1995: Angel Mou Pui-Peng

Add comment January 6th, 2019 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 with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Angel Mou Pui-Peng, a 25-year-old unmarried mother, was hanged in Changi prison before dawn on Friday the 6th of January 1995. She became the 95th person (and third woman) to hang under Singapore’s strict 1975 anti-drug laws. Cheuk Mei-mei, 29, also from Hong Kong, was executed in 1994 and another three women were executed for drug trafficking in 1995 including two who were only 18 at the time of their crime. Altogether 30 people were hanged in Singapore for drug trafficking in 1995 with a further six men and one woman (Flor Contemplacion) being hanged for murder. Although there have been more women executed for murder, only one other woman has been hanged for drug offences since the end of 1995. (Navarat Maykha, a Thai national, was executed in September 1996.)

Under Singapore law, the death sentence is mandatory for anyone over 18 convicted of trafficking in more than 15 grams (half an ounce) of heroin, 30 grams (one ounce) of morphine or 500 grams (18 oz.) of cannabis. Prisoners have an automatic right of appeal to the Appeal Court and if that fails, may petition the President for mercy. However, death sentences are virtually always carried out. I know of only one case where a reprieve was granted — to a Burmese man who was completely illiterate and clearly had no idea that he was committing a crime.

Angel, a resident of then-British Hong Kong born in then-Portuguese Macau,* was arrested at Singapore’s Changi airport on August the 29th, 1991, after arriving from Bangkok with a suitcase containing 20 packets totaling over 4.1 kg of heroin according to the Central Narcotics Bureau. At her trial, she claimed she did not know the false-bottom suitcase contained heroin and thought she was carrying contraband watches instead. She was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1993 and as usual in Singapore, both her appeals were rejected.

However, she was granted a temporary stay of execution on the 22nd of December 1994, apparently to allow her family to visit her over Christmas, after a plea by her mother and nine year old son, having been originally scheduled to hang on Friday the 23rd of December with two Singaporean drug traffickers.

On the eve of her execution, her lawyer Peter Yap said that she was “normal and calm” when he saw her. He said she “was emotionally stable and prepared to die. Spiritually she was very strong.” He also said Angel was comforted by the settlement of guardianship for her son.

The day before her execution, she would have been weighed by Singapore’s executioner, Darshan Singh, to enable calculation of the correct drop. The British Home Office 1913 table of drops is still used. Unusually, Angel was executed on her own (due to the stay.) At about 5.30 a.m., she would have been escorted by her guards to a waiting room to be prepared. Shortly before 6.00 a.m. her hands would have been handcuffed behind her back and a black cloth hood placed over her head. She would then have been led the few meters to the gallows at 6.00 a.m. local time. Her legs would have been strapped together and the leather covered noose placed round her neck. Singh then told her “I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you.”

After execution, the body was returned to relatives and she was cremated in the early evening at Mount Vernon crematorium after a short service attended by her family and friends.

“Our sister Angel has now been taken to heaven — a place we will go and we shall hope to see her there one day,” an elderly pastor, speaking in Cantonese, told the congregation of some 25 people.

“When are you coming back to Hong Kong?” a young woman cried in Cantonese as she, Angel’s sister, Cecilia, and a few others watched the coffin, covered in black velvet, disappear into the furnace.

Her father, reportedly reconciled with his daughter during her brief stay of execution, broke down uncontrollably after the cremation.

Macau was a Portuguese province and the President of Portugal, Mario Soares and the Portuguese government appealed for clemency on the grounds of Angel’s youth and the fact that she was only a carrier. But according to Portuguese officials, Singapore said it could not differentiate between foreigners and its own people.
The Governor of Macau expressed deep sorrow and called the execution “revolting,” the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported. “For someone like me who is a citizen of a country that takes a pride in being one of the first that abolished capital punishment, the loss of human life is something that is incomprehensible and even revolting,” Lusa quoted Governor Rocha Vieira Vasco as saying in a message to Angel’s mother. Chris Patten, who was at the time the Hong Kong Governor, said the British colony had supported a plea for clemency put forward by Britain and the European Union.

* Both colonies became Chinese territories in the late 1990s.

