1989: Arnaldo Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia

2 comments July 13th, 2010 Headsman

In the predawn hours this date in 1989, Cuban Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa was shot in a pasture at a West Havana military base along with Col. Antonio “Tony” de la Guardia and Captains Antonio Padrón and Jorge Martinez — all convicted of treason against the Cuban Revolution because of drug trafficking.

Before his abrupt fall just weeks before this date, Arnaldo Ochoa was one of the shining stars of Castro’s Cuba.

One of the Sierra Maestre guerrillas, Ochoa had fought with Che Guevara in the Battle of Santa Clara that toppled the Batista regime.

In the decades that followed, he rose to become one of the most powerful officers in Cuba, serving in Venezuela, Angola, Ethiopia.

But in early June 1989, and shortly after a Mikhail Gorbachev state visit to Cuba delivered the bad news that the crumbling Soviet Union would be withdrawing its subsidies to Havana, Ochoa and State Security officer Tony de la Guardia* were suddenly busted for running a drug-smuggling operation — essentially conspiring with the Colombian Medellion cartel to exploit Cuba’s position on the most direct routes to Florida, and corruptly skimming the proceeds in the process.

There seems to be little doubt among those in the know that they were doing exactly that, but endless speculation about what else they were up to — what the executions were really about.

There is the year, to begin with, which is why we’ve mentioned Gorbachev; Castro was hostile to the Soviet leader’s glasnost reforms, and could read well enough the dangerous direction of change in eastern Europe. He wanted Gorbachev to put the brakes on.

Ochoa was seen as a charismatic figure of a more liberal outlook and close to Russian officers to boot, and one school of thought has it that he therefore looked like the sort of man who might be able to mount a coup or serve as the KGB’s catspaw if it came to regime change.

Whether or not Ochoa was targeted on that basis, Castro surely did not regret during those dangerous transitional years as Russian patronage slipped away the salutary effect this day’s doings would have had on any other potential aspirants for his job.

That consideration, whether it was primary or tertiary, probably helps explain the purge’s old-school show trial vibe. On television, Ochoa confessed to it all, and assured the court,

If I receive this sentence, which might be execution … my last thought will be of Fidel, for the great revolution he has given our people.

(Although what that thought would have been is a different matter. After falling out with Ochoa over military operations in Angola, the Cuban dictator had bugged his general’s environs and thereby eavesdropped on numerous of caustic remarks about himself.)

The drug charges, too, point the way towards plausible hidden agendas.

Fidel and Raul generally took a cautious approach to the drug business — hardly virginal, but reputedly avoiding particularly egregious entanglements lest they gift-wrap the hostile Yankees a pretext for invading. (Given what happened to Panama later in this eventful year, that would have been a reasonable concern.)

At the same time, it’s all but inconceivable that they were taken completely unawares by “revelations” that their aides were up to something shady.

So the hypotheses in this area run the gamut from: Ochoa and de la Guardia taking an authorized but circumscribed covert operation and avariciously expanding it beyond any possible license; to, everyone at the top being up to his eyeballs and Ochoa and de la Guardia eliminated when it became expedient to bury their firsthand knowledge of Fidel’s firsthand knowledge. Timing, again, is suggestive; with the coming withdrawal of Soviet protection, this might have been seen in Havana a prudent moment to trim sails on narcotics transshipment.

Whatever Arnaldo Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia may have known or sensed about the wheels-within-wheels of Havana politics, they took it to their grave 21 years ago today. Perennial declarations of the Castros’ imminent fall have made the rounds ever since, but until that old stopped clock manages to tell the right time, it’s likely that the rest of us will have to content ourselves with guesswork.

* De la Guardia was a friend of the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In this very year, Marquez dedicated The General in his Labyrinth to the soon-to-be-disgraced colonel.

Speaking of de la Guardia literary connections: Tony’s daughter, Ileana, has also published a book.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Famous,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1989: Sean Patrick Flanagan, self-hating gay man

8 comments June 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1989, Sean Patrick Flanagan was executed for murdering two gay men in Nevada.

The ex-Marine been picked up for jaywalking in California, when he went and confessed to the slightly more problematic offense of murder. This is why you should never say anything to police when arrested.

But Flanagan had a whole confessional, expiation thing going on. Besides admitting to strangling two older men with “the thought that I would be doing some good for our society,” he dropped his appeals and volunteered for execution.

I’m just as wicked and nasty as Ted Bundy. I believe if I had not been arrested, I would have ended up being another Ted Bundy against homosexuals.

