1996: Roberto Giron and Pedro Castillo, televised shootings

Add comment September 13th, 2018 Headsman

Roberto Giron and Pedro Castillo, peasants who raped and murdered a four-year-old girl, were shot at the Guatemalan town of Escuintla on September 13, 1996.

The executions — Guatemala’s first juridical shootings since 1983, although civil war death squads had ravaged the country in the meanwhile — were filmed by the press and televised, and the tape told an troubling tale: both men survived the initial volley and after paunchy doctors hastily conferred by the gasping doomed men, were icily finished off by the squad commander’s pistol.

Warning: Mature Content. This is a snuff film. A slightly longer cut of the same reel can be found here.

Thanks to this ghastly debacle, Guatemala changed its execution method to lethal injection — an application of which was also televised in 2000.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guatemala,Mature Content,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Rape,Shot

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1999: David Leisure, mob war veteran

Add comment September 1st, 2018 Headsman

Gangster David Leisure — not to be confused with the “Joe Isuzu” actor of the same name — was executed by lethal injection in Missouri on this date in 1999.

A rare real-life mafioso — perhaps the first executed in the United States since Murder, Inc. boss Louis “Lepke” Buchalter in 1944 — Leisure shattered the tense 19-day calm after St. Louis mob boss Anthony Giordano died in 1980.

What would the post-Giordano underworld look like? The Leisure family sized up 75-year-old James “Horseshoe Jimmy” Michaels Sr. as a rival to eliminate for reasons both personal and professional. Paulie Leisure, his brother Anthony, and their cousin, our man David Leisure, already held Michaels responsible for permitting the murder of another family member in 1964. But as a more direct inducement, Michaels purposed to wrest control of a mobbed-up union from the Leisures.

On September 17, under Paulie’s orders, David Leisure and Anthony Leisure tailed Michaels onto Interstate 55, where by remote control they detonated a bomb they’d attached to the undercarriage of their enemy’s Chrysler Cordoba.

A nationally known gangland war ensued, nicknamed the “Syrian-Lebanese War” — not in tribute to world news but because mobsters of Levantine descent were a principal St. Louis crime faction, and it was for primacy among them that the Michaels and Leisure circles murdered one another. The next year, Paulie Leisure lost his legs to a retaliatory bomb, which in turn led the Leisures to kill Michaels’s grandson, and on and on.

By 1983, FBI informants had brought all our Leisure characters under indictment. David Leisure already had lengthy prison sentences for racketeering and for a different car bomb murder by the time the Show Me State was ready to prosecute the Michaels murder. Paul Leisure never got the death penalty but he died in federal prison a few months after his cousin’s execution. The St. Louis mafia has been said to be reduced by the present day to little more than a social club for aging wiseguys from a bygone world.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Missouri,Murder,Organized Crime,USA

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1997: Ali Reza Khoshruy Kuran Kordiyeh, the Tehran Vampire

Add comment August 13th, 2018 Headsman

Taxi driver Ali Reza Khoshruy Kuran Kordiyeh was publicly hanged on this date for a killing spree that earned him the nickname “the Tehran Vampire.”

For four months, the vampire had preyed on women in the neighborhoods near the place of his ultimate demise. He stalked, abducted, raped and slew nine women and girls, ranging in age from 10 to 47 — including a mother-daughter pair.

He’d been subjected first to court-ordered flogging, many of the 214 strokes administered publicly by relatives of the victims who were cheered on by furious onlookers.

“Innocent blood will always be avenged,” a cleric intoned to the crowd. “This is punishment for the criminal but for us witnesses it is a lesson to be learned … We are responsible for our actions.” Others expressed the lesson less politely.

“Do you see finally that God is greater, you son of a dog?” a man shouted.

“He is not a human,” said Marzieh Davani, a 38-year-old woman.

“I really cannot understand a human can do what he did. He deserves to die surrounded by the hatred of people,” said Amir Ezati, who had taken his place in the crowd at 3 a.m.

“Damn you, you killer,” somebody shouted. The chant was taken up by the others as Kordiyeh, wearing a dark green prison uniform and staring ahead impassively, was led underneath the crane where a noose was tightened around his neck.

A 195-second video of the scene, featuring Mature Content images of Kordiyeh’s flogging and hanging, can be viewed here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Kidnapping,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions,Rape,Serial Killers

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1991: Andrew Lee Jones, the last electrocuted in Louisiana

Add comment July 22nd, 2018 Headsman

Gruesome Gertie galloped her last on this date in 1991, when that Louisiana mercy seat claimed her final soul, Andrew Lee Jones.

