1993: Joseph Paul Jernigan, Visible Human Project subject

2 comments August 5th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1993, Joseph Paul Jernigan died by lethal injection in Texas. Yet he lives on still.

A career burglar, Jernigan was surprised mid-robbery in 1981 by 75-year-old Edward Hale: the thief promptly shot the homeowner dead, then finished his looting. His life as a free man would be over within days.

As a criminal you wouldn’t much notice Joseph Paul Jernigan — unless it was your house he was burgling, of course — and you wouldn’t exactly call his smash-and-grab act state-of-the-art. But little over a year after his death, Jernigan was making headlines for a groundbreaking scientific project.

Jernigan donated his body to science, joining an ancient tradition of condemned men and women whose bodies are “cadaverized” for whatever medical material is required of their own day and age.

But instead of serving as a med school’s pincushion, “science” in Jernigan’s case turned out to be — Jernigan had no idea of it while he lived — the Visible Human Project.

This National Library of Medicine initiative built a data set of digital images depicting the complete anatomy of a normal adult man and woman: Jernigan’s cadaver was selected for the male lead.

So, after his execution, Jernigan’s entire body was “sliced” from head to foot into 1,871 one-millimeter slides. (The “slicing” process ground away the body completely; it did not literally slice it like salami.)


Joseph Jernigan’s thorax, including the heart. (From here.)

The project is still online, and has never yet been replicated/surpassed with the the advancing technologies of the intervening decades. It’s a weirdly beautiful, unsettling, and ethically questionable artifact — a Smugglerius of the digital age — but it’s also inescapably awe-striking.

So here: take a tour down Joseph Jernigan at the, er, cutting edge of anatomization.

On this day..

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

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1993: Westley Allan Dodd, child molester

19 comments January 5th, 2010 Headsman

Just after midnight this date in 1993, Washington state carried out the first legal hanging in the U.S. since 1965.

Pornstached child molester Westley Allan Dodd is the textbook “incorrigible sex offender” case study. That’s certainly how Dodd himself asked us to interpret him.

“I have said all along the system does not work,” he wrote of his long career in pedophilia, notoriously unrehabilitated by the criminal justice system. “I knew what I was doing, I knew it was wrong. I knew I could get the death penalty if caught.”

From the usual humble beginnings in teenage child-groping, and despite several arrests over the years, Dodd devolved into abducting young boys to actualize horrific fantasies he did not scruple to jot in his journal.

Incident 3 will die maybe this way: He’ll be tied down as Lee was in Incident 2. Instead of placing a bag over his head as had previously planned, I’ll tape his mouth shut with duct tape. Then, when ready, I’ll use a clothespin or something to plug his nose. That way I can sit back, take pictures and watch him die instead of concentrating on my hands or the rope tight around his neck — that would also eliminate the rope burns on the neck . . . I can clearly see his face and eyes now…

He suspects nothing now. Will probably wait until morning to kill him. That way his body will be fairly fresh for experiments after work. I’ll suffocate him in his sleep when I wake up for work (if I sleep).

In short: not the nicest guy, though also a monster as much pathetic as diabolic.

Dodd pleaded guilty to his three sex murders, and fought for his own execution. The state of Washington obliged him in a speedy three years.

Although the Evergreen State had lethal injection on the books, Dodd also availed his right to select its holdover alternative method, hanging.

Those kids didn’t get a nice, neat painless easy death. Why should I?

Which justification’s nobility (such as it is) is considerably more socially gratifying than, say, a hankering for the gallows’ post-mortem priapism.

(He didn’t get everything, though: they turned down his request to televise the hanging.)

Not content with his headline-grabbing mode of departing the world, Dodd had a hand in a statutory milestone, too. His stranger-danger nightmare case surfacing in the fall of 1989 was part of the background that drove Washington to pass the nation’s first sexually violent predator law, the Community Protection Act of 1990.*

Trutv.com’s Crime Library has a good deal more about the mind of this particular maniac.

* It was really Earl Shriner’s crimes more than Dodd’s that led most directly to the new law, which licensed indefinite “civil commitment” of sexually violent predators after the completion of their criminal sentences.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Serial Killers,Sex,USA,Volunteers,Washington

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1993: Leonel Herrera, perilously close to simple murder?

6 comments May 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1993, Leonel Herrera was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, for shooting two policemen. Herrera’s last statement averred,

Herrera’s sister Norma self-published this book about the case — keeping a promise to her executed brother.

I am innocent, innocent, innocent. Make no mistake about this; I owe society nothing. Continue the struggle for human rights, helping those who are innocent, especially Mr. Graham. I am an innocent man, and something very wrong is taking place tonight. May God bless you all. I am ready.