Flanagan

As is so often the case, the hatred that drove Flanagan to murder was actually directed inward — since the killer himself was also gay. Characterizing his own execution as “proper and just” and staying nose-deep in the Bible until injection time was all part of his uncertain journey of redeeming or defining or accepting himself.

The subsequent headlines were all about how Flanagan checked out of this world telling prosecutor and execution witness Dan Seaton, “I love you.”

“‘He means it in terms of Christian love and forgiveness,” Seaton explained later. No gay stuff.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Lethal Injection,Murder,Nevada,USA,Volunteers

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1989: Henri Zongo and Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lengani

Add comment September 18th, 2009 Headsman

This evening in 1989, the number two and three men in Burkina Faso’s military government were seized and summarily executed for allegedly plotting a coup of their own.


Lengani and Zongo

Henri Zongo and Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lengani certainly had the pedigree for it; they’d conspired along with Blaise Compaore in the 1983 putsch that brought Thomas Sankara to power … and then Zongo, Lengani and Compaore had overthrown Sankara four years later.

On this date, a triumvirate increasingly strained by personal rivalries and economic disagreements was unilaterally dissolved.

According to the official announcement, Zongo and Lengani planned to seize the airport while President Compaore was out of the country, shooting down his returning plane if necessary.

Whether accurate or pretext, their elimination (along with two other conspirators) helped Compaore consolidate his hold on Burkina Faso — a country he still governs to this day.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burkina Faso,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

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1989: Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris

7 comments June 2nd, 2009 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site. The images accompanying this post are also provided by Mr. Clark. -ed.)

Sandra Smith was the last woman to be hanged in South Africa (with her boyfriend Yassiem Harris).

Background.

Sandra Smith was a 22-year-old coloured woman (official South African designation during the apartheid era) who was married to a trawlerman called Philip and had two small children. Philip spent long periods at sea and sent money back for Sandra and the children. She began having an affair with Yassiem Harris, who was 3 years her junior, in the autumn of 1983 and soon they were deeply in love. Harris had been involved in crime since the age of 13 and had convictions for theft and fraud and was also a drug user. Philip found out about the affair from his neighbours and in March of 1986, he finally threw Sandra out. She and Harris now began living together in a rented apartment but soon the money that Philip used to give her ran out and their finances became tight.

The crime.

To make ends meet, they tried renting video recorders from shops and then selling them but this didn’t net them any real money. Harris, who was unemployed, also spent time hanging about outside a girl’s school and got to know some of the girls, including Jermaine Abrahams. He soon found out where she lived and from his conversations with Jermaine, he concluded that her family were quite wealthy.

They hatched a plan to break into the Abrahams’ family home and steal her mother’s jewelry and anything else of value. Harris had also found out that her parents left for work at 7.00 a.m. in the morning and she left for school about 7.40 a.m.

The victim, Jermaine Abrahams.

Smith and Harris arrived at the house about 7.30 a.m. on September the 1st, 1986, and Harris was let in by Jermaine on the pretext of him wanting to use the telephone. They tied Jermaine up but were disturbed by someone knocking at the door. She started to shout for help and struggle so they then tried to strangle her with a dish cloth. Harris now fetched a knife from the kitchen and repeatedly stabbed Jermaine in the neck. Amazingly, she didn’t die from her injuries and managed to get to her feet and stagger a few paces before collapsing. Harris carried Jermaine to her parents bedroom and made her show him where the jewelry and valuables were kept. He wrapped the poor girl in a duvet and then cut her throat, leaving her to bleed to death. He and Smith collected up what they wanted and then left the house.

Two weeks later, while Smith was being questioned by the police regarding the video scam, she surprised the interviewing officer by confessing to the killing of Jermaine. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with it,” she said. In her statement she told the police, “He pulled the scarf tight across her mouth and then cut her throat.”

On the 15th of September 1986, Sandra Smith was formally charged with the murder and 5 days later Harris was arrested and also charged with it.

Trial.

At their committal hearing at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrates’ Court on the 23rd of September, they pleaded guilty to murder, alternatively to culpable homicide, and to stealing R2,000 worth of jewelry.

They were tried together at the Cape Town Supreme Court on December the 1st, 1986, before Mr. Justice Munnik, the Judge-President of the Cape Court, and two assessors. South Africa did not use the jury system, although its court proceedings were based upon British law, but instead a system of a judge and assessors. Both were represented by counsel and both attempted to shift the blame on to the other. Smith maintained that Harris had done the actual killing and Harris claimed to have been dominated by Smith, although they both admitted being present during the murder.

