, killing Anna instantly and seriously wounding her husband.
Leaving Peter for dead on the roadside, Hadley took their car and drove on. The vehicle broke down, however, and as he was hoofing it to Yuma, Arizona, he was arrested. He was still carrying the murder weapon, a .32 caliber Mauser pistol.
One A.J. Eddy matched the Mauser with bullets taken from the victims’ bodies and shell casings found in their car. The defense moved to strike his testimony on the grounds that Eddy was “not an expert.” He was a lawyer by trade and his research into the area of bullet identification was only as a sideline. The judge decided, however, to grant Eddy “semi-expert” status: good enough to present his evidence in court.
Hadley claimed he and the Johnsons had been attacked by a gang of bandits and he had returned their fire, but Peter Johnson recovered from his injuries and testified against him at the trial.
The first jury was unable to reach a verdict. Hadley was convicted after a second trial, however, and sentenced to death. It was only then that authorities realized the criminal William Estaever was the fugitive from Oklahoma Paul Hadley.
Estaever/Hadley’s conviction was appealed all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court, with his appeals attorney arguing Eddy’s testimony should never been allowed into evidence. The court upheld the conviction, however, in a historic ruling: this was the first time a state supreme court had recognized ballistics evidence as valid and admissible.
The day before his death, Hadley was baptized by the Reverend J.W. Henderson and the prison doctor, James Hunter, who was a former minister. Dr. Hunter remained with Hadley the whole night and the condemned man slept fitfully and spent a long time praying and singing hymns.
He refused a final meal early that morning and calmly walked to the scaffold after the warden read the death warrant at 5:00 a.m.
His last words were, “I am innocent and ready to meet my death.” The trap sprung at 5:10 and Hadley pronounced dead five minutes later. Nobody claimed the body and so it was deposited in the prison cemetery.
As for Ida Hadley: Paul never tried to get in touch with her in the two years of his extended release from prison in Oklahoma. She remained his dutiful wife, however, and when she found out he had been convicted of murder in Arizona and sentenced to death, she begged the Oklahoma governor to pardon her so she could be with him in his last days.
She got her pardon on July 22, 1922 and went immediately to her husband’s side so she could help with his appeal. A week after Paul’s execution, the widow Hadley married Jack Daugherty of Wichita Falls, Texas. She enjoyed her second marriage for less than a year, however: Ida Lee Hadley Daugherty died on March 21, 1924.
On a summer’s day in 1991, Richard Stokley and Randy Brazeal picked up two 13-year-old girls from a fair in Cochise County, Arizona and drove them to the desert. There they raped them, then stomped, strangled and stabbed the two to death and dumped their naked bodies in a flooded mineshaft.
Today, Richard Stokley is set to bewas executed for that double homicide.
His accomplice Randy Brazeal is a free man living in Arkansas.
And little but the chance progress of justice and the human judgment calls that officers of the court make every day will distinguish the fate of two men, even though their trial judge has said that he “didn’t have a feeling that one was less culpable than the other.”
Brazeal, a 19-year-old troublemaker new to the area, and Stokley, a local brute twice his age, would spin different stories about exactly what happened in the desert that night to Mandy Meyers and Mary Snyder: about how the attacks began, and who particpated in what.
Long story short: Stokley’s version had both men as full participants, raping at least one girl apiece and each strangling a different victim. Brazeal’s version had him basically just giving people a ride and Stokley committing the crimes. (It’s not clear whether the victims were abducted from the fair, or went along willingly only to be attacked later.)
Forensic DNA testing was only just emerging in 1991, and it required months to process … months that the state did not have before Brazeal’s murder trial was set to begin. Even then, the state’s attorney worried that “the status of the law is in some question as to whether the DNA evidence would be admissible.”
This uncertainty set the parameters for a plea deal in which prosecutors took the guaranteed conviction and Brazeal dodged the needle. He was released in 2011 after serving concurrent 20-year sentences for second-degree murder.
But weeks after that deal was sealed (and before Stokley’s trial) DNA tests on semen retrieved from Mandy Meyers showed that both men had indeed raped her.
The DNA evidence helped seal Stokley’s conviction, even though it and other forensic evidence around the scene also tended to buttress Stokley’s “equal partners in the crime” story to the detriment of Brazeal’s version.
The net outcome* doesn’t necessarily look like justice. Mandy’s devastated mother, Patty Hancock, has been vocal in the run-up to Stokley’s execution about her disgust with the sentencing disproportion.
“With the evidence that they did have, Randy Brazeal should be sitting right next to Richard Dale Stokley,” she told one reporter. “And I will say that until the day I die.”
Stokley, for his part, filed a similar appeal in the courts as grounds for reducing his own sentence. But even though he’s availed every legal avenue possible, he didn’t bother trying the long odds at a gubernatorial reprieve — instead writing the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency:
I am also sorry I was mixed up in those awful events that brought me to this. I have been sorry for the victims and the victims’ families. But no one wants to hear of my miserable sorrow, they just want for me to get dead, which is vengeance. They think it will bring ‘closure.’ But there is no healing in that. Ever.