Well, Herrera wasn’t the first to go to his death maintaining his innocence. The circumstances (and circumstantial evidence) of the crime rate on the forgettable side.

But Leonel Torres Herrera was a bit different from his cousins in hopeless protestation: while he died this evening, his name lived on … in a landmark Supreme Court decision

Herrera v. Collins

Years after Herrera was convicted and death-sentenced, multiple affidavits were produced to the effect that his late brother, Raul, was the real killer.

This evidence was naturally pursued with gusto by the condemned man.

Unfortunately, a claim like Herrera’s of “actual innocence” faces a very high bar when raised in appellate courts, once a prisoner has already been convicted and their presumption of innocence become a presumption of guilt.

That this arbitrary rule of the game has a defensible rationale — could any criminal justice system operate if prisoners could continually relitigate their cases while memories fade and evidence ages into obsolescence? — does not make it the less Kafkaesque for individual prisoners, some of whom are in fact innocent.

Herrera presented this problem in unusually stark terms. Lacking any procedural violation upon which to hang his hat as an appeals issue, his claim pitted substance against form in the Supreme Court. (Oral arguments at Oyez.org)

You already know how it ended.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s opinion patiently explained a jurisprudential truism loftily uncolored by any experience in life liable to introduce a sense of kinship with a Hispanic man charged with a Texas cop-killing who uncovers too late the evidence that could save him.

“[A]ctual innocence” is not itself a constitutional claim.*

Instead, the Court recommended — tongue no doubt planted firmly in cheek — that Herrera apply for executive clemency, a dead letter procedure in Texas used exclusively in a good cop/bad cop routine opposite the black robes.

“Judicial restraint forbids relieving you,” says the court. “Go ask the governor.”

“The courts have thoroughly reviewed the case,” intones the governor. “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Herrera himself may or may not have been innocent. At the end of the day, he went down because the game was rigged against him: his exculpatory evidence was not available at trial, when it might have introduced “reasonable doubt” — as Rehnquist’s opinion put it, “in state criminal proceedings the trial is the paramount event for determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant.” Once that evidence became available deep in the appeals process, it was procedurally barred, and far from such a slam-dunk exoneration that any institutional actor would stick his, her or its neck out to lift Leonel Torres Herrera from the gurney.

Justice Harry Blackmun’s dissent retorted,

Just as an execution without adequate safeguards is unacceptable, so too is an execution when the condemned prisoner can prove that he is innocent. The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.

Whether “simple murder” happened in Huntsville this night in 1993, perhaps no one can really say with certainty.

But as DNA evidence and other forensic advances in the intervening years have increasingly eroded confidence in the reliability of the justice system that metes out death, Herrera v. Collins stands as a key precedent in a case now before the Supreme Court — in which states (joined by the Obama administration) are asking the justices to agree that convicted prisoners have no right to cheap, simple, and frequently dispositive DNA testing that may not have been available when they were tried.

Given the composition of the court (including three holdovers from the Herrera majority), that decision figures to have Leonel Herrera rolling over in his grave.

* Rehnquist conceded a theoretical possibility that extraordinarily persuasive evidence could generate relief on due process grounds. Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas went much further, claiming that prisoners had no right to anything but their trial and their (procedural) appeals.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Innocent Bystanders,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1994: Mansour Kikhia?

Add comment January 2nd, 2009 Headsman

Fifteen years ago, a Libyan-born dissident of American nationality was abducted from a human rights conference in Cairo.

The fate or current whereabouts of Mansour Kikhia remain unknown to this day — although one widely-suspected scenario (and the conclusion of a CIA report on the incident) is that he was spirited to Libya and secretly executed early in 1994.

While other speculation has had Kikhia being held alive, the insulin-dependent diabetic would have been in a bad way absent the sort of painstaking medical attention he would not likely have been receiving from his captors.

The former Libyan foreign minister and United Nations ambassador, who had broken with dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi in 1980, was in Egypt to participate in an Arab Organization of Human Rights conference. The date he vanished from his hotel, last seen in the company of unknown Egyptian men driving vehicles with Mukhabarat markings, was December 10, 1993 — the 45th anniversary of the seminal modern human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Several distinguished Middle Eastern scholars wrote an open letter shortly after Kikhia’s disappearance imploring

Arabs, Americans with an interest in the Arab world and human rights organizations not to rest until he regains his freedom. Nothing could be worse than to let the governments concerned think he will be forgotten.

If not “forgotten” in the strictest sense — see some links of the bulletins issued over the years to keep alive his memory — the governments concerned sure seem to have paid no price for having disappeared Mansour Kikhia.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Disappeared,Egypt,Execution,Libya,No Formal Charge,Summary Executions,Torture,Uncertain Dates,USA

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1993: Ruben Cantu, an innocent child?

