1997: Henry Francis Hays, whose crime cost the Klan

13 comments June 6th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1997, an Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan went to Alabama’s “Yellow Mama” for lynching a black teenager.

Henry Francis Hays, son of a top Klan officer in Alabama, had vented dissatisfaction with a jury’s failure to convict a black defendant for a white policeman’s murder by grabbing and stringing up a random black, 19-year-old Michael Donald.

Hays and his 17-year-old accomplice skated for more than two years because Mobile’s finest figured a publicly hanged black man probably had it coming from some drug deal.* Only through the victim’s mother’s persistence — she got Jesse Jackson involved, which helped involve the FBI — did the real murderers feel the heat.

Before long, the Klan would wish it had stayed out of the kitchen.

After Hays’ conviction, Michael Donald’s mother brought a civil action against the United Klans of America with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The $7 million liability verdict she won financially destroyed the United Klans — perpetrators of some of the 1960s’ most infamous anti-civil rights terror — and Donald was awarded its national headquarters building in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

This novel keys on the Michael Donald lynching as part of a (fictional) Mobile teen’s coming of age.

Hays wasn’t through making the sort of history he’d rather not have made.

When his turn in the electric chair finally came in 1997, he became the first white in Alabama put to death for an offense against a black in 84 years.**

Seemingly less cocksure in answering for his crime than he had been in committing it, Hays had always maintained his innocence. A few days before walking his last mile, he finally confessed to the Mobile chapter head of the NAACP.

* Michael Donald was not, in fact, involved in drugs.

** There haven’t been any other executions for white-on-black crime since Henry Hays, a span of 11 more years and 22 more executions as of this writing. (via the Death Penalty Information Center’s Execution Database)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Mature Content,Milestones,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Sleuthing,USA

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1987: Valery Martynov, betrayed by Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen

9 comments May 28th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1987, a once-promising American intelligence asset was executed with a single gunshot to the head in Moscow — his treachery exposed by two of the most infamous Soviet moles in U.S. intelligence history.

A Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB posted to the Soviets’ official Washington, D.C. offices in 1980, Martynov had turned in 1982 and begun funneling intelligence to the CIA and FBI under the cryptonym “Gentile”. Truth be told, he was a mediocre source, but he was a younger officer with the chance to grow into a more important asset in the years ahead.

Fate had sized him up as an extra in someone else’s story instead.

In 1985, “the year of the spy” to those in the know for the volume of important cloak-and-dagger work, the Soviets landed two highly-placed moles in the American intelligence world — Aldrich Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI.

Both those notorious turncoats shopped Martynov (among others); duly informed, Russian spymaster Victor Cherkashin conned Martynov into returning to Moscow where he could be arrested.

Here’s a 2001 New York Times account on how it went down:

[Soviet counterintelligence officer Vitaliy] Yurchenko, unhappy with his lot as a defector [after coming over to the Americans in August 1985], suddenly redefected back to the Soviet Union in early November [1985, still]. Mr. Cherkashin has said in a previous interview that Mr. Yurchenko’s redefection presented an opportunity to lure Valeriy Martynov, a K.G.B. officer in the Washington station working for the F.B.I., back to the Soviet Union: The K.G.B. arranged for Mr. Martynov to serve as a member of an honor guard escorting Mr. Yurchenko back to Moscow.

When they arrived back in the Soviet Union, it was Mr. Martynov who was arrested; Mr. Yurchenko was given a job at the K.G.B. again.

No honor among thieves.

Martynov left a widow, Natalia, and two children. But he is remembered and written about exclusively in the context of the men who sold him out, who taken separately or together rate among recent history’s most catastrophic intelligence failures. (Or triumphs, depending on your point of view.)

Martynov’s ultimate tragedy, of course — one he shares with his more infamous American betrayers in this shadowland chess match — is that not by all the information he provided, and neither by his life nor his death, was the Cold War protracted or abbreviated by one single hour.

Books about the Ames and Hanssen cases

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Notable Participants,Notable Sleuthing,Russia,Shot,Spies,Treason,USA,USSR

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1987: Jacek Lazar condemned

4 comments November 27th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1987, according to the sentence read to him in the climactic scene of The Decalogue no. 5,* Jacek Lazar was condemned to hang for the senseless murder of a taxi driver. (“Lazar” was fictional, but he had a real-life inspiration.)

The movie, plainly reflecting the director’s opposition to the death penalty, is the most overtly political of Krzysztof Kieslowski‘s ten-film cycle exploring the themes of the Ten Commandments. But it is far from tendentious.

The supposed date of the actual execution, depicted here, is not identified.

If one credits the dates, this hanging would be among the last performed in Poland. After April 1988, death sentences were no longer carried out, and Poland formally abolished the death penalty in the late 90’s — thanks in no small part to this film.

* Or Dekalog, per its Polish rendering. This particular installation of the series is also referred to as “A Short Film About Killing”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Common Criminals,Fictional,Hanged,Mature Content,Murder,Poland,Theft,Uncertain Dates

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