A True Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and Last Dying Speeches Of the Criminals that were Executed at Tyburn, On Wednesday the 8th, of March, 1693.
On the Lord’s-Day, in the Forenoon the Ordinary preacht on the 16th. Verse of the 24th. Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, viz. And herein, I exercise my self, to keep always a Conscience void of offence toward God and Men. From which Words, The Doctrinal Observation was, that it is the Duty and Priviledge of every True Christian, to get aud retain the Integrity of Conscience. For the Explicating of this Four General Heads were inquired into, and Stated.
First, What is Conscience? It is a Mans Judgment of his Souls Estate and Actions, as these are subjected to the Judgment of God in his Revealed Will. The Lord hath placed Conscience in all Men to approve of what is Right with Complacency, and to disallow what is Evil with Grief, Shame, and Abhorrence. It is a Spy and Register in the Bosom of Ungodly Men, that they cannot Sin, in quiet. Conscience makes a Judgment and Determination. How we have observed the Rule of God’s Sacred Law, or swered from it, accordingly, it Acquits and Comforts; or, Condems and Terrifies.
Secondly, What is essentially necessary to constitute your Conscience Morally Good and Comfortable. First, It must be cleansed and sanctified by Renewing Grace, that it may be conformable in all Things to the Law of God. Secondly, Because its exactest Obedience is defective, therefore it must be spingled with the Propiatory Merits of Christ’s Bloodshed. Thirdly, From the Virtue of Christ’s death, there must be exprest, the lively Fruits of an Holy Conversation, with a constant Reliance on Christ’s Intercession to preserve the Integrity of Conscience, under the Violence of all Temptation to Sin, and to support its Comfort, under the deepest Tryals of Affliction.
Thirdly, What Influence doth the Practical believe of the Judgment Day.
What doth the Exercise which preserves a Good Conscience include? It signifies, to be train’d up, under the Discipline of Christianity, so as to be confirm’d in an Holy Conversation against all Contempt and Opposition. So dare be openly Good and Strict in the Practice of all Christian Virtues, when the present Age is most degenerate. It is to make True Religiion our Recreation, and to promote its Aymiableness, in the Uniformity of our Obedience. Righteousness toward Men, Severe[d] from Piety toward God, is veiled Ath[e]ism; and Holy Exercises toward Him, with the neglect of Relative Duties toward men is demure and glittering Hypocrisie. Therefore the Charitable Testimony of others, cannot comfort the Conscience, under its presumptive Groundles Hopes, concerning its Renewed State. This is Infallibly known to God, altho’ Conscience may make a false Report, by Self-flattery, and the Sinners deep Security. Therefore, let us Summon our Hearts, to a strict Account, what preparative Dispositions are formed in us, which may present us before Christ’s Tribunal, with Approbation. But such, who carry their unpardoned Guilt and unrenewed Nature, to the Judgment Seat of Christ, shall have Convulsive pangs of desperation in their Conscience, and shall be rejected by Christ, with the Greatest Abhorrency. After several Rules and Directions, how to get and preserve a Good Conscience, The Conclusion was thus directed to the Condemned Criminals. How may St. Paul‘s Example in the Text, reflect a sad Aspect on your Consciences. These you have defiled, by prostituting them to the Infamous Lusts of your Fleshly Minds. Have you not striven to rase out the Dictates and Sentiments of common Equity? when your Convictions have been troublesome, you have flattered Conscience, with Carnal Reasonings. How have you deafed it to Divine Instructions. By Wordly Diversions, and have drowned the Cries thereof in sensual Pleasures, and thereby, brought the sly Artifices of Sining, unto a destructive Maturity. You have sinned in despight of all Admonitions, and the Examples of Publick Justice. Notwithstanding, when your Consciences shall be arm’d with God’s Commission, they will be active to Condemn you, though cast at present, into a Lethargy of Stupidity. You cannot deny, that you have been great Sinners, yet, there is pardoning Mercy to be obained, by that Satisfaction Christ’s death hath made to God’s offended Justice. This applied by Faith unfeigned, purifies the Heart in Obedience to all Divine Commands. This Renewed Frame, by sprinkling the Merits of Christ’s Bloodshed on the Conscience, turns his Tribunal of Strict Justice, into a Throne of Grace and Mercy. So shall we (at last) be presented to God the Father, not only void of Offence, but in a perfect State of Holiness to all Eternity.
I proceed to give an Account of the Behaviour and Confessions of the Condemned Criminals.
I. Mr. Best, Condemned for High-Treason, in Clipping, Filing, and Diminishing the Current Coyn of England. He is Aged 50 Years. Was Educated at School in Hertfordshire. His Father sent him to in Cambridge, where, he continued his Studies, till he took the Degree of Bachelor in Physick. Afterwards, he practised in that Science, and might have lived comfortably upon it. But by Degrees, he neglected to follow his Profession; and was drawn into Bad Company, of which he now Repents. He denied not, that he had been a great Sinner. I enquired into the Particulars of his Evil Conversation, it being a necessary Duty, to unburthen the Conscience of a Load of Sin, by a free discovery, of it, that so, Serenity of Mind, may be obtained. Besides, there is great difference betwixt Person lying on a sick Bed whose Sins are more secreet, and who may recover to a longer Space of Repentance. Such, are not so strictly obliged, to confess their particular Enormities. But for those, who by Notorious Crimes have given Publick Scandal to the Christian Religion, and brought themselves under the Sentence of Death; such ought to make Publick Acknowledgment of their Excesses in Sinning, that their Repentance may be as Exemplary, as their Conversation hath been Vicious upon this, Mr. Best, was better convinced of his Duty. And freely confest, that he had been Guilty of most Sins, Murther only excepted. Saying withal, that he doubted not the Truth of his Repentance, and that God was reconciled to him, in Christ. I replied, that the Heart of Man is very deceitful in Judging its Spiritual State Godward, especially when Persons have contracted a Custom in Sinning, and thereby hardned their Hearts, to persist therein. To this he replied, that Naturally Man’s Heart is inclined to Self-flattery, but he hoped, the Spirit of God had so sanctified this distress, that his Heart was thoroughly broken for and from the Love of all Sin, chiefly, as an offence against God, who might have justly cut him off, by an untimely death, for his younger Excesses in Sinning. But, said he, I would not be Reclamed, by a more gentle Rod; therefore God now compells me, by greater Severity, to turn to him, and Blessed is the Man, whom the Reproachful stroke of Death, makes (tho’ late) a Partaker of God’s Holiness. I replied, that I was glad, he was convinced of his sinful State, and in some Preparation, to apply the Promises of Salvation. But, it is safest, to be poor in Spirit, and thereby, to Magnifie the All-sufficiency of God’s Grace. He replied, that he endeavoured to be Self abas’d in as much, as the Omniscient, Heart-searching God, would not be Mockt, and could not be deceived with semblant Flourishes in Soul-Concernments.