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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 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.

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1995: Boris Dekanidze, the last in Lithuania

Add comment July 12th, 2016 Headsman

Lithuania conducted its last execution on this date in 1995, distinguishing Vilnius crimelord Boris Dekanidze with the milestone.

Dekanidze was born in Georgia, but had no citizenship anywhere. His father Georgy cashed in on the collapse of Soviet rule with businesses that, to survive and thrive in the 1990s, would be mobbed-up practically by definition. “When you have a collapse of government and total incompetence, people appear who can organize themselves and influence the lives of others,” Georgy said in this Newsweek report. “I can’t say if this is good or bad.” Georgy ran the Hotel Vilnius, an apt metaphor for the era.

The dapper son was convicted of ordering the murder of investigative reporter Vitas Lingys, founder of the still-extant Lithuanian newspaper Respublia* — a conviction sustained on the evidence given by the admitted gunman, Igor Akhremov.

“The collapse of government and total incompetence” was a much more nettlesome foe than this or that murderer, however. The single bullet fired into Dekanidze’s head on the morning of July 12, 1995 crippled his own criminal syndicate, the “Vilnius Brigade” — but it was not long before new gangs emerged to replace it.

Lithuania abolished the death penalty in 1998.

* Despite the punishment meted out in this one case, a wave of 1990s journalist assassinations around the former Soviet Union during the 1990s went mostly unsolved.

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1995: 43 armed robbers

1 comment July 22nd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1995, Nigeria’s military dictatorship struck a bloody blow against the country’s surging crime waves with a mass execution of 43 prisoners at Kirikiri prison in Lagos.

Soldiers dressed in camouflage and with black shoe polish on their faces fired semi-automatic weapons to execute the convicts who were tied to stakes in three groups of 12 and one of seven.

The executions, which lasted 90 minutes, were witnessed by three doctors, who certified the deaths, an Irish Roman Catholic priest and a Muslim imam. (Reuters report, in the July 23, 1995 Los Angeles Times)

Armed robbery had since the 1970s been the most feared and high-profile genre of a crime surge that seemed all but impervious to remedies. Organized into aggressive syndicates stealing on an industrial scale, robbers grew so numerous and brazen that they plundered the personal home of the Vice President in 1983; another band raided currency exchange offices at the Lagos airport in 1993. For everyday citizens, the terror of home invasion, often accompanied by rape or gratuitous murder, horribly taxed material and psychological resources. A 1985 Nigerian Herald article (via) reported that

Lagosians now live behind bars, in houses caged with tough iron rods. In such homes, it takes occupants 20 to 30 minutes to get through the barricades each time they want to go out or get in. Driving in Lagos as well is done in a style intended to avoid interception by armed robbers. The basic rule is that no driver allows the vehicle behind him to catch up with his and overtaking at the wrong side of the lane by another motorist is avoided at the risk of death. In Lagos, people live in such terrible fear of armed robbers that those who are not attacked as each day passes regard themselves as fortunate.

The death penalty was decreed for armed robbery in 1970, revoked in 1980, re-introduced in 1983. In the late 1980s, Nigeria tried check points, road blocks, increased police patrols — nothing stemmed the tide.

This date’s demonstrative mass execution made the news, for sure. But it didn’t exactly do the trick either.

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1995: Flor Contemplacion, OFW

1 comment March 17th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1995, Filipina maid Flor Contemplacion was hanged for murder in Singapore.

Contemplacion had, four years before, strangled a fellow-maid and drowned that maid’s four-year-old charge.

That’s what she confessed to, at least. Even though Contemplacion’s camp would eventually argue that the confession had been coerced, or that she’d been possessed by a strange epileptic, Contemplacion herself never really walked back that admission.

Still, Flor Contemplacion the cause celebre and Flor Contemplacion the cultural phenomenon was never only about the woman’s innocence, even if many do still believe she was framed.

By whatever happenstance of timing and circumstance, widespread publicity of her case in the Philippines during the months leading up to her hanging tapped a national discontent among her countrymen and -women about “OFWs” — overseas Filipino workers.