Gertie’s reign in the Bayou State ran fifty years and 87 successful electrocutions (out of 88 attempts), although it was cheated of cinematic immortality when the Dead Man Walking film depicted a lethal injection where voltage had done the real work.*

Art was merely imitating life for by the time that film dropped in 1995, Louisiana had long since mothballed Gertie in favor of the the needle.**

As is usually the case, the the criminal himself was only an accidental distinction for the milestone. Andrew Lee Jones in 1984 had abducted eleven-year old Tumekica Jackson, the daughter of his on-again, off-again girlfriend. He raped and strangled to death the little girl — while drunk, he said. In the days after the crime, Jones had hinted to a friend that recently “he did something he didn’t want to do” and he “done fucked up.” But he seems to have had an inkling from death row that he was marked, telling a British pen-friend — more on her in a bit — “I’m definitely hoping that I won’t be the last one to set in that chair. I got the feeling that they are trying to get one more before they put an end to it.

Capital defense attorney David Dow, who joined Jones’s appellate team in its final weeks, remembered Jones’s last hours in his Machinery of Death: The Reality of America’s Death Penalty Regime:

Several of us sat with Andrew throughout the evening in a large room directly outside the execution chamber. In addition to Andrew and me, Debra Voelker (our investigator), Neal Walker, and Michelle Fournet were there. We sat around a table talking. There were guards in the room as well, but they kept their distance. Andrew was handcuffed and shackled at the waist throughout the evening. His feet were also shackled. We would talk for a while, then Andrew would get up and shuffle away to go call his family, and the rest of us would pull ourselves together. We tried as much as possible to take our cues from Andrew. More than anything he seemed to want distraction, and we took turns providing it. Surreal is the only word that comes to mind when I think about that evening. Yet it was real.

One of the most difficult times for Andrew in the long wait came at 9:30 p.m. when we received word that his last appeal had been denied by the Supreme Court. Andrew refused to talk to Nick, who had called from the office to give him the news, because Nick was crying. Andrew had forbidden any tears. He came back from the phone to the waiting room and sat down quietly. Then he looked straight into my eyes and asked, “Why can’t they just do it now? How am I going to get through the next few hours?” I had no answer. I tried to imagine that in a few hours his life would be over while mine would be beginning a new day. i tried to imagine what it was like for him to look at me, knowing this. We stared at each other, and I shook my head. Someone suggested that Andrew purchase something else from the vending machine, and we all laughed thankfully. For Andrew, one of the great thrills of the last day of his life was his ability to put coins in a vending machine, punch a button, and receive food or drink. It had been over seven years since he had come in contact with coins or a vending machine.

Forty-five minutes before Andrew was executed, guards removed him from the visiting room, saying he would return soon. Fifteen minutes later, he walked back in with that smile of his, but awkward and blinking ferociously. In preparation for attaching the electrodes, the guards had shaved his head, one leg, and, as Andrew pointed out, “even my eyebrows.” He was embarrassed. He wondered how he looked. Of course there were no mirrors. Andrew kept blinking. He explained that there were tiny bits of hair from his shaved eyebrows that were getting in his eyes. He was shackled at the waist and couldn’t reach his eyes. Neal pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and asked if it would be okay to wipe Andrew’s eyes for him.

One of the many silences crept over the table where we sat. Andrew laughed. “At least,” he said, “they let me keep my Air Jordans. I thought they’d take those too, but they didn’t. I’ve spent my whole life running and I want to hit the other side running.” Michelle reminded Andrew that he’d always dreamed a plane would crash at Angola, setting him free. Andrew said it wasn’t too late. We all laughed.

The worst moment came when Andrew was led into the execution chamber. It stays with me. Andrew had passed by us in the hall on the way to the door to the chamber. He gave a strained smile and flapped his shackled hands at us. I watched his back after he passed. At the door to the execution chamber, the guards stopped and made Andrew take off his Air Jordans. As he bent to do so, he looked back, directly into my eyes. I will never forget the raw fear in his eyes. There were tears in mine. All pretenses were gone.

After the execution, that British penpal we mentioned, Jane Officer,† co-founded an NGO to support capital appeals in Jones’s memory. Formerly called the Andrew Lee Jones Fund, it’s now known as Amicus. Officer’s book If I Should Die … (review) describes her correspondence and relationship with Jones.