II. James Steward, Condemned for Breaking the House of Elizabeth Thorne. He is Aged 24 Years, or thereabout. His Father placed him forth, to the Employment of a Chyrugeon. He said, that his Father was of the Roman Religion, and bred him up, in it, so that he knew not well how to quit it. I replied, that we are not obliged to live and d[i]e, in the Religion of our Parents, not grounded on the Purity of God’s Word. And endeavoured to convince him of the Hazard and Danger, in Adhearing to False Principles in Religion, in as much, as these have Influence on an Immortal Conversation. He replied, that he had so much Knowledge, as not to believe the gross Errors of the Romish Church. He also said, that be could not have wanted this Severe. Yet, Just Dealing of God with him in as much, that now he is thoroughly awakend from his Security, and Hopes, that God will turn this distress, into a means of his Conversion; and then, he shall not be troubled for his Reproachful Death. I Stated to him, the Nature and Effects of True Saving Faith and Godly Sorrow for Sin: To which he was attentive and seemed to comply with my Advice, that he might be prepared for Death. He said, that if he had followed his Wives Good Counsel to have been content with an Honest Employment, he had not fallen into this Shameful and Untimely End.
III. Elizabeth Wann, Condemned for Robbing Frances Coguer of a Gold-Chain, Value 8 l. being stopt, the Neck-Lace was found in her Mouth. She is Aged 16 Years. Had Good Education, but was Disobedient to her Mother. Whereupon she left her Family, and entered her self a Servant in London with a Mistress, who employ’d her, most what in Needle-work; but she soon left that Service. Then she grew idle and kept bad Company. She confest, that not Poverty, but only her wicked Heart, inclined her to commit the Crime she did not observe the Sabboth days of later time, and when she did pray, (which was seldom) she performed that Holy Part of Worship, very carelesly. She denied not that she had been a Great Sinner, but being Reprieved, as with Child she promised, that she would not absent her self from the Publick Worship of God, but would endeavour, to beg of Him, firrm Resolutions of Amendment.
IV. David Shammel, Condemn’d for Felony. He is Aged 33 Years. He said, that he was bred up, to Husbandry, and continued that Employment for some length of time, but leaving it, and betaking himself to an Idle Life, he became Poor, and so adventur’d to commit this Felony. He was willing to make an Acknowledgment of his Evil Life. and in particular accused himself of Sabboth-breaking, neglecting to pray that God would keep him, from the wicked incliantions of his own Heart, and the Mischiefs of bad Company. He wept, yet complained of the Hardness of his Heart. Saying, he prayed earnestly, that God would make it thoroughly Contrite, that upon the Change of it, and being made Holy, he might be in a fit Frame to die.
V. John Noble, Condemn’d for Felony and Burglary in Breaking the House of William Cook together with others, not yet taken. He is Aged 53 Years. He said, that he had used the Employment of a Seaman for 38 Years. That he had been Master of a Ship, some time since, but of late, he serves King William in the Fleet. That he had escaped many Perils at Sea. That in great Distresses, he made several Vows to God, that is he would preserve him, his Life should be Reformed. But he forgot the sparing Mercies of the Lord, and return to his former Evil Course of Life, which is now, a greater Trouble to his Mind. He said, that God was Righteous in bringing him to Shame and Punishment: But he prays, that this may work upon his Heart, to make him thorouhgly sensible of all his Sins, that the Lord may Pardon them and in Mercy, save his Soul, when he shall undergo the Pains of Death. I hope he was Penitent.
VI. Philip Mackqueere, Condemned for Robbing John Lacey Esq; in the High-way. He is Aged 28 Years. Was born in Ireland of Protestant Parents. They educated him with Religious Instruction, but he now grieves, that it made not that Impression on him, which they expected. For, he was not obedient to them, as he ought. Upon that, he left them to Travel into Spain and Portugal, after that, into the West-Indies when he returned into England.
He entr’d into Sea-service, under King Charles the II. He said, that he was entertain’d in a large Ship of War last Summer, and was Engaged in a Sea-Fight: But he left that Employment, and thereupon, joyning with bad Company, fell into many Excesses in Sinning. He said, it Repents him, that he did not take Warning by former escaping the Sentence of Death. But since his last Confinement, he hath endeavour’d to get his Heart made sensible of all his sins, which now lie as an heavy Burden on him. He was attantive to the Exhortations given him, to prepare for Death. He promised that he would endeavour to the utmost, by God’s Assistance, to improve his Time, for the getting his Heart into a more penitent Frame, that he may make his Peace with God, and be fit for his Appearance at Christ’s Judgment Seat
On Wednesday the 8th. of March these Five Prisoners were convey’d to Tyburn, viz.
