Posts filed under 'Texas'
July 11th, 2016
Ten years ago today, Texas executed Derrick O’Brien for an infamous Houston gangland crime — the rape-murder of Jennifert Ertman and Elizabeth Pena.
We have in these pages actually already encountered one of Ertman and Pena’s slayers in these pages: Jose Medellin, who was executed in 2008. That case was notable for the litigation resulting from Texas’s failure to comply with the Vienna Convention by notifying the Mexican consulate of Medellin’s arrest — and the Medellin post focuses on that issue. This post turns instead to the crime itself.
On June 24, 1993, Ertman and Pena — 14- and 16-year-old Waltrip High School students desperate to beat curfew — took a late-night shortcut along a railroad skirting the White Oak Bayou.
At a railroad trestle in T.C. Jester Park, just moments from home, they encountered our man Derrick O’Brien, Jose Medellin, and four other young men toasting a gang initiation. The six fell on the vulnerable girls and raped both, then strangled them with shoelaces.
Even for a city as large as Houston, it was a shattering crime that still haunts the lost girls’ friends and neighbors.
Memorial to Ertman and Pena in T.C. Jester Park. (cc) image by Pepper Hastings.
Politically, it thrust gangs to the front of the agenda for Houston pols. The girls’ kin* also fought successfully to adjust Texas Department of Criminal Justice procedure in order to permit victims’ family members to witness executions, an innovation that is now widely used throughout the U.S.
O’Brien, barely 18 when he took part in the murder, turned up in the crowd gawking at the crime scene when it was first discovered, and some video footage chances to catch him smiling and laughing. He would eventually be the first person put to death for the Ertman-Pena murder.
Besides O’Brien and Medellin, the gang leader Peter Anthony Cantu was also executed for this murder. Efrain Perez and Raul Villareal, both 17 years old at the time of the attack, were condemned to death initially but had their sentences commuted after the U.S. Supreme Court barred the execution of juvenile offenders. Fourteen-year-old Venancio Medellin — Jose’s brother — caught a 40-year sentence that he’s still serving.
* Notably, Jennifer Ertman’s father Randy became an outspoken crime victim advocate until he succumbed to cancer in 2014.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Texas,USA
Tags: 2000s, 2006, derrick o'brien, elizabeth pena, houston, jennifer ertman, jose medellin, july 11
April 12th, 2016
A few months ago as of this writing, Joe’s Crab Shack in Roseville, Minnesota made unfortunate news for its indecorous decision to include a black-and-white photograph of an old Texas hanging in its zany family dining table collage: that of the April 12, 1895 execution of Richard Burleson in Groesbeck, Texas. (Not a lynching, as it was widely characterized: it was a legal public execution.)
The hanging of Richard Burleson as interpreted by oe’s Crab Shack.
The image was adorned by a dreadful word bubble in which the doomed man exclaims, “All I said was, ‘I don’t like the gumbo!'” perhaps suggesting that uninspired dishes are best not returned at this establishment.
Here’s now the New Orleans Daily Picayune of April 13, 1895 described the actual, gumbo-less event.
For the Murder of J.G. McKinnon.
Groesbeck, Tex., April 12. — (Special.) — Richard Burleson slept all night, arose this morning, ate a hearty breakfast and was quite cheerful. At 10:30 Sheriff Gresham read the death warrant to him and told him to prepare for death. His spiritual advisers, J.H. Linn, of Mexia, and J. Beckham and J.M. Jackson, of Groesbeck, were with him several hours, but he refused to accept Christ or acknowledge his guilt. At 11:50 a.m. he ate a light dinner and prepared to arrange his toilet. At 2 o’clock he bade his brother good-by, who was in an adjoining cell, charged with aggravated assault. He walked up the steps leading to the gallows as though the end was not so near. The trap did not work at first and necessitated some three minutes’ delay. He became impatient, and told the officers that he could hang three or four niggers in that length of time himself. He never shed a tear or seemed to dread death in the least. At 2:05 he shot through the trap. His neck was broken; he never quivered nor moved a muscle. At 2:20 he was pronounced dead. When his body was sent down such a crowd had gathered on the platform to see him that the platform fell with a crash, but, fortunately, no one was hurt. He sold his body to Dr. W. M. Brown for $5. He was 21 years old at the time of his death, and lived in Limestone county, at Tehuacana, where his mother and wife, whom he married three months before hw as arrested for this crime, reside. He spoke in high terms of the officers. The crowd was estimated at 4000, and everything passed off very quietly.
The crime for which Burleson was sentenced to be hanged was a most horrible one, and one which stirred the community as it had not been stirred in many years.
