1991: Ignacio Cuevas, Huntsville Prison Siege survivor

3 comments May 23rd, 2014 Headsman

This date in 1991 was the quiet coda of one of America’s most spectacular prison risings.

At the stroke of 1 o’clock on July 24, 1974, Federico “Fred” Gomez Carrasco, a life-sentenced heroin kingpin with more money than God, took control of the Huntsville Walls Unit‘s prison library with two henchmen — inmates Rudolfo Dominguez and Ignacio Cuevas. It is Cuevas’s eventual execution on May 23, 1991, that gives us occasion for this post — but the so-called Huntsville Prison Siege was all Carrasco’s show, starting with the guns he was able to smuggle into the stir.

With fifteen hostages in their power, a cordon of Texas Rangers blockading Walls Unit, and a legion of media camped round the clock, the audacious trio bargained for eleven tense and sweltering days — Eleven Days in Hell, by the title of a later account. The desperados won little amenities, like new clothes and toothpaste. The hostages braced for the worst, despite Carrasco’s considerable personal charm.

“I believe Carrasco made an attempt to be shown as a gentleman criminal,” a surviving hostage remembered. “He treated us with a great deal of respect and kindness — except, of course, when he’d tell us, ‘I’m going to shoot you in 20 minutes.’ And he did that three or four times a day.”

One inmate hostage was so afraid of Carrasco that he hurled himself out a glass window to get out from under his thumb. (It worked.) Two other inmates were freed after suffering heart incidents, one real and one feigned.

But Carrasco et al weren’t looking to move into the library permanently and make friends with their hostages. Their ultimate ask of negotiators was a biggie: an armored getaway car. Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe approved it and had rolled up to the prison courtyard.

The plan, so Carrasco said, was to flee for Cuba.

That Cuba wasn’t, topographically speaking, a drivable destination didn’t really enter into the question: car or no, the authorities obviously had no intention of letting their inmates roll on out for the freedom of the open road. The inmates obviously knew that, too … but then, they hadn’t got all dressed up for nothing.

Shortly after 9 p.m. on August 3, the dramatic eleven-day standoff came to a suitably cinematic shootout conclusion.

The trio of would-be escapees made their way that night for the armored car in an improvised fortification dubbed by the press (with questionable taste) the “Trojan Taco”: rolling blackboards armored with 700 pounds of legal tomes and all the remaining hostages. Carrasco, Dominguez, and Cuevas each handcuffed himself to one of the hostages and hunkered down with his unwilling escort inside the blackboard walls; the others formed a human shield outside the makeshift tank.

It was a pretty good plan to blank the Rangers’ guns.

So the Rangers brought firehoses to the fight instead.

The whole bunch, hostages and all, got hammered as they made their way down a ramp towards the car by the water jets, although the sheer weight of the “Taco” and its law library kept the formation from toppling. A melee ensued, with the desperate inmates firing from little gun ports in the “Taco”, and also shooting their hostages within it. Two of those unfortunates, Yvonne Beseda and Judy Standley, bled out in the prison courtyard.

Cal Thomas, today a nationally syndicated columnist, was a young reporter at the time for a Houston television station. “It is a tragedy that two hostages died,” he would later write. “It is a miracle all the rest lived.”

The perpetrators did not fare as miraculously. Rudolfo Dominguez was shot dead in the exchange. And Carrasco himself, who had once vowed in vain never to be taken alive by U.S. law enforcement, now belatedly made good his resolution by taking his own life. Only Ignacio Cuevas survived it, and he only to face capital murder charges and draw a 1975 ticket to death row. He was finally put to death sixteen years later — just steps away from the scene of his most notorious crime.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1991: Li Xinming, fecund

Add comment May 26th, 2013 Headsman

We seem to lack an exact date to attribute the evocative action so economically described in this May 30, 1991 Reuters wire story:

BEIJING — A man in northwest China has been executed for hacking to death the children of an official who punished him for violating China’s strict birth control rules, the Xinjiang Legal News said.

Farmer Li Xinming murdered his village chief’s two sons and seriously injured his wife after the chief informed him of his punishment for having a third child, the newspaper said in a recent edition reaching Beijing on Thursday.

The execution was carried out immediately after a public trial, the newspaper said.

The world’s most populous country punishes violators of its strict birth control policies, which restrict most couples to one child, with heavy fines and administrative penalties.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Sex,Shot,Uncertain Dates

Tags: , , , ,

1991: Warren McCleskey

8 comments September 25th, 2011 Headsman

Twenty years ago today, Warren McCleskey died in Georgia’s electric chair for the murder of a police officer.

Yet the “question reverberates: Did Warren McCleskey deserve the chair? For the question to outlive him is a damning commentary on capital punishment in the United States.”