Josiah Best (who was drawne in a Sledge) Phillip Mackguire, James Steward, David Shammell, and John Noble. Mr. Best Confest that he had been Educated at the University of Cambridge, and there took the Degree of Batchelour in Physick; though now he had unworthily declined his profession; which was a great trouble to him, he desires the Ordinary to come to him in the Sledge, which he did, where he told him that he had great hopes of Salvation through the Merits of Christ, and that he was very willing to Dye, though he had sometimes some doubts and jealousies upon him as to his Eternal welfare: Yet now he was Composed, and so did continue to the last, in an humble Frame, after a Devot manner; Joyning in Prayer, and Pray’d to Almighty God in a very sensible manner with Contrition; acknowledgeing that God was Jnst and Righteouss.
David Shammell, was very Ignorant as to to the concerns of his Soul, but was willing to hearken to Instructions; desiring all he Spectators to take warning by his untimely end, and particularly to beware of Whoredom, evil Company, and breach of the Sabbath.
James Steward, and Phillip Mackguire, Declared that they Dyed in the Roman Catholick Religion, (tho’) when they were in Newgate, they always came to the Chappel. Steward at last spake to this effect; Gentlemen, I am but a young Man, and by my sins, I have brought my Body to be Exposed before you, but I hope God will have Mercy upon my soul: I desire that all young Persons would take Example by me, that they may not be Disobedient to their Parents; I run from mine, and would not be ruled by them, they Indulged me and gave me Money, which spoiled me, I had good Education, and might have lived honestly, but Pride and Lastness hath brought me to this shameful End, and now God is just; I spake this that all Parents may take heed, and breed their Children well; and in the fear of God, and that all men may be warned by my fatal End.
Mackguire said but little, only desired all Men to take timely Warning by him; acknowledging that God had justly brought him to such severe Punishment.
John Noble, behaved himself a little unseemly, being very unsensible, of his latter End; would not be perswaded to hear good Counsel, he seemed to be disturbed in his Brain.
This is all the Account I can give of this Sessions.
Samuel Smith, Ordinary.
Dated the 8th. March, 1693.
There is lately Published a Book Entituled, Conversation in Heaven: Being Devotions consisting of Meditations and Prayers on several considerable Subjects in Practical Divinity; Written for the raising the Decay’d Spirit of Piety; very proper to be Read in the time of Lent: By Lawrence Smith, LL. D. Fellow of St. John’s College in Oxford. Price Two Shillings.
Printed for Tho. Speed, at the Three Crowns near the Royal Exchange in Cornhill.
Whereas a Picture was lost some time since being the Representation of Flushing, one of the Provinces, or a Town in Holland, with a Sea incompassing it; a Packet-boat under Sail, a large Ship under Sail: and a little above the Ship it was torn about eight Inches, and but corsely swen up. At the Bottom, near the Frame, there is a yellow Streak, whereon was inscribed Ulisingen: It had a gilt Frame, and fit for a large Chimney-Piece Whoever gives Notice of it to Edward Paige, Surgeon, in Goat-Court upon Ludgate-Hill, shall be rewarded, and if bought their Money returned, and gratified for their Trouble.
LONDON, Printed for L. Curtis, at Sir Edmundbury-Godfrey’s-Head, near Fleet-Bridge, 1693.
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:
(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 date in 1928, seventeen-year-old Floyd Hewitt was executed in Ohio’s electric chair for the horrific murder of a farmer’s wife and five-year-old son.
Floyd grew up in rural area outside Conneaut, Ohio. Although at 6’4″ he had the body of a grown man, he was mentally disabled, callously described by his defense attorneys as “a moron with a ten-year-old’s intellect.” One newspaper portrayed him thus:
He is not considered of normal intellect, his drooping mouth, dull eyes and appearances contributing to the opinion. He was not bright in his classes at school.
On the evening of February 14, 1927, he visited a local farm belonging to the Brown family. He was a frequent visitor there; he loved listening to jazz music on the radio and the Browns were the only family in the area who had a set at home. Celia Brown’s husband, Fred, was away in town and she was home alone with their son Freddie.
This news column and this article describe what happened in detail. Floyd got “stirred up inside” by the music. Feeling “an overpowering love,” he made sexual overtures towards Celia, who slapped him. He hit back, and she grabbed the fireplace poker to defend herself, but he tore it from her hands. In the ensuing fight Floyd hurled Celia down the stairs and struck her repeatedly with the poker until she was dead. Then, afraid the little boy would tell on him, Floyd chased Freddie into the basement and beat him to death with a baseball bat, too.
Then he went back upstairs, washed his hands, walked the short distance home and sat down to read the newspaper.
Fred Brown got home a little after midnight, found his wife’s body on the porch. There was blood everywhere. Fred summoned neighbors and the police. After searching the rest of the house, the neighbors found little Freddie’s body in the basement.
Floyd rapidly came under suspicion; he literally left a trail of footprints right to his front door. The next morning he was arrested, wearing the same bloodstained sweater he’d worn the night before. One of the buttons had been torn off and was left at the crime scene.
Within hours, Hewitt had made a full confession. He even went so far as to take the police on a tour of the Brown house to point out what had occurred and where. The next day, however, he retracted his statements and would maintain his innocence until his death.
The press bluntly christened him “the boy clubber.”
On the first day of his trial, as he was taken into the courtroom, Floyd remarked, “This is certainly a beautiful day, isn’t it?” One reporter described him as “like a big overgrown boy, who did not realize the seriousness of the crimes with which he is charged.”
He was indeed an overgrown boy, only sixteen years old at the time of his crime, but the prosecution demanded the death penalty.
Although indicted for two first degree murders (mother and son), he was tried only for the first degree murder of the five-year-old boy.