8 comments August 24th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1993, Texas gave a lethal injection to a young man for murder — a crime many involved in the case no longer believe he committed, since the sole witness against him has recanted.

Ruben Cantu was only 17 years old at the time of the crime, and for that reason would not be eligible for execution today. But according to a Houston Chronicle investigation (the story is also mirrored here) 12 years after his death, he shouldn’t have been eligible then because he might not have done it. Cantu himself may have kept a street code of silence to his death.

Lise Olsen — interviewed by NPR here — blew up the case; Cantu’s jury forewoman and the district attorney who tried him for his life are among those who have publicly regretted their roles in what has emerged one of the most compelling cases of an executed innocent in the modern American death penalty era. Nobody could possibly have predicted that pitiable public defender resources and an extremely aggressive capital punishment regime could result in such a thing.

The subsequent (and still current) Bexar County District Attorney checked it out (threatening to prosecute the recanting witness) and declared everything proper. So don’t worry about it. What could she possibly have to gain from a whitewash?

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Posthumous Exonerations,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1993: Mohamed Mustafa Tabet, serial rapist with a badge

1 comment August 9th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1993, the police chief of Casablanca was shot in Kenitra Central Prison for abuse of power.

Mohamed Mustafa Tabet (or Tabit) wasn’t exactly Captain Renault.

While Morocco still has prisoners on death row, Tabet’s was the first execution actually carried out in 11 years, and it’s the last execution in Morocco to date. He went on the rocket docket, just five months from his arrest to standing up against a wall.

To earn that rare distinction, Tabet exploited his official power to rape or sexually exploit hundreds of women. Tabet confessed to some 1,500 victims over 13 years; the minimum figure matches the 518 personal identity cards found in his apartment. (Also found: 118 video cassettes — many of them violent — and a computer list of his crimes.)

The “Tabet Affair” — actually called “Tabetgate,” proving that the United States retains the power of exporting ideas — opened a discomfiting window on gender and power in Morocco.

Webster University Prof. Don Conway-Long was in Morocco at the time researching gender and masculinity for his dissertation. His paper “Sexism and Rape Culture in Moroccan Social Discourse” (pdf) is probably the most illuminating readily-available English* document on the affair — and the many contradictory reactions it drew from contemporaries, and the pressure it put on the government to contain the fallout as “a morals case, instead of looking further into overall police corruption.”

Prof. Conway-Long was good enough to spare Executed Today a few minutes to explore power and gender in Morocco, then and now.

ET: The scale of the crime spree seems just unimaginable, that he could get away with victimizing hundreds upon hundreds of women.

DCL: And not that many came forward! It was just a couple of women. If it’s difficult to talk to rape and sexual assault survivors here [in the U.S.], it’s exponentially harder in Morocco.

You were in Morocco in the years leading up to this trial. What was the country like in terms of its gender outlook?

It’s more like our 1950’s in terms of the attitudes towards women. Some educated professors at one point were laughing at the idea that a man could be charged with raping his wife in the West. In some ways, attitudes in Morocco are maybe 20 years behind what we see in the West. We had that same conception in the 1950’s — Missouri actually finally changed that law in 1993. [See here and here -ed.]

Morocco was also probably one of the most liberal countries of the Muslim world in the sense of being more closely connected to the West. Morocco has had more openness, more tourism.

How did the Tabet case impact women’s position?

[In 1995,] about a year after I left, a battered women’s shelter was set up in Casablanca, the first one in Morocco. By comparison, our first shelters in the U.S. and U.K. were set up in 1971, 1972.

In 2004, they passed a new family law that changed a lot of the freedoms that women have — e.g., women can ask for divorce, and don’t have to obey their husbands.

But I have no idea if you can claim there’s any causal relationship between the discovery of Tabet’s crimes and these later events. At the time, some men thought he was this great sexual hero, very virile.

So what lies ahead?

The old king died in 1999; his son Mohammed VI is in there now and he’s young and more aware and one of the rising stars of the monarchs of the middle east, like the king of Jordan. His [Mohammed’s] head is on the right way, but running a country like this with so much variation — there’s 50% illiteracy, the Western Sahara conflict, a certain level of Islamist opposition, and around twenty political parties all the way out to the Communists.

So there’s no certain future, absolutely not.

As far as cases like Tabet’s — let’s hope it’s not happening still, but Morocco when I was there was a place where you pass six different kinds of uniforms walking down the street with Uzis that would be pointed at your body as you passed.

* There’s more in French and Arabic.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Infamous,Interviews,Milestones,Morocco,Notable Sleuthing,Other Voices,Rape,Scandal,Shot

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