Posts filed under 'Texas'

1918: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment May 24th, 2019 Headsman

From the Pueblo Chieftain (May 25, 1918):

Salt Lake City, May 24. — Howard H. Deweese, who was shot here today for the murder of his wife, Fannie Fisher Deweese, left a grim legacy for his wife’s former husband. It is a silk handkerchief and the bullets which passed thru the heart of Deweese, first passed thru the bit of silk which he had pinned over his chest.

Before his execution Deweese secured the promise of the warden of the state prison to forward the handkerchief, together with a note to Fisher in New York. The letter, dated at the Utah state penitentiary last Monday, reads:

Mr. H.W. Fisher, 150 Second avenue, New York:

Greetings:

In accordance with customs observed by certain people, I herewith conform with precedents and law governing the conduct of aforesaid people. I have rigidly adhered to my vows. You have violated yours. Therefore, put your house in order. The allotted time customary in such cases is yours. The souvenir enclosed herewith (by the warden of this institution) will doubtless serve to convince you that time, distance, political influence or money cannot change the inexorable workings of things decreed by men who do not hesitate in risking all, even life, for things they have sworn to uphold.

The U.B.C. thru one who has proven loyal, bids you ‘prepare.’ It is written.

(Signed)
J.E.W.

The initials affixed at the bottom of the note stand for Deweese’s alias — J.E. Warren. The “U.B.C.” Deweese explained just before his execution, was the initials of the “Universal Brotherhood Club of New York.”


From the Kansas City Star (May 24, 1918):

DALLAS, TEX. May 23. — A claim that the idea for the Red Cross poster, “The Greatest Mother in the World,” originated in the mind of Leonard Dodd, who with Walter Stevenson is sentenced to hang here tomorrow for murder, was placed here today before the state board of pardons at Austin as part of a plea for commutation of sentence.

Council for Dodd informed the board a draft of the poster had been sent by him to the Red Cross headquarters at Washington and that it was later drawn by an Eastern artist. Dodd, Stevenson, and Emmett Vestal, also convicted of murder, will be hanged tomorrow unless Governor Hobby commutes their sentences. [Dodd and Stevenson hanged; as for Vestal’s … read on. -ed.]


From the Arizona Republic, Jan. 1, 1955:

Evangelist Emmett T. (Texas Slim) Vestal, a man twice condemned to die in the electric chair, is in Phoenix conducting a revival, and illustrating that “no matter how low a man can get, he still can be saved by following Christ.”

For more than 20 years, Mr. Vestal has been preaching in churches throughout the country, and recounting his experiences as bank robber, drug addict, and gang member.

Services will be conducted every night through next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Revival Center, 902 N. 24th St.

In 1917 he shot a rival gang leader who tried to ambush him near Victoria, Tex. and was sentenced to die May 24, 1918. Five minutes before the hanging, he was granted a reprieve by the late Governor W.P. Hobby.

He returned to prison, contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a state hospital from which he escaped. Law officials found him in 1926 in St. Louis and took him back to Texas for a new trial because the state had changed his sentence from hanging to electrocution.

He was again convicted and sentenced to die, this time in the electric chair. Three days before the electrocution, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the late Governor Miriam (Ma) Ferguson. Three days after that she granted him a full pardon.

Methodist church workers taught him to read and write and gave him Christian education while he was in prison. After his release he began his evangelic career. He was ordained a baptist minister.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Last Minute Reprieve,Murder,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Shot,Texas,USA,Utah

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1877: James Singleton, Beeville character

Add comment April 27th, 2019 Headsman

James Edward Singleton caught a death sentence in Texas after setting out from Beeville with a business partner carrying a wad of cash with which they intended to set up a saloon in Rockport.

The business partner never made it there, and Singleton swung in Beeville on April 27, 1877, after having been arrested boarding a boat with all their saloon boodle in his pocket. He left this colorful last will and testament; the reader will not be surprised to learn that it was not honored. (The document survives in damaged condition; ellipses indicate lost text.)

In the Name of the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omnificient of science and common sense Amen. I, J.E. Singleton (cosmopolite) Now sojourning in Galveston Jail, State of Texas, And, being of sound mind. Do by these presents, Will, divise, and bequeath, (for the diffusion of anatomical knowledge among mankind) — my mortal remains to J.J. Swann, on the following conditions.

First, that my body — after the execution — be prepared in the most scientific & skillful manner known in anatomical art, and placed in his Office, in the Courthouse in Beeville … O … ter temple of Justice … may …

Second. It is my express desire — If [his prosecutor -ed.] Dave Walton has no objections — That two drumheads, be made of skin. On one of which shall be written in Indellible characters Popes universal prayer, & on the other the following Verdict, –

We, the Jury, find the defendant, Jas. E. Singleton, guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the Indictment, and assess the penalty of death.

The said drum heads to be presented to my distinguished friend and fellow citizen, Frank Boggus — drummer for Tom Holly’s division — On the following conditions that he, the aforesaid Frank Boggus, shall beat, or cause to be beaten on said drum heads the popular tune [Old Mollie Hare] … front on the 8th day of June Annually.