During the three week trial, the state relied heavily upon Hewitt’s signed confession while the defense stressed Hewitt’s mental disabilities. On April 26, the jury returned a verdict of guilty without a recommendation of mercy.
Hewitt appealed, and his execution was postponed for a time, but the appeals process wore down in less than a year and the board of clemency refused to recommend a commutation to the governor …
Hewitt’s chronological age at execution was seventeen, but his mental age remained forever fixed at ten.
Floyd Hewitt might have been the youngest person ever executed by the state of Ohio, and he was the first from Ashtabula County. A “bedraggled figure … with his long black hair hanging low over his face,” and clutching a photo of his family, he died in the electric chair at the Ohio State Penitentiary Annex at 7:43 p.m.
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 13, 1924:
Shreveport, La., Dec. 12 — Alfred Sharpe, about 25 years old, a negro, was hanged here today at 12:16 p.m. for the murder of Tom Askew, a white man, veteran of the World war and manager of a plantation near Keithville, which occurred last September 9.
Sharpe, in a statement just before going to the gallows blamed liquor for his trouble. He admitted since his captured two days after the killing that he was guilty.
The negro, who was unable to read or write, and did noot know his exact age, said as he mounted the scaffld: “I know I violated the law and that the law must be fulfilled.”
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 11, 1924:
COUMBUS, O., Dec. 11. — Alexander Kuszik, 20, of Akron, must die in the electric chair at the state penitentiary shortly after 1 a.m. tomorrow for the murder of his thirteen-year-old cousin, Elizabeth Nagy, who spurned his proffered love.
Gov. A.V. Donahey late today denied a last minute appeal by Kuszi’s counsel that the death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. This plea, supplemented by the testimony of three alienists [psychologists — ed.] to the effect that Kuszik was not mentally responsible for his acts at the time of the crime’s commission, failed to convince the governor, however, that he should exercise his powers to extend clemency
Even Kuszik’s counsel, C.G. Roetzel, former prosecutor of Summit county, admitted the crime for which Kuszik was convicted was one of the most brutal on record, and made no claim the prisoner was insane. Roetzel based his plea for clemency on the theory, supported by alienists, that Kuszik was mentally irresponsible although he did know the difference between right and wrong.
Theory of Alienists.
The alienists advancing this theory were Dr. J.C. Hassall, superintendent of Fair aks sanitorium, Cuyahoga Falls; Dr. Arthur G. Hyde, superintendent of the Massillon State hospital, and Dr. D.H. Morgan of Akron.
Drs. Hassall and Hyde had made their observations of Kuszik within twenty-four hours after the crime had been committed. Dr. Morgan made his observations about a month later.
These specialists made their examinations at the request of Prosecutor Arthur W. Doyle, but their testimny was not used at the time of the trial, Dr. Doyle explained, because he reached his own conclusion that Kuszik was responsible for his acts.
Countering the views of this group of alienists was the testimony of three others who, after making an examination of Kuszik at the governor’s request, reported that the youth not only was not insane but that he was mentally responsible.
These alienists were Dr. Charles F. Clark, superintendent of the Lima State hospital; Dr. H.H. Pritchard, superintendent of the Columbus State hospital, and Dr. Guy Williams, superintendent of the Cleveland State hospital. They all said Kuszik had no mental disorders. All the alienists had agreed that Kuszik’s mentality was sub-normal — that it represented the mentality of a child of about 11.
Prosecutor Doyle told the governor that, in his opinion, so long as the state recognizes capital punishment Kuszik’s case was one in which it should be used.
Kuszik exhibited no concern when told his appeal had been denied and that he was to die.
In complete control of his faculties, he walked even jauntily to the death cell to spend his few remaining hours.
“The youth has shown more spirit today than at any time since confined,” Warden P.E. Thomas said.
Two consecutive stories from the Portland (Ore.) Oregonian, Dec. 13, 1924:
WALLA WALLA, Wash., Dec. 12. — Thomas Walton, convicted of the murder of S.P. Burt, a fellow convict, in the state penitentiary here October 7, 1923, was hanged at the penitentiary this morning. The trap was sprung at 5:06 A.M. and the prison physicians pronounced him dead 10 minutes later.
Walking to his death with the same fearlessness that he has displayed since the beginning of his prison career, Walton refused to make any final statement and even declined to talk with Rev. A.R. Liverett, prison chaplain, or Father Buckley, Catholic priest, in his cell prior to the execution.
His body will be sent to relatives in Montague, Cal.
Although Walton paid the penalty for killing Burt, he has of official record killed two other men. The first was in 1915 in California, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment in San Quentin prison. The other was that of George McDonald, cellmate of Burt, whom he stabbed following his attack on Burt.
Walton and Burt were life termers in San Quentin and made their escape together in a prison automobile in January, 1923.
FOLSOM, Cal., Dec. 12 — Robert Matthews, negro, convicted of the murder of Coleman Stone, a grocer near Los Angeles, was hanged at the state prison here this morning. [Joe] Sinuel will be hanged next Friday.
As it was put by the sadly defunct Shot At Dawn site (still preserved at the Wayback Machine), “The cemetery register of Poperinghe New Military Cemetery states that Lt. Eric Skeffington Poole died of wounds on 10 December 1916. Tactfully, it omits to record also that his death was caused by a British Army firing squad.”
A Canadian-born engineer, Poole had enlisted in the very first weeks of the war and been commissioned an officer by May 1915.
In July of 1916, a falling artillery shell struck so close that its concussion knocked Poole down, spattering him with earth. He was hospitalized for shellshock but returned to duty in September — still complaining of rheumatism and feeling “damned bad.”