Sandra Smith was embarrassed by the revelations of her sex life with Harris in court and seemed at times more concerned with these than the fact that she was on trial for her life.

Having heard all the evidence, Mr. Justice Munnik gave a full reasoned judgement in which he described Harris as “an appalling witness.” He said it was clear that it was Harris who had stabbed the girl and slit her throat to prevent her identifying them. He also rejected Harris’ defence claim that he been dominated by Smith which had been refuted by the psychiatrist giving evidence for the prosecution. He accepted that Smith was demanding but not dominant, and there was no evidence to indicate that she forced Harris to kill Jermaine, nor that she had done anything to prevent the murder. He thus concluded that they were both equally responsible for the crime under the doctrine of “common purpose.” Thus on the 11th of December 1986, they were both formally convicted of the murder of Jermaine Abrahams and with robbery with aggravating circumstances and remanded for sentence.

Eleven days later they were brought back to the court and received the mandatory sentence for murder — that they be hanged by the neck until they were dead. Additionally, Harris received a 10-year prison sentence for robbery and Smith was given seven years for it. Sandra Smith became hysterical when she was sentenced to death and had to be taken struggling and screaming to the cells.

They were transferred to the country’s only death row, at Pretoria Central Prison, a modern facility on the outskirts of the capital where all South African executions were carried out. Their appeals were turned down and the review of the trial transcripts to determine whether to recommend that the state president grant clemency carried out by the Ministry of Justice failed to find any mitigating circumstances. As clemency was not forthcoming, their execution date was set for the 2nd of June 1989. Apparently, only around one in 50 people convicted of homicide were actually hanged at this time, the majority serving a prison sentence.

Execution.

At 6.50 a.m. on that morning, Smith was taken to meet Harris for the first time in over two and a half years. Together with two other men who had been convicted of murder, they were led the 52 steps to the pre-execution room next to the gallows. The death warrants were read to them and they were given the opportunity to say their last words. Their hands were handcuffed behind them and white hoods placed over their heads, these having a flap at the front which was left up until the last moment.

They were now led forward by warders into the large and brightly lit execution room. It was some 40 feet long with white painted walls. They would have seen the gallows beam running the length of the room and the 7 large metal eyes from which the four nooses dangled. (Seven prisoners could and often were hanged at once on this gallows.) The picture shows very much what Smith and Harris would have seen as they were led to the gallows. The chain hoist on the middle metal eye is used for raising the trapdoors after an execution.

They were positioned side by side, on painted footprints over the divide of the trap and held by warders while the hangman placed the nooses around their necks. He then turned down the hood flaps and when all was ready, pulled the lever plummeting them through the huge trapdoors.

They were left to hang for 15 minutes before being stripped and examined by a doctor in the room below. Once death had been certified, the bodies were washed off with a hose and the water allowed to drain into a large gully in the floor. A warder put a rope around each of their bodies and with a pulley lifted them to allow the rope to be taken off. They were then lowered onto a stretcher and placed directly into their coffins before taken to a public cemetery for burial.

Although executions in South Africa were held in private, the procedure was described in detail by the then hangman, Chris Barnard, in an interview before he died. He officiated at over 1,500 hangings there.

South Africa hanged 1,123 people at Pretoria Central prison between 1980 and 1989, Solomon Ngobeni being the last on November 14th, 1989. Surprisingly perhaps, almost all of these were for “ordinary” murders rather than politically motivated crimes and most attracted very little publicity.

According to the South African Department of Correctional Services, two other coloured women were hanged for murder in the years 1969 to 1989, Gertie Fourie, on the 20th of May 1969 and Roos de Vos, on the 12th of December 1986. A total of 14 women were executed between 1959 & 1989, out of a total of 2,949 hangings.

President De Klerk ordered a moratorium on executions in 1990 and capital punishment was abolished altogether by the incoming black government of Nelson Mandela on the 7th of June 1995.

Comment.

We cannot know why Smith and Harris went to the Abrahams’ home while they knew Jermaine would still be there or whether they had actually formed any intention to kill her. Neither of them had any record of violence prior to the murder. My guess is that they panicked when she started to call for help from the person who knocked on the door and they tried to silence her. However, it seems hard to believe that Harris really thought she wouldn’t identify him to the police as soon as they had left and he may well have decided to kill her for this reason. It is claimed that Smith wanted Jermaine dead as she was jealous of her having some sort of relationship with Harris. In any event, Jermaine suffered a horrible and agonising death at their hands.