This economic sector — exported labor — had been intentionally nurtured (pdf) by Manila beginning with a 1974 labor code, and over the ensuing generation ballooned twentyfold into a positively enormous phenomenon.* By the time Flor Contemplacion hanged, everybody in the Philippines knew people who had worked overseas, and whose wage remittances were indispensable (pdf) for supporting their families in the Philippines. (And increasingly, the entire national economy.)


Boom of the overseas Filipino workers sector, 1975 – 2000 (1975 = 1). Source of figures; there are more official OFW stats here.

Ascendance of the OFW industry brought with it the discontents attendant with scattering wholesale quantities of the populace to unfamiliar corners of the globe, many of them to confront the timeless varieties of workplace abuse from positions of special vulnerability: “The dark reality,” one organization says this year, of “low wages, horrid working conditions, little protection for human rights, exploitation, harassment, threats, illegal arrests, imprisonment, criminalization, and deportation.”

To say nothing of the political discontents raised by such a discomfiting abdication of autarky, and the “domestic anxieties” (pdf) of developing “the embarrassing reputation that we are a country of DHs [domestic helpers], entertainers, and even prostitutes.” This is, truly, a rich and complex tapestry.

Flor Contemplacion is practically the patron saint of the indicted Filipino/a abroad, and her fruitless clemency appeal the political breakout of OFWs and their allies as a constituency to reckon with.

The effect was immediate. Contemplacion hadn’t had any great level of consular support early in her criminal process — the time when it might have made the most difference. (The Philippines embassy in Singapore later took considerable heat for this fact.)

But as the story made headlines and some sketchy witnesses accused the victim’s widower husband of being the real perpetrator, the case became a national sensation. Recently-elected president Fidel Ramos, who campaigned on restoring the previously-abolished death penalty in the Philippines, not only had to put on the full-court press for this condemned woman but incongruously declared her a “national hero”; his wife personally received Contemplacion’s remains at the airport. Leaders and ordinary people from Catholics to Communists rallied (sometimes rioted) in anger.

(Singapore was just at this time establishing its own reputation as the place that never gives diplomatically expedient clemencies. Never.)

Whatever the domestic controversies, the labor-export business has only continued to grow in the generation since Contemplacion’s hanging. To this day, the Filipino public has shown great sympathy with OFWs entangled in alien criminal justice systems, and demanded diplomatic support — regardless of particular individuals’ putative guilt.

Regrettably, it is often called to do so: from Saudi Arabia to China, the plight of Filipinos executed abroad remains a recurrent and emotionally charged theme in the country.

Flor Contemplacion’s name, well-known still anywhere in the archipelago, was back in the news last year … when her three sons all drew lifetime prison sentences for drug-smuggling.

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1995: Girvies Davis, framed?

7 comments May 17th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1995, Illinois executed Girvies Davis for murdering 89-year-old Charles Biebel in Belleville, Ill.

A small-time African-American hood reared in an alcoholic home, Davis was not linked to the murder by any physical evidence, or even any eyewitnesses. There was only one piece of evidence against him: his signed confession.

Unfortunately, the source lacked all credibility.

Davis copped to some 20 crimes under police interrogation. Officially, he did this when he voluntarily wrote out a list of evildoings and spontaneously passed it to a guard, which would be hard to believe even if the guy weren’t nearly illiterate. (Even the official story later became that Davis must have dictated the confession to someone else, like a cellmate.)

According to Davis’s later account, he signed statements the police had prepared for him … at gunpoint. The police logs say that he was taken out for a drive that night (“for evidence”), and conveniently confessed in the small hours of the morning.

Even though our man’s involvement in most of these “admitted” crimes (anything outstanding in the area that was still unsolved, it seems) was disproven, he couldn’t get traction in the courts once his conviction by an all-white jury was secured. Paradoxically, because there was no other evidence in the case to discredit, that “a-ha!” exoneration moment became all but impossible to secure despite the other holes in the case.

More action was had in the court of public opinion, where the usual suspects enlisted any number of pro-death penalty prosecutors and Republicans with serious misgivings about the case.