One night in October as his unit moved up to a forward trench, Poole disappeared from it — nobody knows how or when, but he wasn’t there when it mustered at its new position at midnight. He was detained two days later, wandering well west of the trenches, a leather jacket hiding his private’s tunic … “in a very dazed condition,” an officer who interviewed him would later remember. “From conversation which I had with him I came to the conclusion he was not responsible for his actions. He was very confused indeed.”
Evidence collected in Poole’s desertion trial pointed to a man taxed beyond his capacities by command responsibility and the strain of two years at war. His division commander recommended against the court martial, for Poole was “not really accountable for his actions. He is of nervous temperament, useless in action, and dangerous as an example to the men” — but still “could [be] usefully employed at home in instructional duties or in any minor administrative work, not involving severe strain of the nerves.” Another captain in his battalion described him as “somewhat eccentric, and markedly lacking in decision” and liable under pressure to “become so mentally confused that he would not be responsible for his actions.”
By the book the man’s irresolute midnight ramble was a clear instance of abdicating duty, but Poole’s weakness was apparent enough to trouble the court that tried him for desertion — not only to solicit this and other testimony from his comrades about the lieutenant’s state of mind but even to remark from its own observation that his “mental powers [were] less than average. He appears dull under cross examination, and his perception is slow.” Perhaps this was fellow-feeling by other officers that would not have been extended to a mere grunt; if so, what was a mitigating consideration for the court made Poole’s execution a in the eyes of Field Marshal Haig: “Such a case is more serious in the case of an officer than a man, and it is also highly important that all ranks should realise the law is the same for an officer as a private.” Two years in, and somehow not one officer had suffered such a punishment; Shot At Dawn speculated that military courts’ recent shocking verdict excusing Captain John Bowen-Colthurst on grounds of insanity for an atrocity in Ireland had also raised pressure on the armed forces to show that British officers stood not above the law.*
The British army executed 306 of its own soldiers during World War I. Among them, Poole was the first of only three officers.
* The War Office’s decision not to publicize his fate (and the euphemistic reference in the cemetery register) would seem sharply at odds with any intended demonstrative effect.
Out on probation for an armed robbery conviction, this avatar of the classic middle name robbed a convenience store at gunpoint, then shot and killed a deputy who pursued him.
Georgia somehow didn’t have a state public defender system until 2003, a system presenting to the counties who were supposed to appoint indigent defense counsel on a local and ad hoc basis a fine opportunity for callous graft dovetailing the interests of the prosecutor’s office in winning its cases with court’s interest in pinching its pennies.
Accordingly, Baldwin County stuck Holsey with a man to test appellate courts’ standards for minimal representation, an alcoholic attorney named Andy Prince* who was rock-bottoming during the trial to the gobsmacking reported tune of a quart of vodka every night. Prince was disbarred shortly after Holsey’s conviction for robbing another client of $100,000.
According to a tragic Mother Jones profile, Prince, who was white, also happened to get in a dispute around this same time with a black neighbor and hurled some racist invective, which doesn’t seem ideal when your day job consists of trying to keep a black defendant off death row.
The late Prince — he died in 2011 — told an appeals court in 2006 that he “shouldn’t have been representing anyone,” but appeals courts, which must generally find that such “shoulds” clearly “would” have changed the trial outcome, have much less scope to act on the determination.
It’s a massive systemic cheat still in widespread use, albeit not always in such egregious fashion: use some underhanded means to get a death sentence on the books, then argue to every higher court that the deficiency can’t be proven certainly decisive vis-a-vis what might have happened in a fair fight. Do you know Holsey wouldn’t have received a death sentence? He did shoot a cop in the course of committing a violent felony, after all.
There are many general reasons why a robust defense might mitigate a sentence, but the specific reason of interest in Holsey’s case — a reason not litigated by Prince, an omission that likewise foreclosed appeals avenues — was that Holsey was severely mentally disabled.
With a testing IQ around 70, just at the border of the conventional definition for so-called “mental retardation,” Holsey had at the minimum a very strong card for the mitigation phase of the trial — if not an outright bar to execution.** Prince failed to play that card … and as of this date in 2014, American jurisprudence and the state of Georgia determined themselves content to leave it permanently face-down.
* The Guardian article cited in this post calls him Andy Price. As all other media citations I find call him Prince, I’m going with that — but as it’s likely that everyone is copying from the last story instead of doing original reportage, I’m not completely confident that it isn’t Price after all.
** Georgia was actually among the first states to bar the execution of mentally disabled prisoners — although paradoxically its early standard thereafter became one of the nation’s weakest as other states implemented their own over the years. The Supreme Court theoretically bars executing the mentally disabled, but as it has enforced no coherent standard the executing states themselves generally get to decide who qualifies.
On this day in 1743, John Breads met his fate on the gallows in the small Sussex town of Rye, on the south coast of England. The spectacle of his hanging was compounded by the subsequent use of the gibbet, a cage in which Breads’s body was left exposed to the elements in Gibbets Marsh for more than 20 years.
Although the murder itself is a small part of Monod’s book, he nonetheless outlines two aspects of the Breads story which make it worth a look by readers of Executed Today:
the issue of fairness in the handling of the trial and execution; and
the killer’s attempt to assert “mental distraction”
The facts of the murder itself seem fairly straightforward, although a little quirky, since the whole affair was apparently a case of mistaken identity: James Lamb, the then-mayor of Rye, was invited to dinner on March 16, 1743, to celebrate the appointment of his son John to the customs service. Lamb was feeling ill that day and asked his brother-in- law, Allen Grebell, to attend the dinner in his place. As Grebell was returning home after the event, he was attacked and stabbed in the churchyard by John Breads; although Grebell was able to make it back to his home, he died that night from his wounds.