* Artistic license: director Tim Robbins wanted to keep the focus on capital punishment as such instead of permitting the audience to get away with revulsion only at a “less humane” method.

** Ironically that circumstance has latterly jammed up the state’s death chamber; as of this writing, Louisiana hasn’t executed anybody since 2010 owing in large measure to problems with procuring the drugs. Reintroducing the electric chair has been one of the solutions bandied.

† Officer reportedly began writing to Jones after seeing the documentary 14 Days in May, about an egregious wrongful execution in Mississippi.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Louisiana,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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2018: Shoko Asahara and six Aum Shinrikyo followers, for the Tokyo sarin attack

Add comment July 6th, 2018 Headsman

Shoko Asahara and six of his followers in the Aum Shinrikyo cult were hanged today in Japan as authors of one of the most infamous terrorist attacks in recent history: the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway of 1995.

Thirteen people died and several thousand more were injured when members of this millenial sect deposited punctured bags of homemade liquid sarin on multiple rail lines of Tokyo’s subway during Monday rush hour.

It’s was only one of several gas attacks perpetrated by Aum Shinrikyo during the 1990s; just nine months previous, they had killed nine people in a sarin attack in Matsumoto. But it is by far the most notorious. Images of stricken commuters, blinded and suffocating under the nerve agent’s influence, sprawled on the transit platforms or outside them shocked orderly Japan in 1995, especially so since it came fast on the heels of the devastating January 1995 Kobe earthquake.

These comprised “two of the gravest tragedies in Japan’s postwar history,” according to Haruki Murakami’s Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. “It is no exaggeration to say that there was a marked change in the Japanese consciousness ‘before’ and ‘after’ these events.” Japanese Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa struck a similar chord in announcing the hangings today: “These crimes … plunged people not only in Japan but in other countries as well into deadly fear and shook society to its core.”

Its mastermind Shoko Asahara, the first man executed this morning, emerged soon thereafter into public view a bedraggled and half-blind fanatic, almost the picture of an agent of chaos. Shockingly, his cult had been able to thrive in the early 1990s thanks in part to murdering an attorney who was investigating Aum Shinrikyo back in 1989.

Beyond the seven hanged on July 6, 2018, six additional members of the cult still remain under sentence of death in Japan for the Tokyo subway atrocity.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Japan,Mass Executions,Murder,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Ripped from the Headlines,Terrorists

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1995: Franklin Thomas, David Thomas, and Douglas Hamlet, the last in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

1 comment February 13th, 2018 Headsman

Early on Monday, February 13 in 1995, the eastern Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines carried out a surprise triple hanging.

Brothers Franklin and David Thomas, and Douglas Hamlet, all condemned for murders, went to SVG’s gallows with no more than a weekend’s notice.

Both executions, effected during the brief mid-1990s death penalty spasm in the region, were troubling. In the case of the Thomases, this speedy execution appeared designed to balk the men of their right of appeal to the British Privy Council (SVG is a Commonwealth country). Hamlet, for his part, was noosed by a single questionable eyewitness whose testimony he always disputed. Human rights organizations were “appalled” by the circumstances of the executions, including their near-secrecy.

As of this post’s writing, these are the most recent hangings in SVG’s history.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,St. Vincent and the Grenadines,Wrongful Executions

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1999: Dobie Gillis Williams

Add comment January 8th, 2018 Headsman

Dobie Gillis Williams was executed by Louisiana on this date in 1999.

Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun of Dead Man Walking fame, ministered to Williams on death row and became convinced of his innocence — a perspective she argues forcefully in another book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.*

Sister Helen has been accused of overstating her argument here; certainly the state was able to develop a number of incriminating circumstances, like Williams’s observed absence from his home just a half-mile from the murder and abrasions that speculatively could have been incurred shimmying out the small bathroom window. The best forensic evidence was blood at the scene matched by type to Dobie Williams, although blood was oddly absent from the purported murder weapon dropped outside of Sonja Knippers’s Sabine Parish home one summer night in 1984.

Home on a prison furlough, Williams profiled as a central casting suspect and his un-recorded confession late that night would cinch the case. Williams’s attorneys throughout his 14-plus-year legal odyssey suggested that the borderline developmentally disabled Williams might have been manipulated into a false confession, a factor that today is today increasingly understood as a frequent contributor to wrongful convictions. What Helen Prejean wrote about back in 2005 of the possible dynamic could certainly be read as special pleading but her understanding of the interrogation as an event of collaborative storytelling full of subtle back-and-forth cues ran well ahead of the general public’s.