Time magazine lodged a naive early entrant in the “wait, wrongful confessions happen?” genre. The New York Times also covered the Davis clemency campaign:*

“The public sees the Bundys and the Gacys executed and they cheer,” said Gary V. Johnson, a former Kane County, Ill., prosecutor, who sought the death penalty in the past but opposes the execution of Mr. Davis. “The public doesn’t see the Girvies Davises.”

What savvy pols like Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar could see was that in the 1990s, all the political upside was in denying clemencies. So that’s what he did.

Years later, Davis’s last appellate attorney still believes “that the State of Illinois executed Girvies Davis for a crime I am sure he didn’t commit.”

Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess was also convinced of Girvies Davis’s innocence, and led a team of students researching the case back before he was famous for doing exactly that sort of thing. His work did not yield success on this occasion, but to judge by his account (pdf) of a last conversation he and his students had hours before Davis was put to death, it helped lead to the school’s later headline-grabbing wrongful conviction exposes.

Protess put [Davis] on the speakerphone, and the group gathered around. “Try not to mourn for me,” Davis said. “Move on with your lives. Just try to help people like me who get caught up in the system.” …

Davis had a final request: He wanted Protess and the students to promise that this wouldn’t be their last crusade in a capital case.

The room fell silent. “Of all the guys you know on the Row, who do you think most deserves help?” Protess asked.

Buck Williams,” Davis answered without hesitation. “I’m certain he’s innocent.”

Protess … vowed that he and his next group of students would leave no stone unturned for Williams.

Protess was as good as his word.

In less than a year, Williams along with Verneal Jimerson, Willie Rainge and Kenneth Adams were free men after a generation in prison.** These men, known as the “Ford Heights Four”, would win the largest civil rights lawsuit payment in U.S. history for their wrongful imprisonment.

* Davis may also have been the first death-row prisoner in the U.S. with his own Internet site and online clemency petition, although these interesting artifcats have long since vanished into the digital oubliette. Gov. Edgar reportedly received 1,200 emails asking him to spare his prisoner’s life … testament even then to elected officials’ disregard for online advocacy.

** Williams and Jimerson were on death row; Rainge and Adams were serving life sentences.

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1995: Nie Shubin. Oops.

1 comment April 27th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1995, Nie Shubin was shot in the back of the head in Hebei Province for the rape and murder of a woman in Zhang Ying village.

According to a 1994 newspaper report (.pdf) supplied by the authorities,

After a week of skillful interrogation, including psychological warfare and gathering evidence, police officers made a breakthrough. On September 29, this vicious criminal finally confessed to having raped and murdered the victim. On August 5, while loitering around Zhang Ying village, he stole a shirt and then walked to the vicinity of the Xinhua Road police station, where he saw Ms. Kang ride her bicycle into a corn-field path. He went after her, knocked her off her bike, dragged her into the field, beat her unconscious and raped her. He then used the shirt to strangle her to death.

Sounds pretty definitive, even if they did have to beat it out of him. A confession is a confession, after all.

Except, not.

In 2005, another man admitted to the murder, reportedly supplying persuasive crime scene details to boot.

Nie Shubin’s parents — who had complied with China’s one-child policy — have unsurprisingly been devastated by the loss of their only son, which they learned about the day after his execution when the boy’s father attempted to deliver a care package to the prison.

“All my hopes,” said the mother, “rested with him.”

Update: As of late 2011, the poor mother is still fighting to formally exonerate her executed son.

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1995: Kimura Shujish

1 comment December 21st, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1995, Kimura Shuji was hanged in Japan.

It remains the norm in that ancient land to hale a man to the gallows with little more than an hour’s warning, having kept him in a state of unremitting apprehension of that moment for the space of decades. Given that norm, this day’s hanging was distinguished by little save an accidental, heartbreaking particular.

According to a report by the International Human Rights Federation (this page has links to .pdf versions of the report in both English and French):

when his mother and sister in law visited him on the morning of the day of execution, they were told by an officer ‘could you come again at noon since we are very busy at the end of the year?’ When they returned they were told that he had already been executed during the morning. The officer made no mention of the time of his execution. His family members said that although he had asked the detention house to inform them they had not done so. In addition, he had hurriedly written a short letter to his family during the few minutes just before his execution

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