When Breads was arrested for the murder, he claimed he had intended to kill Lamb, not Grebell. Monod points out that, since Lamb was related (albeit by marriage) to the victim, normal procedure would have been to move any hearing or trial to another jurisdiction, or at least allow an independent jurist to preside over the case. Breads’s assertion that Lamb was the intended victim should have given the Mayor even more reason not to be involved.
Instead, he insisted on keeping the trial in Rye and compounded the irregularity by acting as both prosecutor for the grand jury and as judge for the trial, thus ignoring judicial standards relating to conflict of interest. Additionally, one description of the trial claims that Lamb testified during the trial itself; if this is true, Monod says, such testimony was a breach of common law, which dictated that judges could not testify in cases over which they were presiding.
Monod introduces a commentary by Rye resident and lawyer Henry Dodson, who questioned whether Breads had received a fair trial in light of Lamb’s actions:
How fair a Tryal, the Prisoner had, I leave the Reader, to determine after he is informed, the above Mr. Lamb, was Mayor, Coroner, Party Prosecuting, Judge, Witness and Sheriff, in Presenting, Trying and Executing the said John Breads.
I suppose, he was Mayor, Coroner, and Sheriff, as essentiall, to the office of Mayoralty; Party and prosecutor, as Brother in Law to the Unfortunate good Gentleman, that was Killed; and Judge, and Witness out of Zeal, in getting the Prisoner proved Sane …
Dodson seemed to feel that Lambs involvement in the case was just a little too personal, and the fact that Breads was gibbeted after his execution might lend some credence to that idea. Gibbeting, Monod points out, was not usually a punishment imposed by a judge, but rather by royal order, and it was generally reserved for the most serious of killers.
But Monod puts the trial into a larger social context, suggesting that
the trial of John Breads bears a message about how the law operated in the 18th century [and] stands as an example of how authority might assert itself aggressively and unrestrainedly. The last word belonged to the judge … a kind of paternalism based on the social (and hence moral) inequality between defendant and judge. It was the opinion of the magistrate that counted.
[This] system reflected a social and political structure in which authority had been concentrated in a few hands, usually by inheritance … Breads had little chance of escaping the most extreme form of retribution.
The second point of interest in the Breads trial was that it stood at the cusp of a new understanding of insanity in the commission of crimes.
This is a mere replica of the Breads gibbet on display at the Rye Museum, but the town council still has possession of the original, skull and all. It’s reported to be a highly sought gawk, but it can only be seen by special arrangement.
Although Breads originally claimed his plan was to kill the mayor, he changed his tune at the trial, where he was reported as having said that “if he had committed the Fact, he knew nothing of it, for it was done when he was in Distraction … In short, he affected Madness …” (Kentish Post, June 1-4, 1743)
Insanity had been a legitimate defense for years, but the definition of insanity was very much in flux at this time. Doctors suggested that madness was due to a mental defect rather than possession by an evil spirit and lawyers were pushing the idea that homicide required “malice aforethought,” while many average citizens still believed that those who were mad were in the grip of the devil.
Monod proposes yet another possibility by putting the question into a sociological context: “Insanity does not operate randomly,” he writes. “It cannot separate a sufferer from the social context in which he or she exists.”
For Breads, whose upbringing had been closely tied to his church, that context included unsuccessful attempts in the late 1600s by religious purists to wrest control of Rye’s government and economy from the wealthy secular class, and the antagonistic feelings that remained from the abject failure of that effort and the perceived religious persecution that followed it. Breads was no doubt influenced by that antagonism, Monod suggests, and those feelings “may have alienated him from the way the town was governed … [He] wanted to vent his rage on the oligarchs.” As a result, “Even in his madness, Breads was trapped by his own history and that of his native town.”
Whatever the source of Breads’ “distraction,” it did him no good. But it did become one piece of a serious conversation about the issue — a conversation which has continued for centuries.
On this date in 2013, serial child molester turned murderer Elmer Carroll was executed by lethal injection in Florida.
Paroled to a halfway house in 1990 from his child molestation sentence, Carroll within months attacked a fifth-grader who lived in a nearby house — in Carroll’s description to another halfway house resident, the girl was “sweet, cute, and liked to watch him make boats.”
One night while Christine McGowen’s mother was working and her stepfather sleeping in the next room, Carroll crept into their Apopka home, stopped the little girl’s mouth with his hand as he raped her, then strangled her to death. Robert Rank found the girl the next morning when he went to wake her for school … and also found missing the truck that Carroll had stolen to escape. One could hardly commit a crime more suited to the studied melodrama of a state’s attorney:
By your vote, tell Elmer Carroll you do not deserve to live. There is nothing good about you. There is nothing but evil in you and you must die.
A small child sometimes will cry out in the night frightened by a shadow or a piece of wallpaper that looks like a monster and its parents will come in and say it’s okay, you don’t have to be afraid. There’s no monsters under the bed. There is no boogie man. There is no creature which stalks the night searching out children. It doesn’t exist. Well, ladies and gentlemen, those parents lie because, ladies and gentlemen, that is the boogie man right there. That is the creature that stalked the night and murdered a ten year old girl and he must die.
The other things in Carroll besides evil were organic brain damage and a gamut of mental illness symptoms that Carroll’s appellate team would unsuccessfully argue had not been sufficiently explored at his trial. Estranged from most of his family for many years before the murder, Carroll had no visits from relatives before his execution.
On this date in 1836, a troubled (ex-)family man named Isaac Young — latterly going by Isaac Heller — was publicly hanged in Liberty, Indiana for axing his entire family to death in a fit of madness.
Young hailed from Pennsylvania, and the reason he had changed his name and moved to Indiana was that he had done a similar thing in his native haunts.