The viscera, and other parts of my body, useless for anatomical purposes, I wish composted for a fertilizer, and presented to Mr. Barclay, proprietor of the Grand Palace Hotel in Beeville, to be used by him for the purpose of nourishing the growth of cabbage, turnips, pertaters, and other garden sass, that the worthy people of Bee County — or at least the masculine portion thereof — may have something to relieve the monotony of hash & dried apples, during their brief sojourn at the aforesaid Hotel, while assembled at Beeville, for the purpose of dishing out Justice to Violators of the Law.

J.E. Singleton.

The foregoing is my last will and testement, and I wish J.J. Swann to act as Executor. I feel very grateful to the Citizens of Bee County in general, and to J.J. Swann in particular for the many favors conferred upon me by them. I also feel that I am indebted to them, to some extent pecuniarily, and being at present in Indigent circumstances, I write and leave this will, alike to liquidate my debts, and prove my gratitude.

Singleton really was quite a character. Newspapers around the Republic reported his pig-out last meal request of “one dish ham and eggs, one apple pie, one peach pie, one egg custard, one fruit pudding, one large pound cake, and two bottles of wine.” He also attempted to cheat the hangman by taking his own life, leaving a note for his mother that also hit the papers in which he confesses himself in very human terms not excluding his amusing disdain for the community that was preparing to take his life. (This from the Galveston Weekly News of May 7, 1877:)

Dear Mother — When you read this, I, your sinful, rebellious, neglectful son, will be no more on this earth. But, mother dear, I am not going to give these worthy people of Bee county the pleasure of publicly executing me. You will understand by this that I contemplate destroying my own life. And such is the case. I am aware that you look upon it as an unpardonable sin, or almost as such, but I can not bear the idea of being hanged in public, before a gaping multitude of fools, and especially Bee county fools. I am compelled to lose my life, mother dear; there is no other alternative, and you will pardon me, I’m sure, for this act, for it is only shortening my existence a few hours at most.

As for the justice of my conviction, I will not speak or write falsely to you at this time, and I reckon the verdict of the jury was a just one. I did the murder, but not with malice aforethought, as every one thinks, nor was I actuated by any hope of gain. It was for a quarrel about a trifle, and the provocation was not sufficient to warrant the killing; therefore, I don’t feel justified.

It’s hard, mother dear, for me to calmly contemplate death, and a great deal harder, when I think of your long suffering toll and privations for me. I know you are suffering and will suffer after my death. I would to God I could avert it from you, but I can not; but I think it’s better to take my life, than to be executed by the minions of the law in this place. I will not ask you not to grieve for me, mother, for I know that would be useless; but try and bear up the best you can. I trust that we may meet again in that better world beyond the grave. I do not feel capable of saying anything that will strengthen or comfort you at this time, when I know how much you need comfort and strength. But one thing, mother, please for my sake, and for the sake of Lee and Mamie, do not despair nor give up, if you can help it. Think how you, and none but you, can instruct them how to be great and good men. Some would think that my career was a contradiction of what I say, but God knows that the fact of my now being under sentence of death, and my name forever disgraced, is not the consequence of my home training. I was taught things that were right, but I was too weak and sinful to profit by your good teachings, but I do hope to God it will be different with the two younger ones. Teach them always to do right at all times, and for my sake teach them to think with pity and never with scorn of the disgraced and outcast murderer. For with all my faults, I always loved them; but I am not much afraid on that score, if they continue as they are now, as I do not in the least doubt their love for me. I saw Mamie this evening. I am thankful that I was permitted to see him once more. I regret not having seen Lee very much, but as I did not, you must convey my loving farewell to him. I must close this, mother, for writing here, solitary and alone as I am, of our loved ones causes such a rush of old half-forgotten memories that I am almost overpowered. I am not as near cast-iron as I thought. Well, dear, dear mother, farewell, and may God, in His infinite mercy, bless, comfort and console you is the prayer of your loving but unhappy son.

JAMES EDWARD SINGLETON

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Texas,USA

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1985: Doyle Skillern, under the law of parties

Add comment January 16th, 2019 Headsman

A philosophical Doyle Skillern was executed in Texas on this date in 1985, one of the more galling victims of Texas’s controversial “Law of Parties” — in which all parties involved in a lesser felony (such as armed robbery) may be held liable for a greater felony (such as murder) committed by any of their number.

Skillern and a buddy named Charles Sanne were drug dealers being set up for arrest by a narcotics agent.

In the course of a buy, the suspicious Sanne got the officer, Patrick Randel, into his vehicle on the pretext of doing business elsewhere — intending in fact to rob Randel. While Skillern trailed in a different vehicle, Sanne shot Randel to death (and robbed him). By the accounts of both men the shooting wasn’t premeditated; Sanne said that Randel tried to pull a gun on him and a spontaneous fight ensued.

Textbook law of parties case, made more perverse by the fact that the actual shooter, Sanne, received a prison term and was approaching parole eligibility by the time his non-triggerman accomplice, Skillern, went to the gurney.

(In fairness to the great state of Texas we must observe that Skillern’s jury when considering factors to aggravate the crime found out that he had a previous murder on his record, that of his brother. Sanne’s previous record consisted only of petty crimes.)

