Tag Archives: 1991

1991: Andrew Lee Jones, the last electrocuted in Louisiana

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.

1991: Ignacio Cuevas, Huntsville Prison Siege survivor

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.