The evidence was circumstantial, but no evidence could be found more closely linked together than was that on which he was convicted.
May 2, 1894, the murderer followed the venerable Mr. J.G. McKinnon out of Mexia and asked permission to ride in his wagon, which was readily granted him; he assaulted the helpless old man shortly after he had gotten into the wagon and with some heavy object tied up in a jacket beat him over the head until life had been crushed out of his victim. He then robbed the dead body and leaving the scene of the crime fled to Tehuacana, where he was living.
A few hours later he was arrested at his home. In order to give him a legal trial the sheriff slipped across country and put him in jail at Corsicana, where he has been kept ever since, with the exception of the time when he was on trial at this place.
This was the first legal hanging in Limestone county in seventeen years.
After news of the Crab Shack’s tasteless appropriation of this picture got all over the Internet and triggered public protests, the restaurant found a less risible inanity upon which to plate crustaceans.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,Theft,USA
Tags: 1890s, 1895, april 12, joe's crab shack, photography, richard burleson
March 5th, 2016
On this date in 1858, a slave named Lucy was hanged in Galveston for killing her mistress.
The innkeeper Maria Dougherty was chagrined in 1857 when her slave voiced disgruntlement by torching her Columbia Hotel. (The fire was detected in time and put out.) So, she stacked additional punishments on the dissatisfied Lucy, who in her turn escalated her revenge. In the first days of the new year, Mrs. Dougherty disappeared — next seen several days onward afloat in a cistern, skull mangled by a furious bludgeon.
“Yes, I killed her, and I would do it again!” Lucy allegedly exulted.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Texas,USA,Women
Tags: 1850s, 1858, galveston, labor, lucy dougherty, march 5, maria dougherty, revenge
September 29th, 2015
Come all my friends and near relations;
Come and listen unto me.
I will sing about two men,
About two men that’s to be hung.
‘Twas on the eighteenth night of December,
In eighteen hundred ninety-five,*
‘Twas the night they did the murder
For which they had to give their lives.
One says, “Father and dear mother,
Won’t you both remember me,
When I’m dead and gone forever,
And my face no more you’ll see?”
“We were held long in this prison —
No one came to go our bail** —
God will aid and assist us
Now to break the Gatesville jail.”
And when started from that prison
And the guards surrounded them —
“I must die and I’m not guilty,”†
‘Twas the answer Jim made then.
Ed was tall and fair complected;
Jim was low and very neat.
They were pale and very silent,
And their lips did seem to meet.
One says, “Lord, oh, do have mercy
On those who swore my life away.”
They tied their wrists and their ankles,
Placed black caps upon their heads.
The trapdoor fell and left them hanging,
Between the earth and the sky.
It was for a dreadful murder
These two men were made to die.
They’s cut down, placed in their coffins,
Delivered over to their friends,
Who were there for that purpose,
To receive them at their end.
Come all young men, now take warning;
Live, oh, live a sober life.
* The crime(s) for which Leeper and Powell hanged actually occurred on the evening of December 17, in 1889. Two armed outlaws waylaid some farmers returning to the country after they sold their cotton in Gatesville; a J.T. Mathis was mortally wounded in the resulting firefights, lingering until December 18 before he finally succumbed. (Another man named W.H.H. Harvey was wounded, but survived.)
** Actually, Ed Leeper’s mother was a prosperous Tennessee matron who spent liberally on her son’s defense; the men’s appeals, even challenging the legality of the entire Texas penal code, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — quite unusual for the time. But it is correct that they did not have bail: the enormity of the crime, and the fear of inviting a lynch mob, saw them behind bars and under heavy guard from the time of their arrest hours after the robbery.
This is not to say that Mrs. Leeper’s efforts were wholly without effect:
Dallas Morning News, September 30, 1891.
† Since the attack took place under cover of darkness, nobody could positively identify the assailants. Leeper and Powell, well-known local ruffians, were suspected at once and the suspicion appeared circumstantially supported.
Both men did continue to assert their innocence on the scaffold: “I die innocent and I die game for the crime of some one else,” in Powell’s words. (Dallas Morning News, September 30, 1891)
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Texas,Theft,USA
Tags: 1890s, 1891, ballads, ed leeper, gatesville, james powell, photography, postcards, september 29
September 12th, 2015
On this date in 1879, a half-blooded Native American named Pocket died in Hallettsville on an oak tree.
The son of a French Canadian father and a Blackfoot Sioux mother, Pocket had been befriended by a cattleman named Lou Allen. They met by chance in the early 1870s; Pocket was a half-caste child, maybe not even into adolescence, with broken English, doing odd jobs to scrape by.