Prison officials said that an emotionless Skillern mused upon learning of the rejection of his last appeals, “A lot of people will still have their troubles tomorrow and mine will be over.”

On this day..

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

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

Add comment December 7th, 2018 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2009: Bobby Wayne Woods

1 comment December 3rd, 2018 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

On this day..

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

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1989: Stephen McCoy, botched

1 comment May 24th, 2018 Headsman

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

McCoy, according to the Death Penalty Information Center,

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

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

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

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

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

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1964: Jack Ruby condemned

Add comment March 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1964, Dallas nightclub owner Jacob Rubenstein — notorious to history as Jack Ruby — was condemned to the electric chair for the dramatic live-televised murder of accused John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, captured by snapping shutters in one of the 20th century’s indelible images.

Ruby would never sit on that mercy seat.

For one thing, his punishment arrived as the American death penalty lulled into hibernation. Had he lived his sentence eventually would have been vacated by the 1972 Furman v. Georgia ruling. But instead of seeing that juridical landmark, the enigmatic Ruby died in prison inside of three years, awaiting retrial after an appeal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Infamous,Jews,Murder,Not Executed,Notable for their Victims,Organized Crime,Popular Culture,Texas,USA

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2016: Coy Wayne Westbrook

Add comment March 9th, 2018 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2017: Robert Pruett

4 comments October 12th, 2017 Headsman

Texas this evening executed Robert Pruett, a 38-year-old man who last saw the outside of prison as a 15-year-old boy … and who perhaps had no hand in either of the murders that defined his life and death.

He was sent to jail as a child under the “law of parties” for being present when his father stabbed a neighbor to death — an offense that caught him an unthinkable 99-year sentence before he was old enough to drive.

It’s claimed by way of justifying his death by lethal injection tonight that in 1999 he murdered a guard. Pruett has always denied this and has never been linked by physical evidence to the murder — a very late attempt at DNA testing yielded a frustratingly indecisive outcome — and the testimony against him consisted of prisoners whose status as wards of the state issuing the prosecution predictably compromises their evidence. Pruett never quite had conclusive proof of his innocence so his “merely” questionable guilt fits a depressingly frequent pattern: use the prosecutor’s muscle to get a conviction on the books, then ride procedural inertia all the way to the gurney.

Anti-death penalty nun Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame has a Twitter thread summarizing the case for Pruett beginning here.

Innocent or guilty, Pruett is — was — a man of unusual erudition. A blogspot blog last updated in 2007 has some fascinating reflections from a much younger man, years before he was a figure of interest for New York Times op-eds.

As I lie awake at night pondering my predicament, a feeling of futility envelopes me. The maxim that had once helped me develop an insatiable will wants to fade away. I waited too long to fight, says some voice that I hardly recognize as my own. It’s over. I should acquiesce to my fate … Yet there’s another voice from the depths of my soul rebuking the other, warning me against throwing the towel in. I’m not a quitter, it says, I can do this if I set my mind to it. That sounds more like the Robert I know. There’s still time to prove my innocence. It’s foolish to waste it with all the negative thoughts of defeat.

Just three days before Pruett’s execution, Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson wrote a captivating review of a nine-chapter autobiography of Pruett’s that demands a full read. I have not been able to locate a link to the actual autobiography itself and would be grateful for anyone who might be able to direct me; nevertheless, Robinson’s lengthy excerpts achingly humanize the late writer from his behind-the-8-ball childhood to his maturation under the executioner’s very long shadow.

It wasn’t until I got to death row that I realized my ignorant and hateful views on race were a reflection/projection of how I felt about myself, that I’d constructed a complex ideology totally rooted and parallel to the things I most disliked about me. I used to go on tangents about the criminality exhibited by the black youth of America, how it needs to be addressed and curbed, but the truth was that I was talking about myself the entire time and didn’t even realize it. It’s a truth that we project onto others the things we most hate about ourselves. Carl Jung said that our shadow selves, the part of our psyches that we store repressed emotional themes and the aspects of our personalities we dislike, is represented by what we hate/dislike in others. You are what you hate …

Somehow, I believe it took me coming here, living the life of extreme adversity that I have, in order to conquer my shadow and grow in the ways I have … I needed to have my life ripped away from me, to face a hopeless situation and experience great loss and pain in order to finally break through and spread my own wings.

On this day..

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

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2015: Robert Ladd, “let’s ride”

Add comment January 29th, 2017 Jeff Hood

(Thanks to Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood — “pastor, theologian, activist, writer” — for the guest post, which originally appeared on his own site as part of his 2015 “Lenten Reflections from the Executed” series. -ed.)

“Let’s ride.”

We stop. We are afraid. We don’t want to move an inch. Danger is a paralyzing force. In the face of certain death, Robert Ladd looked danger in the eye and shrugged. If we place our trust in God, we too can have such confidence.

Staring down whatever danger you face, I invite you to pray the last words of Robert Ladd:

“Let’s ride.”

Amen.

(Ladd also wrote two letters to Gawker concerning his case and the mental disability that was at issue in his final appeals: 1 | 2)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,USA

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