The most reverberating commentary on this case was the 1987 Supreme Court decision McCleskey v. Kemp — a landmark 5-4 ruling that still shapes the way judges handle purported racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

McCleskey (the decision, not the man) “marked the end of an era in death penalty jurisprudence … reject[ing] the last major challenge to the death penalty in America” from the generation of legal tinkering reaching back to the 1960s.

McCleskey v. Kemp was decided on April 22, 1987, at which time just 70 humans had been executed since the “modern” era of capital punishment began in the 1970s. (Today, the count is well beyond 1,200.)

The victims attributed to those 70 were 83% white (77 of 93),* even though blacks and whites are murder victims in roughly equal numbers — suggesting on its face that white victims are treated as disproportionately “valuable” by prosecutors, juries, and/or judges. This was, prospectively, the case with Warren McCleskey himself, an African American who in the course of an armed robbery had gunned down (or maybe not: see below) a white off-duty policeman.

McCleskey’s appellate team marshaled a statistical study by Iowa Prof. David Baldus indicating that black murderers (to a small extent) and killers of white victims (to a greater extent) were indeed more likely to receive a death sentence in Georgia, even when controlling for dozens of other variables. “According to this model,” wrote Justice Lewis Powell for the majority, “black defendants, such as McCleskey, who kill white victims have the greatest likelihood of receiving the death penalty.”

Though it accepted evidence of a discriminatory pattern,** the high court nevertheless ruled that McCleskey was not entitled to appellate relief unless he could demonstrate that that it was at work in his specific case.

And with some reason: the import of granting constitutional relief to a claim of “endemic racism in the system” would open a Pandora’s box of appeals from America’s burgeoning carceral state.

McCleskey’s claim, taken to its logical conclusion, throws into serious question the principles that underlie our entire criminal justice system … if we accepted McCleskey’s claim that racial bias has impermissibly tainted the capital sentencing decision, we could soon be faced with similar claims as to other types of penalty.

Let justice be done though the heavens fall?† Not on our dime, buddy.

This reasoning too backtracked from equal protection concerns that had helped lead a similarly bare 5-4 majority to strike down then-existing capital statutes 15 years before in an appeal originating from the same state — Furman v. Georgia. That old regime had then been replaced with a death penalty system supposedly capable of minimizing arbitrariness. McCleskey served notice that justices wouldn’t be going out of their way to hunt arbitrariness any time soon.

The Court’s remaining liberal lions — it still had such a thing in 1987 — dissented furiously from McCleskey. William Brennan replied to the majority:

Warren McCleskey’s evidence confronts us with the subtle and persistent influence of the past. His message is a disturbing one to a society that has formally repudiated racism, and a frustrating one to a Nation accustomed to regarding its destiny as the product of its own will. Nonetheless, we ignore him at our peril, for we remain imprisoned by the past as long as we deny its influence in the present.

He also found “fear that recognition of McCleskey’s claim would open the door to widespread challenges … seems to suggest a fear of too much justice.”

mccleskey_presentation_314

Brennan was on the losing side of this judgment in a larger historical sense as well — at least, the brief span of history to unfold since Warren McCleskey sat in the electric chair.

McCleskey author Lewis Powell retired a few weeks after issuing it, and not long thereafter expressed regret for the McCleskey decision.‡ Relentless death penalty foes Brennan and Thurgood Marshall would hang up the spurs within a few years. (The circus Senate hearing to place Clarence Thomas in Thurgood Marshall’s seat was ongoing when Warren McCleskey finally died.)

But the deciding vote in McCleskey was cast by freshman Reagan-appointed justice Antonin Scalia, and he’s still going strong.

Scalia was then the Court’s emerging conservative paladin, though he was so new to the Court that McCleskey’s litigators hoped he might be amenable to their suit as a swing vote. Far from it: after Thurgood Marshall’s death in the early 1990s, his donated papers were found to contain a Scalia memo that rubbished the McCleskey majority’s mere consideration of the Baldus study.

I disagree with the argument that the inferences that can be drawn from the Baldus study are weakened by the fact that each jury and each trial is unique, or by the large number of variables at issue. And I do not share the view, implicit in [Powell’s draft opinion], that an effect of racial factors upon sentencing, if it could be shown by sufficiently strong statistical evidence, would require reversal.

Since it is my view that the unconscious operation of irrational sympathies and antipathies, including racial, upon jury decisions and (hence) prosecutorial [ones], is real, acknowledged by the [cases] of this court and ineradicable, I cannot honestly say that all I need is more proof.

Shorter Scalia: racism happens, so what?§ (Ultimately, Scalia opted not to file a separate opinion explicitly making this case; he just signed on to the majority opinion.)