Of Pocket we have only glimpses of the moments where he comes into the view of white men. His rancher-friend took him until “becoming tired of civilized life, and pining for the freedom of his native wilds,” Pocket vanished on a horse that Mr. Allen willingly gave him. (The quote comes from the Galveston Weekly News of September 18, 1879; it’s also the source for the other quotes in this post.)
That was in 1874. For the next several years Pocket’s activities are mostly unknown, save for the few times he popped back into Mr. Allen’s life — once to bum a suit of clothes; another time when they met by accident in Wichita, Pocket destitute after gambling everything away; and finally when Pocket reappeared in Lavaca County only to be refused aid by his benefactor in a possible gesture of tough love. Pocket found work on a nearby farm instead.
On Valentine’s Day 1878, Pocket was seen in the county seat of Hallettsville getting roaring drunk on whiskey. He left town for the countryside carrying another bottle and proceeded to stop at several farms to accost their residents.
At the Smith house, he barged in, stole a pistol, and forced his way into the family dinner. He stumbled into the home of a former slave named Frank Edwards, ripped up bed clothes, and started swinging an axe around until Edwards punched out the unwanted visitor.
Fuming, Pocket proceeded to yet another farm, the Petersons, where he contrived to get the family hunting rifle by representing the presence of a drove of turkeys nearby. A young Brit named Leonard Hyde worked for the Petersons, and he went along with Pocket “to see the fun.” As ominously as this reads, Hyde had no reason to suspect trouble; the Galveston Weekly News would note that Hyde and Pocket “were both under twenty-one years of age, friendly with one another up to the last moment, and both strangers in the land which has given to each of them a grave.” Two kids out on a turkey-shooting lark.
Hyde trotted along on foot after Pockett, and soon another of Hyde’s friends joined the supposed hunting foray. Suddenly, their intoxicated leader stopped and cursed Hyde for following him — then shot him dead through the forehead with his pistol. The killer’s mind was obviously disordered and impulsive, but it’s possible that Hyde died in place of Frank Edwards, or if not Edwards then whomever Pocket might have crossed paths with next that night.
Now with blood on his hands, Pocket did not pause to revenge any other slights but galloped off into the wilderness. He was eventually captured in Bosque County.
(Source, which also preserves a sad letter from Hyde’s father written in March 1878 upon learning of his son’s murder.)
Perhaps three thousand souls turned out to see a repentant Pocket die in Hallettsville on September 12, 1879 — “every road entering this town became alive with people of all ages, sexes and colors, without regard to previous condition, coming to witness the first legal execution in this county.” Pocket had spent his last weeks in religious devotion and struck those who saw him as a profoundly changed man.
The great hanging-tree can still be seen today, shading a picnic-table in City Park, next to the Hallettsville Golf Association clubhouse.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA
Tags: 1870s, 1879, alcohol, first peoples, hallettsville, native americans, pocket, september 12, whisky
August 9th, 2015
(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)
“To all of the racist white folks in America that hate black folks and to all of the black folks in America that hate themselves: in the infamous words of my famous legendary brother, Nat Turner, ‘Y’all kiss my black ass.’ Let’s do it.”
—Brian Roberson, convicted of murder, lethal injection, Texas.
Executed August 9, 2000
Roberson was convicted in the stabbing death of James Boots, seventy-nine, and his wife, Lillian, seventy-five, who lived across the street from him in Dallas. Roberson was African-American and his victims were Caucasian. Amnesty International issued a memo before the execution urging action and “expressing concern at the prosecutor’s systematic exclusion of African-Americans from the trial jury.” Roberson claimed he was “juiced up” on PCP and liquor during the crime. His last words were alternately recorded as “You ain’t got what you want.”
Later that same year, Roberson’s twin brother, Bruce, was arrested for allegedly threatening then President-elect George W. Bush. In a New York Times article, officers reported that Bruce wanted “to take him down.” The piece continued: “Mr. Roberson told them that Mr. Bush ‘stole the election and he’s not going to get away with it.'” Bush had been governor at the time of Brian’s execution.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Lethal Injection,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA
Tags: 2000, 2000s, august 9, brian roberson, bruce roberson, dallas, george w. bush, james boots, lillian boots
August 5th, 2015
On this date in 2008, Mexican national Jose Medellin was executed by Texas, pleasurably sticking its thumb in the eye of the International Court of Justice.