As a teenager in the 1820s, Isaac Young had been seized strangely by the spiritual tremors abroad during America’s Second Great Awakening. A baptized zealot who fancied himself blessed with the power of prophesy, Young was also captive to an inescapable — and seemingly defeatist — impression of being forever pursued and haunted by the devil. Young’s religious thunderings tended to produce more interest in the utterer’s state of mind than in the listener’s state of soul, and the youth was known to succumb to “gusts of passion.”
Eventually, those gusts blew a hurricane.
Young lived with his brother, who had a wife and a 10-year-old orphan girl — and, little did they know, the devil watching over them all. One night in 1830, Young awoke with a start at a sound he perceived upon the stair, convinced that some entity had entered the room he shared with the little girl; his religious eccentricities jumbling him right into lunacy.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Young bellowed at the dragon from Revelations come to visit him in his nightshirt in Dauphin County. He tried to grapple with the phantom but missed it, and of a sudden he turned his frenzy on the girl, battering her furiously. Young would later say that he was “forcibly impelled” to the attack by an overwhelming “duty” to “destroy” the child; his brother and his sister-in-law attempted to intervene but Young seized a club and with a berserker rage chased them from the house — then returned to his cowering little roommate, and sawed off her head with his knife.
He was acquitted of this murder by reason of his manifest insanity, but this was not a time and place with resources to aid the mentally ill. All anyone could think to do was to keep him chained in the poor house until after a few months he appeared to return to reason — at which point he was finally released and blew town, now rechristened with his mother’s maiden name.
In the hamlet of Liberty, the new man Heller escaped the devil … for a few years. He opened a grocery store and married a woman named Elizabeth McCollam with whom he had a happy brood of three children.
Until one day the gusts returned to swirl his soul again.
“The first symptom of insanity noticed in this county was about three years ago [i.e., 1833], by a young man who was going home with him on a Sabbath evening,” the Connersville (Ind.) Watchman reported in a profile that was widely reprinted around the Republic.*
The young man noticed something very extraordinary in his manner, and was much affected. At length he asked him what was the matter. He replied in effect that a superhuman influence or inspiration was upon him. Soon after he became very much excited on religious subjects … Witnesses stated that for several days at a time, during the last two or three years, he would act like a wild man or a raving maniac. During that time he was twice taken into the care of the overseers of the poor and kept some time as an insane person.
Heller’s neglect of his work soon exhausted his family’s modest reserves and left wife and children surviving on the charity of neighbors, spiraling Heller even deeper into depression, and in his “great horror of the poor house” he owned “that he would rather die than be separated from his family.” One hears in these words a man with the walls closing in about him … or else, a man hammering out the rationale for the madness he has already determined to undertake. There was calculation in Heller’s fatal outburst; a neighbor visited on the morning of his hecatomb and found the family in good spirits and Heller cogent. The disturbed patriarch waited until the guest was well away before he
took his axe from under the bed, went to the fire, turned round [and] commenced rubbing the fingers of one hand over the edge. His wife asked him what he was going to do — he replied he was going to chop some wood. About this time the woman told the children to get some apples out from under the bed. the two little ones immediately crawled under the bed, and the little sister-in-law stood near the bed looking at Heller. She saw him raise the axe and strike his wife one full blow about the chin and neck. Seeing this she sprang to the door, threw it open and fled for the nearest neighbor’s between a quarter and a half a mile off, crying murder as she ran. After she had fled some two hundred yards, she saw Heller come round the end of the house and look after her. Heller states that after he had despatched his wife he went out of the house and looked after the little girl — that he then went back into the house — his little boy came towards him, when he split him down and chopped his head off. He then dragged his little daughter Sarah out from under the bed — placed his foot upon her breast — she raised her hands for protection, and at the first blow he cut off the fingers of one hand and nearly took off her head. He then went and rolled the mother off of the infant on which she had partly fallen, and cut its head off.
His spiritual torments and probable schizophrenia here are the framework — a cynic might say, the excuse — for a much more commonplace scourge: the murderer said “in justification of the act ‘that they were likely to become a county charge, and that he would rather see them in their present situation.'” (Connecticut Courant, Mar. 21, 1836) In the confession he willingly supplied later, he admitted having attempted to set his homicidal plan in motion several times prior, once even brandishing a butcher’s blade over his wife like the Psycho shower scene before she soothed him. Elizabeth Heller must have been a woman of remarkable calm under pressure; unfortunately for her, resources for abused spouses were about as plentiful as those for the mentally ill.
“Nearly all … who know any thing about the case, regard it as incomprehensibly mysterious,” the newspaper reports concluded. “Many who know the most about it, say they hardly know how or what to think of it. It is doubted whether the annals of crime can produce a parallel case, and it is devoutly hoped they never may!”
But the annals of crime hold many mansions, as readers of this here site surely know.
Heller’s final, “successful” outburst was actually just one of a number of grisly mass-murders by family fathers who through the closely intimate exertion of a bloody blade drenched their domestic idylls with the gore of their loved ones — enough even to form a discernible pattern. Struggling to come to grips with this “homicidal insanity” or “monomanie-homicide”, the early American psychologist Isaac Raylamented the “painful frequency” of cases “where the individual, without provocation or any other rational motive, apparently in the full possession of his reason, and oftentimes in spite of his most strenuous efforts to the contrary, imbrues his hands in the blood of others, — oftener than otherwise, of the partner of his bosom, of the children of his affections.” Incomprehensible perhaps, but scarcely unparalleled: what could make sense of this “horrid phenomenon”?
Pious family men turning Middle America domiciles into charnel houses was the going postal of settler-era America, and maybe Ray even had the Young/Heller-style addled religiosity in mind when he noted that absent some rational accounting the mind would default “to that time-honored solution of all the mysteries of human delinquency, the instigation of the devil.”