Dobie’s defense attorney, Michael Bonnette, in his cross-examination of the officers, pressed them on the way the confession had been obtained, taking Dobie in the middle of the night and questioning him over and over, feeding him information. Bonnette did get the officers to acknowledge two crucial pieces of information about the crime they had relayed to Dobie — that the victim had been stabbed and that the crime had taken place in the bathroom. Perhaps they had also pieced things together for him: If there was a stabbing, there had to be a knife — so where was the knife? And how did he enter and leave the apartment? Didn’t he leave through the bathroom window? Didn’t it have to be the bathroom window, since that was what Mr. Knippers reported his dying wife had said?

Coming up on two decades gone, Dobie Gillis Williams’s case isn’t widely remembered these days; the Death Penalty Information Center doesn’t even name him on its “Executed but Possibly Innocent” page.

The likely reason is that Williams had a November 1998 execution date stayed so that DNA tests could be attempted on the bathroom curtains, the ones that had yielded the blood type match at the time of the trial — and the tested sample reportedly matched Williams. Helen Prejean is sticking to her guns; she explains why she doubts the lab’s conclusions here.

On this day..

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

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1998: Faisal Saleh bin Zuba’a, speedy trial

Add comment October 14th, 2017 Headsman

From Executions in Yemen, 1998-2001:

October 14 [1998]: Faisal Saleh bin Zuba’a, a tribesman, executed two days after killing a local pediatrician. In an unusually fast trial, the man was found guilty of killing Dr. Mohammad Hayel while trying to steal his car. Reuters quoted an official as saying: “Citizens in Marib who attended the execution opened fire in the air expressing their happiness that justice had been done.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Theft,Yemen

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1996: Youssouf Ali, the first in independent Comoros

Add comment September 16th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1996, Youssouf Ali became the first person executed in the African island nation of Comoros since the country gained its independence from France in 1975.

Shortly before his trial, Comorian president Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim had issued a statement lamenting that “our justice being too slow, it moves at the speed of a tortoise.” He vowed to make a crackdown on violent crime and to start implementing the death penalty.

Ali was first in line under the new policy.

There’s little reason to sympathize with the man: he had killed a pregnant woman, and he did it in front of multiple witnesses, leaving no doubts about his guilt.

However, it should be noted that, although Ali was entitled by Comorian law to appeal against his sentence, in 1996 the Appeals Court wasn’t functioning and didn’t even have any judges on its bench. Ali was publicly executed (by shooting) within days, and without an appeal. Amnesty International wrung its hands in response.

The death penalty is still on the books in Comoros and there are six individuals in the country currently under sentence of death, but the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty classifies it as “de facto abolitionist”. There’s an official moratorium on executions in Comoros at present, and since Ali’s death, only one other person has been executed: Said Ali Mohamed, shot for murder in May 1997. (The aforementioned execution-friendly President Abdoulkarim died in 1998.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Comoros,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Shot

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1996: The Abu Salim prison massacre

1 comment June 29th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya massacred hundreds of prisoners in mass shootings at Tripoli’s notorious prison Abu Salim.

Human Rights Watch has charged that the death toll might surpass 1,200 although the government’s long-term stonewalling has helped to obscure the scale.

The day prior, inmates had seized a guard to protest poor prison conditions. Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi was dispatched to negotiate a settlement. It was a simple arrangement: release the guard. Have some grievances redressed.

The guard was duly released, in good faith.

And by way of reciprocity, Senussi unleashed a general slaughter. Multiple prisoners have given accounts to human rights investigators of mass murders, inmates “lined up and shot, execution-style, by young conscripts whose choices were shoot, or stand with them to be shot” and buzzard squads picking through the groaning heaps of bullet-riddled men to administer coups de grace. A kitchen worker quoted by this 2001 BBC Witness broadcast who described how

soldiers in khaki uniforms fired upon the prisoners in the courtyard from the rooftops with automatic weapons and then followed through with pistols, individual shots, and killed what he claimed were 1,200 of his fellow prisoners … the number came to him based on the amount of meals he said he had prepared prior to the incident, and thereafter.

Senussi, who was Qaddafi’s spy chief, was at last notice under sentence of death himself in post-Qaddafi Libya.


“The people want the death penalty for Abdullah Senussi for the Abu Salim massacre” reads the poster, according to the BBC.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Common Criminals,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Libya,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions

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