I have decided to decline a clemency hearing. I don’t want to put anyone through that, especially since I’m convinced that, as things stand now, it’s pointless. I reckon I know how to die, and if it’s my time, I’ll go without fanfare. And if it ain’t, I won’t. God’s will be done.
Xu Maiyong (left), former vice mayor of Hangzhou in Zhejiang and bearer of the Santa Claus-esque nickname “Plenty Xu”, was on the hook for $30 million of embezzlement as part of a wide-ranging campaign of public graft in service of a suitably luxuriant lifestyle filled with homes and mistresses.
Jiang Renjie, deputy mayor in charge of urban planning, construction, transportation, communications and housing in Suzhou, had made about half that much in bribes from developers around 2001-2004.
West had the depressing background so common to condemned prisoners, a litany of childhood sexual abuse that drove him to drug abuse and a PTSD diagnosis: he would claim that he “freaked out” when the homeowner Donald Bortle surprised him and started yelling at him, and that he didn’t think he’d killed Bortle at all.
The public triple-hanging in Azadi Square in the ethnically Kurdish west Iranian city of Kermanshah on this date was just a drop in the bucket relative to Iran’s hundreds-strong annual execution toll. But this one made the headlines.
Fazel Hawramy of Kurdishblogger.com provided the following video of the public hanging to Amnesty International, which helped focus worldwide attention on the event … although to what real consequence for “the continuing horror of the death penalty in Iran” (Amnesty’s words) is harder to say.
Equally hard to say from here is what relationship the hanged men’s rape conviction had to reality.
Five witnesses, two women, fainted. Altogether there were five women in the chamber at the time of the execution. It was the first time in the history of Arizona that an execution was witnessed by women.
Thanks in part to this ghastly scene, Arizona in 1934 replaced the gallows with the western states’ hot new killing technology, the gas chamber … leaving Dugan the last female client of that state’s hangman.
(Another woman, Ruth Judd, narrowly missed swiping Dugan’s distinction; Judd’s hanging sentence was commuted for insanity just days short of her scheduled 1933 hanging.)
In February 1903, two Mexicans shot up Goddard Station stagecoach stop, for motivations that were never plain. (There was no robbery, but it might have been revenge.)
The shooters got away, but law enforcement soon enough decided that a couple of railroad workers on the Mexican side of the border matched their description, and contrived to lure them into Arizona where they could be arrested.
Hilario Hidalgo and Francisco Renteria, were put on trial for their lives in Prescott, Ariz., in June 1903, where they were doomed to hang on the strength of eyewitness testimony and thirty minutes of the jurymen’s time. Appeals forbidden, the sentence was executed on this date — not six months after the crime.
With feelings of profound regret and sorrow, I hereby invite you to attend and witness the private and decent and humane execution of two human beings, namely: Richard Roe and John Doe. Crime — Murder.
Said men will be executed on July 31, 1903 at 12 noon. You are expected to deport yourself in a respectful manner and any flippant or unseemly language or conduct on your part will not be allowed. Conduct on anyone’s part bordering on ribaldry and tending to mar the solemnity of the occasion will not be tolerated.
The men cracked wise at the reading of their death warrant — “I have heard that repeated so often that if it was a song I would sing it to you,” reported the Los Angeles Times (Aug. 1, 1903) — and with “perfect nerve” checked out, calling only “Adios! Adios!” from the scaffold.
(Thanks to German political scientist Matthias Lehmphul for the guest post -ed.)
The last man — so far — to die in the gas chamber, Walter LaGrand, was executed by the state of Arizona on March 3rd, 1999. He was one of just 11 prisoners gassed among the 1,099 executions to date since the U.S. death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
The United States introduced the gas chamber as an execution method in the beginning of the last century. The first death row inmate ever executed with poisoned air was Chinese migrant Gee Jon, who died at the Nevada State Prison in 1924. Relative to the other methods in use at the time — the electric chair, hanging, and the firing squad — gas was believed the most humane way of taking a person’s life.
It took 70 years for a court to finally recognize it as cruel and unusual punishment. In 1994 a federal judge ruled that the gas chamber violated the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Shortly before Walter LaGrand’s scheduled execution, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay whose logic would have banned lethal gas forever. This was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving it as it remains today -– a backup or secondary option for putting a delinquent to death in five states: Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri and Wyoming.
Death penalty for a murder in a bank
Walter LaGrand (top) and his brother Karl.
Walter LaGrand was following his brother Karl LaGrand, who Arizona had executed by lethal injection a week earlier. The brothers were sentenced to death on December 14th, 1984 for stabbing to death an employee of a bank in Marana, Arizona.
On January 7, 1982, 19-year-old Walter and 18-year-old Karl drove from Tucson to Marana to rob the Valley National Bank. Brandishing a toy gun, they ordered the bank manager, Ken Hartstock, to open the vault. Mr. Hartstock, however, did not have the complete combination. The brothers bound Mr. Hartstock’s hand together with electrical tape. When he attempted to shout at Karl, he was stabbed to death with a letter opener.