In a review of the period’s “familicide” cases, Daniel Cohen (“Homicidal Compulsion and the Conditions of Freedom: The Social and Psychological Origins of Familicide in America’s Early Republic,” Journal of Social History, Summer, 1995) speculates that the revolutionary grant of personal autonomy exacted a dangerous emotional toll upon men who felt themselves failures or simply could not pay “the high psychic costs of economic freedom, particularly for men prone to anxiety and depression.” Isaac was surely prone.
The efforts of those men to submit to supernatural authority were less single-minded pursuits of spiritual perfection than desperate attempts to evade seemingly irresolvable personal conflicts, most importantly between moral demands (or social obligations) and destructive urges or desires. It was ultimately less important for them to avoid sin than to resolve dilemmas or evade choice. When the breathless individual freedom of the early republic collided with the relentless responsibilities of paternal stewardship, the result was an implosion of self-destructive violence … the beginning not the end of a disturbing national tradition …
Many social barriers had fallen in post-Revolutionary America, but several unhappy men could still not control the rain, or the currency, or their own darker impulses. Where others may have perceived boundless opportunities, they experienced gnawing fears and terrifying compulsions. Situations of free choice did not inspire them with a “heady feeling of command” or a “sense of marvelous potential,” to use Robert Wiebe’s expansive phrases, but drove them instead to desperation. Physical unsettlement, economic insecurities, and religious speculations all combined to baffle and torment them. Unable to cope with the perplexities of life in a free society, they constructed internal imperatives to evade and annul that very freedom. By their actions, each tacitly endorsed John Cowan’s conclusion in prison: “Liberty would be more horrible to me than death.” Thus did a handful of troubled Americans confront freedoms profound enough to transform sober Christians into deluded visionaries, loving husbands into axe-wielding assassins, and tidy republican households into slaughterhouses.
Where Pennsylvania acquitted, Indiana convicted — but within even a few years the cooling of passions stirred by the slaughter led many to regret the judgment. According to this volume, even the judge later acknowledged that he ought to have set aside the verdict owing to Heller’s state of mind.
* We’re channeling this via the Gloucester (Mass.) Telegraph of May 4, 1836.
Any murder story is a sad and brutal one, but William Hole strikes this writer as an especially pathetic and pitiful specimen of killer.
As told in Nicola Sly’s book Bristol Murders, William and his wife Alice had been married thirty years by the time of her death. What had initially been a happy relationship went downhill after their only child, a son named James, was killed in an accident. William in particular was inconsolable and attempted suicide.
Further misfortune befell him: three years after his son’s death, William was thrown from a horse-drawn cart and sustained a serious head injury. He was probably brain-damaged, and he definitely suffered from horribly painful, intractable headaches for the rest of his life. His sense of melancholy deepened and he regularly threatened to kill himself. The depression turned into paranoia and delusions. He started hearing voices.
The Baptist parents had been teetotalers through three decades of marriage, but after his head injury William took to alcohol to quiet his demons, and so did his wife. They were constantly quarreling and the more they drank they more they argued.
In spite of the couple’s fights, however, and William’s alcoholism and chronic headaches, he wasn’t a complete basket case. He was, for example, able to run his own successful barge business, employing several men. He was well-liked in the area and didn’t have a reputation for violence or criminality.
Until, that is, the night of August 28, 1874, when sometime after 10:30 p.m. the entire neighborhood was roused by screams of “Murder!”
William, it seems, had come home blind drunk and suffering from another of his headaches. He found Alice slumped on the doorstep, also drunk. He knocked her to the ground, went inside and locked her out. Some time later he asked her, twice, to come indoors. Both times she refused. The second time her husband went out into the street, hit Alice again and went back inside. When he re-emerged he was carrying a knife.
A neighbor witnessed all of this and she watched the bloody events that followed. In Sly’s words,
William lunged at his wife, sending her sprawling to the ground. He then bent over her and made two quick slashes with the carving knife across Alice’s throat… Illuminated by a streetlamp was a ghastly scene. Alice Hole was slumped against the kerb, her arms waving, with blood pumping from her throat. William had once again retreated to his own house and was sitting calmly on his windowsill.
Two female neighbors asked William to help them carry Alice into the house and he refused, saying, “She shan’t come in. Take her anywhere; I have killed her and I shall be hung.” Somehow the women got Alice inside her house by themselves and laid her out on the living room rug. She bled out before the doctor arrived.
When the police showed up, William was ready and waiting for them. He told one officer, “Here I am. I did it. I shall not run away. Take me if you like.” He did, however, ask for one last drink of brandy, since he wouldn’t be having another for a long time. This was refused.
At the police station he said, “This is all through a drunken wife,” and confessed in great detail, even going so far as to mime the murder in front of the police. Then he begged to be allowed to drown himself. Request denied, of course, so he tried and failed to strangle himself with his own handkerchief. Denied alcohol in prison, this habitual drunkard began suffering the symptoms of delirium tremens.
He would later claim he had no memory of the murder, although he never denied having done it.
At trial, Hole’s two attorneys used the defense of insanity, pointing out his prior head injury, his prior suicide attempts, his alcoholism, and the fact that he had been dead drunk at the time of the murder. But, summing up the case, the judge told the jury that if William Hole knew what he was doing and knew it was wrong, he had to be found guilty. Given that he had confessed freely and anticipated the likelihood that he “shall be hung,” it would to be hard to argue he didn’t realize the nature and consequences of his actions.
A successful bargeman turned employer and local philanthropist, our troubled soul attracted an energetic campaign for reprieve — but the Home Secretary denied a petition of 30,000 to stay the execution.
* Marwood’s command of the scientific hanging craft was on display as usual. The next morning’s York Herald reported that “Marwood, the executioner, provided a drop of five feet, and Hole being a heavy man, weighing 16 stone, death was instantaneous”