U.S. state and local officials have often displayed the ugly-American tendency to view binding treaty obligations as a Washington thing of no moment to the likes of a Harris County prosecutor. So when Medellin was arrested for the 1993 rape-murder of two teenage girls in a Houston park, the idea of putting him right in touch with Mexican diplomats to assist his defense was, we may safely suppose, the very farthest thing from anyone’s mind.
Yet under the Vienna Convention, that is exactly what ought to have occurred. The idea is that consular officials can help a fellow on foreign soil to understand his unfamiliar legal circumstances and assist with any measures for his defense — and by common reciprocity, every state is enabled to look after the interests of its nationals abroad.
A widespread failure to do this, in death cases and others, has involved the United States in a number of international spats over the years.
Jose Medellin was among more than 50 Mexican prisoners named in one of the most noteworthy of these: the Avena case, a suit by Mexico* against the United States in the International Court of Justice.
In its March 31, 2004 Avena decision, the ICJ found that U.S. authorities had “breached the obligations incumbent upon” them by failing in these instances to advise the Mexican nationals it arrested of their Vienna Convention rights, and of failing in almost all those cases likewise to advise Mexican representatives that a Mexican citizen had been taken into custody.
“The appropriate reparation in this case,” the 15-judge panel directed, “consists in the obligation of the United States of America to provide, by means of its own choosing, review and reconsideration of the convictions and sentences of the Mexican nationals.”
If you think the Lone Star State’s duly constituted authorities jumped right on that “obligation,” you must be new around here.
Several years before, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions visited the United States and filed a report complaining “that there is a generalized perception that human rights are a prerogative of international affairs, and not a domestic issue.”
“Domestic laws appear de facto to prevail over international law, even if they could contradict the international obligations of the United States,” the Special Rapporteur noted.
Texas, famed for not being messed with, took a dim view indeed to being bossed about from The Hague. Indeed, the very concept of foreign law and international courts is a gleefully-thrashed political pinata among that state’s predominant conservative electorate.
U.S. President George W. Bush — a former Texas governor who in his day had no time at all for appeals based on consular notification snafus — in this instance appealed to Texas to enact the ICJ’s proposed review.† In fact, he asserted the authority to order Texas to do so.
“The World Court has no standing in Texas and Texas is not bound by a ruling or edict from a foreign court,” a spokesman of Gov. Rick Perry retorted.
This notion that America’s federalist governance structure could insulate each of her constituent jurisdictions from treaty obligations undertaken by the nation as a whole naturally seems preposterous from the outside. But in the U.S., this dispute between Washington and Austin was resolved by the Supreme Court — and the vehicle for doing so was an appeal lodged by our man, Medellin v. Texas.
The question at stake in Medellin was whether the treaty obligation was binding domestic law on its own — or if, by contrast, such a treaty required American legislative bodies to enact corresponding domestic statutes before it could be enforced. The high court ruled for the latter interpretation, effectively striking down Avena since there was zero chance of either Texas or the U.S. Congress enacting such a statute.
Medellin, the decision, spelled the end for Medellin, the man — and, at least for now, the end of any prospect of effectual intervention in American death penalty cases by international tribunals.
* Mexico, which no longer has the death penalty itself, has the heavy preponderance of foreign nationals on United States death rows at any given time.
** The Texas Attorney General’s press release announcing Medellin’s execution included a detailed appellate history of the case which pointedly excluded anything that happened in the ICJ.
† The Bush administration did take one effective step to avoid a similarly embarrassing situation in the future: it withdrew the U.S. from the consular notification convention.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Mexico,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,USA
Tags: 2000s, 2008, august 5, avena case, diplomacy, george w. bush, jose medellin, medellin v. texas, politics, rick perry, vienna conventions
March 7th, 2015
On this date in 1884, a Louisiana man named Noah Jackson was hanged at Lake Providence for beating in the brains of his 15-year-old wife during a fit of jealousy. (She’d been only 13 years old when they married.)
Meanwhile, in Corsicana, Tx., Harrison Williams hanged for murdering his sister-in-law Ada Sallard.
“The particulars in the murder case,” reported the Dallas Weekly Herald on June 28, 1883, “are as follows:”
Munroe Sallard and Harrison Williams, two colored men living on adjoining farms about five miles from town, married sisters. Williams has been abusing his wife ever since their marriage; on Monday morning Williams beat his wife in a brutal manner, and on being remonstrated with by her sister, Mrs. Sallard, told her that if she said a word he would kill her. Mrs. Sallard started for town on horseback to have him arrested, and when near the fairgrounds on her way home was way-laid by Williams, who took her from her horse, tied a handkerchief around her throat and then mashed her head to a shapeless mass with his boot heel. He then secreted her body in the woods, and went to her house and occupied the same bed with her husband, leaving yesterday morning [meaning June 26]. Since then he has not been seen. Her body was discovered in the woods yesterday evening, and last night an armed posse of negroes went in search of the murderer. If caught he will certainly dangle.