We cannot know, either, which one of them did the actual killing or whether they both took equal part in it. But there was clear “common purpose” established under law, and there were no obvious mitigating circumstances to allow the state to reduce the sentence on either of them. South Africa had the highest rate of judicial execution in the world during the 80’s so they would surely have known the penalty for murder but like so many people, gave no thought to it until it was too late.

Sadly, it is so typical of the kind of brutal and senseless murder that happens all too frequently and one that led to cruel deaths for three young people.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Africa,Theft,Women

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1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

8,544 comments January 24th, 2009 Headsman

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

It was 20 years today that Ted Bundy, the signature sexual psychopath in a golden age of serial killers,* rode the lightning in Florida’s Starke Prison.

Executed Today is pleased to mark the occasion with a conversation with Louisville crime writer Kevin M. Sullivan, author of a forthcoming2009 book on Ted Bundy … and a man who knows how the world looks from inside Bundy’s ski mask.


Ted Bundy is obviously one of the most iconic, written-about serial killers in history. Why a book about Ted Bundy? What’s the untold story that you set out to uncover?

The desire, or drive, if you will, to write an article about Ted Bundy and then create a 120,000 plus word book about the murders, was born out of my crossing paths with his infamous murder kit. Had Jerry Thompson [a key detective on the Bundy case -ed.] left Bundy’s stuff in Utah that May of 2005, well, it would have been an enjoyable meeting with the former detective, but I’m certain it would have all ended quietly there. Indeed, I doubt if I’d even considered writing an article for Snitch [a now-defunct crime magazine -ed.], much less a book about the killings. But it was having all that stuff in my hands, and in my home, and then being given one of the Glad bags from Ted’s VW that made it very real (or surreal) to me, and from this, a hunger to find out more about the crimes led me forward.


Ted Bundy’s gear, right where you want it — image courtesy of Kevin M. Sullivan. (Check the 1975 police photo for confirmation.)

Believe me, in a thousand years, I never would have expected such a thing to ever come my way. I can’t think of anything more odd or surreal.

ET: You mentioned that you think you’ve been able to answer some longstanding questions about Bundy’s career. Can you give us some hints? What don’t people know about Ted Bundy that they ought to know?

I must admit, when I first decided to write a book about the crimes, I wasn’t sure what I’d find, so the first thing I had to do was read every book ever written about Bundy, which took the better portion of three or four months.

From this I took a trip to Utah to again meet with Thompson and check out the sites pertaining to Bundy and the murders in that state. Next came the acquisition of case files from the various states and the tracking down of those detectives who participated in the hunt for the elusive killer.

Now, no one could have been more surprised than me to begin discovering what I was discovering about some of these murders. But as I kept hunting down the right people and the right documents, I was able to confirm these “finds” at every turn. And while I cannot reveal everything here, It’s all in the book in great detail. Indeed, you could say that my book is not a biography in the truest sense, but rather an in-depth look at Bundy and the murders from a vantage point that is quite unique. I wish I could delve further into these things now , but I must wait until it’s published.

The Bundy story has a magnetic villain and a host of victims … was there a hero? Was there a lesson?

The real heroes in this story are the detectives who worked day and night for years to bring Ted Bundy to justice. And if there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it is this: It doesn’t matter how handsome or articulate a person might be, or how nicely they smile at you, for behind it all, there could reside the most diabolical person you’ll ever meet! We need to remember this.

But how can you act on that lesson without living in a continual state of terror? Bundy strikes me as so far outside our normal experience, even the normal experience of criminality, that I’m inclined to wonder how much can be generalized from him.

Actually, (and I might say, thank God here!) people as “successful” as Ted Bundy don’t come our way very often. I mean, the guy was a rising star in the Republican Party in Washington, had influential friends, a law student, and certainly appeared to be going places in life. Some were even quite envious of his ascension in life. However, it was all a well-placed mask that he wore to cover his true feelings and intentions. On the outside he was perfect, but on the inside a monster. He just didn’t fit the mold we’re used to when we think of a terrible killer, does he?

Now, there are those among us — sociopaths — who can kill or do all manner of terrible things in life and maintain the nicest smile upon their faces, but again, just beneath the surface ticks the heart of a monster, or predator, or what ever you might want to call them. Having said that, I’m not a suspicious person by nature, and so I personally judge people by their outward appearance until shown otherwise. Still, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to see the “real” individual behind the person they present to us on a daily basis.