Another bank employee, Ms. Lopez, was in the room at the time of the murder. Her hands had also been bound, and she too suffered several stab wounds. She later became the state’s key witness.
When they were arrested, Karl LaGrand confessed to the killing and tried to shield his older brother from a capital murder charge by stating that Walter was not in the room when the stabbing occurred.
Ms. Lopez, however, testified that both brothers were surrounding Mr. Hartstock at the time of his death.
Between different worlds: A childhood without a home
At the time Walter and Karl LaGrand were born, their mother, Emma Maria Gebel, lived in Augsburg in what was then West Germany. The boys were cared for either by Emma’s mother or a babysitter. When Emma’s mom became ill and could no longer handle the children, the two kids were put into an orphanage.
During the two years they remained at this place they suffered an egregious lack of care. Deprivation of food and blankets were common punishments at this institution. When Emma took the boys back they already suffered insomnia and post-trauma disturbances. In 1966 Emma married Masie LaGrand, an American soldier stationed in Augsburg. He adopted the two boys and their older sister Patricia. Together they moved to the USA in 1967.
Soon their new dad was send to Vietnam. After returning from this war he never was the same; Emma and Masie divorced in 1973. The boys’ delinquent record can be tracked back to 1978 — when they first ran away from home and shoplifted.
Though Karl and Walter were adopted, they never were naturalized by the national immigration service. They remained German citizens — and that set the stage for another legal controversy in the days before their execution.
Power Politics: How the United States overrules international law
In a personal meeting with President Bill Clinton, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder expressed his concerns about the fate of both brothers. However, the main argument was not the execution method but the lack of consular assistance by the time of arrest.
This article does not exempt foreign citizens from prosecution, nor does it give special rights under the law. It only insures that foreign nationals -– including Americans abroad –- have the means to defend themselves in a uniquely vulnerable situation. The United States and Germany are among the VCCR’s 169 signatories.
On January 22nd, 1998 the Special Rapporteur to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Bacre W. Ndiaye criticized the United States for its arbitrary disregard for treaty obligations like consular notification:
There seems to be a serious gap in the relations between federal and state governments, particularly when it comes to international obligations undertaken by the United States Government. The fact that the rights proclaimed in international treaties are already said to be a part of domestic legislation does not exempt the Federal Government from disseminating their provisions. Domestic laws appear de facto to prevail over international law, even if they could contradict the international obligations of the United States. (Extrajudicial summary on arbitrary executions, E/CN.4/1998/68/Add.3:C.108 — full document (.pdf))
Much too late, Germany opened a legal case against the United States on Walter LaGrand’s behalf at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands.
Karl LaGrand has been already executed when Berlin filed suit against Washington. Justice Christopher Weeramantry urged the United States to spare the life of Walter LaGrand. The White House argued it was a matter of the State of Arizona, outside the purview of federal authority. Under extreme international pressure, the Arizona Board of Pardons and Paroles took an unprecedented step: for the first time ever, it recommended an 60-day reprieve to await the decision of Germany’s suit against the United States at the ICJ.
Walter and Karl LaGrand always had a close relationship and that did not change during their trial or time on death row. Until the end of 1998 they were celled beside one another and enjoyed the ability to talk freely. They held mirrors through the bars of their cells, so that they could see the other while talking. The chance to go out together on a work crew (when they were allowed to work) always excited them due to the fact that they were then able to see each other. In fact, they were emotionally so close that, if they have to die, they had expressed a preference to be executed on the same day.
Given a choice in their method of execution, both brothers tactically opted for the gas chamber to give the legal challenges to lethal gas a chance to save them. With those challenges foundering, both were offered a late switch to lethal injection in exchange for dropping suit.
Karl took the deal. Walter, as the New York Times put it, “opted for the gas, with its resonance of the Holocaust for Germans.”
Before the executioner switched the lever to initiate a chemical reaction between cyanide pellets (KCN) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4) the inmate was given his last words. Walter LaGrand said:
To all my loved ones, I hope they find peace. To all of you here today, I forgive you and hope I can be forgiven in my next life.
This date’s gassing with hydrogen cyanide (HCN) took 18 minutes until the heart of Walter LaGrand stopped beating. While the execution took place witnesses left the room nauseated.
Will history repeat? There are some 125 foreign nationals on death row in the United States today. Another pair of German brothers, Michael and Rudi Apelt, are as of this writing waiting to be put to death in Arizona — perhaps, if they choose it, in the same gas chamber where Walter LaGrand perished.
Legal and diplomatic fallout
Still smarting from the LaGrands’ execution, German foreign minister Joschka Fischer said at the 55th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on March 23rd, 1999:
States whose justice system kill are not meeting their responsibility to set an example to society. Europeans believe that the death penalty cannot be justified either ethically or legally and has not proved to be an effective means of combating crime.
The ICJ ruled in favor of Germany‘s LaGrand suit on June 26th, 2001, more than two years after the brothers had been put to death. It was the first time that a country won a case against the United States on this matter.
In 2005, facing multiplying challenges from death-sentenced foreign nationals similarly denied their rights under the VCCR, the Bush administration formally withdrew the United States from the ICJ’s oversight for such cases.