He sure did.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Louisiana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA
Tags: 1880s, 1884, ada sallard, corsicana, domestic violence, family, harrison williams, lake providence, march 7, noah jackson
January 5th, 2015
The last-ever hanging in El Paso, Texas, on this date in 1900* was distinguished by an astonishing attempted fight to the finish by the two doomed men.
Despite what Hollywood would have one believe, the dramatic bodily escape from the executioner is really never a thing. (Well, hardly ever.) Yet even if Geronimo Parra and Antonio Flores could not effect their escape that day, they would have been content, as Flores bellowed while brandishing his shank, if “You shall all go to hell with me!”
Parra, by far the more notable character in this drama, was long an infamous desperado in the borderlands. Though known for all manner of outlawry, he was specifically hunted by the Texas Rangers for slaying one of their number, John Fusselman, in a mountain ambush way back in 1890.
Parra was in jail in New Mexico for an unrelated robbery under an assumed name when he was recognized as the wanted murderer. Texas Ranger John R. Hughes cut a deal with the Sheriff of Dona Ana County, New Mexico — a lawman you might have heard of by the name of Pat Garrett.** Garrett wanted a fugitive hiding out in Texas, and arranged to extradite Parra in return if Hughes could find the man for him.
The second man doomed to die with Parra, Antonio Flores, was an altogether more everyday criminal: an avidity for a Smeltertown woman who would not have him led him to stab her to death, crying — as if he had not already done enough to poor Ramona Vizcaya without sending her to the next world with an eye-rolling banality — “If I cannot have you then no other man shall!”
Flores’s, shall we say, passion would prove an asset for the desperate duo on their final day.
The gallows had only a single trap, so the two men were to hang consecutively. When guards came to retrieve Antonio Flores, however, both he and Parra raced out of the open cell door wielding homemade blades — steel wire twisted and sharpened into makeshift daggers.
Dalls Morning News, January 6, 1900.
With the certainty of immediate death upon them, the prisoners made a desperate melee in the little hall.
Flores planted his cruel dirk into the stomach of a deputy named Ed Bryant, while Parra scored glancing blows on two men before he was shoved back into the cell. While the rustler looked on helplessly from behind bars, the available toughs piled onto Parra and subdued him.
Parra was trussed hand and foot and dragged straight to the scaffold for instant execution. On pain of prospective death by the constables’ revolvers, Parra too submitted when his turn came, and satisfied himself with declaring his innocence on the gallows — after which the noose nearly ripped the man’s head clean away.
San Antonio Express, January 6, 1900.
Spare a thought for these long-lost frontiersmen when next visiting the gorge where Ranger Fusselman caught that fatal bullet from Parra’s gang of cattle rustlers: Fusselman Canyon.
* Some sites give January 6 for the execution date. The primary sources here unambiguously show this is incorrect.
** Famous for shooting Billy the Kid. Pat Garrett served only a single term as sheriff of Lincoln County; his reputation for excessive violence and shady associations helped to give his career in New Mexico and Texas a somewhat vagabond quality.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Outlaws,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA
January 1st, 2015
In contemporary America, it would be next to unthinkable to schedule an execution for New Year’s Day — and asking the associated team of wardens, guards, executioners, witnesses, lawyers, and journalists to ditch New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and do a ball drop to a lethal chemical injection would be a complete nonstarter.
But the First of January, especially prior to the age of widespread telecommunication, was not always so sentimentally held. The Espy File of historical American executions records none whatsoever for Christmas Day, but several have occurred on New Year’s. We’ve previously profiled some of them in these grim annals, like Sylvester Henry Bell and Archilla Smith.
January 1 of 1926, “just 15 minutes after the arrival of the New Year” in the words of the Associated Press report, was the occasion in Huntsville, Texas for electrocuting African-American Melton Carr for raping a white woman in Walker County.
I have found hardly any information pertaining to this case online, but the detail that Carr was reprieved from an earlier execution date “on a petition from officials and citizens of Walker county” — implicitly, white citizens — might be a suggestive indicator for a crime so incendiary under other circumstances. We have seen that detail before in the case of Tom Joyner’s ancestors, who had broad clemency support because the racial politics of the time made an open judicial exploration of their actual innocence impossible.
Hours later, the - 2008
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Texas,USA
Tags: 1920s, 1926, football, january 1, melton carr, rose bowl