You worked with case detectives in researching your book. How did the Ted Bundy case affect the way law enforcement has subsequently investigated serial killers? If they had it to do over again, what’s the thing you think they’d have done differently?

They all agree that today, DNA would play a part of the investigation that wasn’t available then. However, in the early portion of the murders, Bundy made few if any mistakes, as he had done his homework so as to avoid detection. As such, even this wouldn’t be a panacea when it came to a very mobile killer like Bundy who understood the very real limitations sometimes surrounding homicide investigations.

I can’t help but ask about these detectives as human beings, too. Clearly they’re in a position to deal with the heart of darkness in the human soul day in and day out and still lead normal lives … is a Ted Bundy the kind of killer that haunts or scars investigators years later, or is this something most can set aside as all in a day’s work?

They are, first of all, very nice people. And you can’t be around them (either in person, or through numerous phone calls or emails) for very long before you understand how dedicated they are (or were) in their careers as police officers. They are honorable people, with a clear sense of duty, and without such people, we, as a society, would be in dire circumstances indeed.

Even before Bundy came along, these men were veteran investigators who had seen many bad things in life, so they carried a toughness which allowed them to deal with the situations they came up against in a professional manner. That said, I remember Jerry Thompson telling me how he looked at Ted one day and thought how much he reminded him of a monster, or a vampire of sorts. And my book contains a number of exchanges between the two men (including a chilling telephone call) which demonstrate why he felt this way

How about for you, as a writer — was there a frightening, creepy, traumatic moment in your research that really shook you? Was there an emotional toll for you?

Absolutely. But the degree of “shock”, if you will, depends (at least for me) on what I know as I first delve into each murder. In the Bundy cases I had a general knowledge of how Bundy killed, so there wasn’t a great deal that caught me by surprise, as it were. Even so, as a writer, you tend to get to know the victims very well through the case files, their family members or friends, and so on. Hence, I’ll continue to carry with me many of the details of their lives and deaths for the remainder of my life. And so, lasting changes are a part of what we do.

However, I did a story a few years back about a 16 year old girl who was horribly murdered here in Kentucky, and this case did cause me to wake up in the night in a cold sweat. Perhaps it was because I have a daughter that was, at the time, only a few years younger than this girl, and that some of what transpired did catch me off guard, so to speak, as I began uncovering just what had happened to this very nice kid.

Watch for Kevin M. Sullivan’s forthcoming The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History from McFarland in summer or fall of 2009.

* In fact, the term “serial killer” was coined in the 1970’s by FBI profiler Robert Ressler, as an improvement on the sometimes inaccurate category of “stranger killer”.


Additional Bundy resources from the enormous comment thread:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Florida,History,Infamous,Murder,Popular Culture,Serial Killers,Sex,USA

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1939: Nine Czech students

2 comments November 17th, 2008 Headsman

Today is International Students’ Day and a public holiday in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia thanks to the martyrdom of nine at the hands of the Nazi occupation forces this day in 1939.

The previous fall, Hitler had cowed the allied powers into ceding the mountainous Czechoslovakian Sudetenland to the Third Reich in order to avert war — leading to Neville Chamberlain‘s famously mistaken “peace in our time” speech.

In March 1939, Germany reneged its part of the bargain and gobbled up Bohemia and Moravia, essentially the modern Czech Republic.

That this would collapse Chamberlain’s vision of peace and set Europe’s powers on the road to war with Berlin was cold comfort to the occupied Czechs. They had their own problems.

On October 28, youth demonstrations in Prague against the occupation resulted in the shooting of Charles University medical student Jan Opletal

Two weeks later he succumbed to the injury, and his funeral turned into an anti-occupation riot forcibly quashed by German arms. According to the London Times account:

On November 17 at 3 a.m., the Gestapo entered all students’ colleges, men’s and women’s, without allowing them to dress, tied the students in groups of three, and dragged them away … Between 3 o’clock and 8 o’clock in the morning the Gestapo visited students’ homes and lodgings. Those opposing arrests and parents who withheld information were immediately shot at, and the wounded were refused attention. The Gestapo broke into high schools as well as into the university …

The prisoners were taken to the Ruzyn barracks and to the Sparta football stadium, where cold water was flung over them and were made to wait until the evening. Then, in the barrack yard, 124 students and teachers* were shot before their fellow-students, the first nine being presidents of students’ associations, including the brilliant young sociologist Dr. Matoushek [English Wikipedia entry | Czech], son of a former Minister of Commerce.