As squishy regret-prone jurists have left Scalia’s Court since, and hard-right ideologues joined it, 1987’s militant reactionary is now one Rick Perry victory away from being the highest court’s median vote. Now that’s moving the Overton Window.

As one might imagine, death penalty jurisprudence at One First Street NE in these latter days has become correspondingly rougher — and the problems raised by McCleskey have scarcely abated.


Although the McCleskey case is what our day’s principal is best known for, he was also caught up in one of the more everyday — but not the less disreputable — toils of the system: the phony jailhouse informant. Very late in the appeals process, McCleskey’s lawyers were finally able to show that the fellow-prisoner who testified that McCleskey admitted the shooting to him was in fact a police plant operating on a quid pro quo to reduce his own sentence. (It’s amazing how often defendants spontaneously confess to these guys; the Troy Davis case which climaxed last week also featured a jailhouse snitch.) Somehow, prosecutors forgot all along to mention that arrangement even when directly asked.

The Supremes ruled, Kafkaesquely, that this issue was procedurally out of order because McCleskey hadn’t raised it earlier, neatly ignoring that the reason he hadn’t raised it was that prosecutors were actively concealing the fact. That’s the subject of the other SCOTUS case under our man’s name, McCleskey v. Zant.

(At issue was whether McCleskey was himself the triggerman. Since he was part of the robbery gang, he was legally on the hook for capital murder whether or not he personally fired the shot; but, his death sentence turned in reality on the jury’s belief that McCleskey was the individual killer — a detail supplied by the suspect police informant. None of McCleskey’s confederates faced execution.)

The final drama this date was a “chaotic” mess of last-minute legal maneuverings, with McCleskey strapped into the chair at one point, then interrupted from his last statement to be returned to his cell, then finally hauled back to the lethal device after an early-morning telephone poll of Supreme Court justices.

* Execution demographic counts via the Death Penalty Information Center’s executions database.

** While the McCleskey court accepted Prof. Baldus’s statistical interpretations even while rejecting their constitutional import, a vigorous pro-death penalty case is made here against the reading that the modern American death penalty is racially discriminatory to any great extent.

† This Latin phrase — fiat justitia ruat caelum — is actually engraved above the sitting justices at the Georgia Supreme Court.

‡ The regret was about more than Warren McCleskey; Powell’s biographer described a complete change of heart in the June 23, 1994 New York Times:

when the retired Justice Powell said he had changed his mind about the McCleskey case, I thought he meant that he would now accept the [Baldus] statistical argument.

“No,” he replied, “I would vote the other way in any capital case … I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished.” …

Justice Powell’s experience taught him that the death penalty cannot be decently administered. As actually enforced, capital punishment brings the law itself into disrepute.

§ See Dennis Dorin, “Far Right of the Mainstream: Racism, Rights, and Remedies from the Perspective of Justice Antonin Scalia’s McCleskey Memorandum,” Mercer Law Review, 1994.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Georgia,History,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1991: Barrios Altos massacre

4 comments November 3rd, 2010 Michael Baney

(Thanks to Michael Baney for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1991, a Peruvian death squad showed up at the wrong party, and altered its country’s history.

In 1980 the Communist Party of Peru, better known as the Shining Path, launched its “People’s War,” which was never actually supported by the majority of Peruvians. Latin America had had its share of Marxist revolts, but this one was different from the others. There was nothing romantic about the revolutionaries, who wore plain clothes rather than uniforms, attacked the civilian population rather than invest significant capital to win them over to the Shining Path cause, and rose up in an effort to overthrow a democracy rather than a dictatorship.

The Shining Path was based mainly in Andean villages, but once they began to take serious losses in their own territory, they made a concerted effort to accelerate the war by pushing into the capital city, Lima. Both the Shining Path and the Peruvian military were committing deplorable human rights violations by the time Alberto Fujimori was elected president in 1990, although the vast majority of the violence had been confined to the hinterlands of the country up until then.

With Fujimori’s election, more urban-based death squad activities began. Perhaps the most famous was the November 3, 1991 massacre in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, a poor barrio only a few minutes’ drive away from the Congress and the Presidential Palace.

The murders are described in great detail in this old US government document (pdf) once classified as secret, but since declassified thanks to the efforts of expert Tamara Feinstein of the National Security Archive.

This date’s incident occurred when members of Grupo Colina (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), a death squad that was part of the Army Intelligence Service, believed that they had identified a group of Shining Path militants having a pollada, which is a traditional fundraiser in Peru where a party is held so that chicken and beer can be sold to the neighbors. (Here’s a description, in Spanish)

A Grupo Colina squad drove to the building where this terrorist pollada was supposed to be taking place, lined the partygoers up, and extrajudicially executed them with submachine guns with silencers that the army had provided the group for the operation. Then the leader of the group, Santiago Martin Rivas, shot a young child who came running over to the body of his father. The troops got back into their vehicles, turned on their sirens to appear like they were the police in an effort to shift blame over the killings, and got drunk at the beach to celebrate.