Universities in the cities were declared closed for three years; they would not in fact re-open until after the war.

The day, subsequently memorialized as den boje studentu za svobodu a demokracii (Day of the Students’ Fight for Freedom and Democracy), entered Czech history a second time a half-century later. A student protest at Opletal’s grave on this date in 1989 helped catalyze the Velvet Revolution that toppled Czechoslovakia’s Communist government.

* The larger figure was circulated in the days following by Czech sources. It is not clear to me whether that number proved unfounded, or whether subsequent memorials simply came to focus on the leading nine — whose executions are certain, and were even announced by German communique.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Rioting,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1989: Horace Franklin Dunkins, Jr., “just hope that he was not conscious”

29 comments July 14th, 2008 Headsman

Minutes after midnight this date in 1989, Alabama’s executioners electrocuted a developmentally disabled murderer. Nine minutes later, after rewiring the chair, they finally managed to kill him.

Alabama’s fifth execution of the “modern” era initially made the headlines as the nation’s first execution of a mentally impaired prisoner after the Supreme Court’s controversial Penry v. Lynaugh decision (since overturned) green-lighted the death penalty for developmentally disabled defendants.

Horace Franklin Dunkins, Jr. and an accomplice had raped a mother of four, tied her to a tree, and stabbed her to death, an unquestionably horrific crime. A black man with a white victim deep in Dixie … well, his IQ in the high sixties wasn’t going to help him do anything but waive his right to remain silent. The jury at his trial didn’t hear about his borderline mental retardation — Penry would require that juries get that information in the future — and at least one juror later said that little tidbit would have made the difference in Dunkins’s case.

At any rate, the buzz in this morning’s papers wasn’t about the circumstances of Dunkins’s entry into the criminal justice system, but his clumsy exit from it into the great hereafter.

According to the account of a Dr. John Vanlandingham:*

I saw Dunkins in the electric chair and I heard the generator start…. After a short period of time the other doctor … and I were called into the execution chamber. I could see that Dunkins was breathing…. I checked his peripheral pulse, in his wrist, and it was normal. I listened to his heart and his heartbeat was strong with little irregularity…. I told an official that Dunkins was not dead. Dr. – and I returned to the witness room…. I again heard the generator begin.

“I believe we’ve got the jacks on wrong,” the prison guard captain called out. It was flatly not enough current to kill, although it apparently did the killer the favor of knocking him out.

From 12:08 to 12:17, Dunkins sat motionless and seemingly unconscious while the execution team went all MacGyver on Yellow Mama. Once they’d fit Tab A into Slot B into Lethal Electrode C, they were finally able to try again. The doctors pronounced death 19 minutes after the switch had first been thrown.

”I regret very very much what happened,” the Alabama Prison Commissioner, Morris Thigpen, said at a news conference after the execution. ”It was human error. I just hope that he was not conscious and did not suffer.” (The New York Times)

* Dr. Vanlandingham was participating in the execution despite an injunction by the American Medical Association, which considers it a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Physicians’ involvement (or not) in executions is a thorny ethical issue of its own; Vanlandingham, however, is not the only doctor to break the taboo.

Part of the Themed Set: Embarrassed Executioners.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Electrocuted,Execution,Milestones,Murder,USA

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1989: Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu

8 comments December 25th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1989, 71-year-old dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were condemned by a secret military tribunal and immediately shot in Targoviste as Communism in Romania suddenly, stunningly collapsed.

The last of the Revolutions of 1989 that toppled Communism through much of Eastern Europe in a matter of weeks left the indelible image of the man who had dominated Romanian politics since the mid-60’s bewildered as a party-summoned mass rally at Bucharest’s Revolution Square turned against him.

It was to be Ceausescu’s last public address. Within a day, the country had slipped from his control; before week’s end, he would face a firing squad with “The Internationale” on his lips at the conclusion of a drumhead trial.

In a confused political situation — the police who intercepted Ceausescu and his wife held them for several hours, attempting to divine which way the winds were blowing before handing them over to the mutinous army — Romanian state television would soon broadcast footage of the trial and the first couple’s corpses (though not the execution itself).

Caution: This video contains graphic footage

Immediately afterwards, Romania abolished the death penalty. Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu remain the last people executed in that country.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Mature Content,Milestones,Politicians,Power,Romania,Shot,Summary Executions,Theft,Treason,Women

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