Almost immediately it became clear that the death squad members had completely screwed up their hit.

The people who had been murdered were indeed having a pollada … not to fund the Shining Path’s Maoist agrarian war, but to fix the pipes in their building

And it transpired that that fateful night of Nov. 3, there was a different pollada being held on a different floor in the very same building. The participants of that other party fled the building, never to return. There were reports that upon searching the rooms of those who fled, police uncovered many issues of El Dario, the Shining Path newspaper.

If Grupo Colina indeed crashed the wrong party, then it not only slaughtered a bunch of innocent people — it helpfully tipped the Shining Path to the fact that the army was onto them.

In any event, the executions became a media spectacle and the police had to at least go through the motions of investigating them. At first, the government suggested that the murders might have been actually carried out by the Shining Path, and as evidence of this theory they showed that one of the people who had been killed was previously a member of a Ronda, which is a peasant patrol group that fought against cattle rustling and, in some cases, the Shining Path. But it later turned out that the man had been a member of the Rondas many years before and hundred of miles away from the killings, and it seemed extremely improbable that the Shining Path would even bother to target him.

By December 4, 1991, the US embassy in Lima was informing the Secretary of State that the Peruvian government lacked the political will to investigate the murders, and had lied about whether or not the guns used in the extrajudicial executions were equipped with silencers in “an apparently deliberate attempt to obfuscate the situation.”

The Congress created a committee to investigate the crimes, which was a real threat to the Fujimori government because the Fujimoristas did not have a majority in Congress.

This ceased to be a problem on April 5, 1992, when Fujimori suspended the Congress, permanently disbanded the Senate, and fired a good number of the judges in the country, all in total violation of the Constitution. That ended the investigation.

Under pressure from the international community, a new Congress stacked with Fujimoristas was convened to write a new Constitution, and the investigation of the Barrios Altos killing nominally restarted. When the Congress called Nicolas Hermoza Rios de Bari, the Chairman of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces to testify, he took the oppotunity to remind the Congress that the military would never tolerate being “insulted.” When hearings continued, Hermoza Rios held an impromptu tank parade directly in front of the Congress. The few brave Congressmen and women who actually desired to expose the truth about the killings got the message loud and clear: the case would never go anywhere as long as Fujimori remained president.

When it finally looked like the perpetrators might be punished, for example, Fujimori rammed a law through the Congress that provided a general amnesty to everyone who had violated human rights “in defense of the fatherland.” When a judge ruled the amnesty law unconstitutional, Fujimori’s Congress stripped the power of judicial review from the courts in cases of amnesty laws.

In a very real sense, the Peruvian government had legalized illegality. Fujimori created a system in which there was no way to punish — or even investigate — murder so long as someone, somewhere considered the crime to have been committed for patriotic reasons.

All that changed in 2000, however, when Fujimori’s government collapsed amid scandal.

An opposition figure who vowed to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was sworn in as into office, and Peru reaffirmed its commitment to the American Convention on Human Rights. In 2001, in a groundbreaking decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in its Barrios Altos case that countries cannot issue an amnesty for “serious human rights violations.” The amnesty was thrown out and Grupo Colina members were arrested.

In 2007, Alberto Fujimori was extradited from Chile, where he had traveled, to Peru. In 2009, the Peruvian courts convicted Fujimori of a number of human rights abuses, including ordering the Barrios Altos murders. Just last month, justice was finally served when the members of Grupo Colina were convicted of murder, kidnapping, forced disappearance, and conspiracy, and were given various sentences ranging up to 25 years of prison. After 19 years, the Peruvian government has finally acknowledged that the extrajudicial executions that took place during that country’s cold war were crimes that must not go unpunished.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Cycle of Violence,Execution,Executions Survived,Guest Writers,History,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Other Voices,Peru,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Shot,Summary Executions,Terrorists,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

November 2017
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • markb: Hello, Bart. i am also into a writing project. i would recommend you take a good look at dennis rader, the...
  • Bart: Hi, Kevin, it’s been ages! Hi, all the crew – the old ones and new ones! For example – Fizz....
  • Fiz: I thought the book was a real piece of special pleading, Meaghan. The fact remains that wherever Mary Ann Cotton...
  • Meaghan Good: I recently read a new book about Mary Ann Cotton, “Mary Ann Cotton: Dark Angel” by Martin...
  • Kevin M Sullivan: Hey Bob— I’m not surprised that sex toys and pot stashes were a part of Cho O, as they are in most...