1996: Ellis Wayne Felker

1 comment November 15th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Ellis Wayne Felker was elecrocuted for a rape-murder that — despite his classic middle name — he always maintained he did not commit.

Felker was fresh off his release from prison for aggravated sodomy in 1981 when he opened a leather shop at which a Macon Junior College student named Evelyn Joy Ludlam solicited work. Felker had none to give her — the business was failing — but he still invited her to interview.

Sometime after Ludlam interviewed at Felker’s shop on Novemer 24, 1981, her car ended up parked in the lot of the Trust Company Bank with Joy nowhere to be found. She remained missing until December 8, when a passerby found her body in Scuffle Creek outside of Macon. She had been raped, sodomized, and throttled.

Evidence incriminating Felker was circumstantial but suggestive: Felker was the last person who could be shown to have seen Joy Ludlam alive, and that under duplicitous circumstances; he had shifted his account of his contact with Ludlam during the crucial hours as evidence came in; he had gone out for an unexplained drive late the night of her disappearance; some bruises on the victim’s body suggested bondage sex and Wayne, a BDSM aficionado, had suspiciously disposed of some leather restraints shortly after Joy vanished. Plus, of course, there was that previous sexual assault conviction.

On the other hand, the initial autopsy and some expert testimony concerning the body’s condition suggested that Joy had died just a few days before she was pulled out of the creek — a timeline which would have ruled Felker out as a suspect since he was under police surveillance from the evening of November 25. (The revision of the autopsy’s initial, Felker-exonerating timeline, and the subsequent expert dispute over the expected state of a body submerged in water after X number of days forms a sizable part of the record. We at Executed Today have no ranks in this coroner’s science, but would note that she was found wearing the clothes she donned for her November 24 visit to Felker’s leather shop.) And years after the trial, boxes of evidence that the state had illegally failed to disclose to Felker’s defense team were discovered. They contained interviews with other witnesses, a highly dubious signed confession by a mentally disabled man, and human tissue.

The last really sticks in craw: courts in 1996, when DNA was still only emerging as a forensic force, refused to allow the sample to be tested on the Kafkaesque procedural grounds that the request had not been made earlier in the process — you know, before the defense knew there was such a sample to test, and/or before DNA testing was a thing. Partial credit for the frustration of Felker’s appeal routes goes to that relic of 1990s death penalty mania, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This law, which limited (and still limits) capital defendants’ access to federal habeas corpus relief was actually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1996 via Felker’s own case: the key ruling is Felker v. Turpin.

He wasn’t through making history after he died, either.

In what was thought to be a first in 2000, a consortium of media organizations footed the bill for posthumous DNA testing of those recovered hair and fingernail samples, with the potential to deliver an embarrassing four-years-too-late exoneration.

The result: inconclusive.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Georgia,Murder,Rape,USA

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1996: Larry Lonchar, bad gambler

1 comment November 14th, 2015 Headsman

Minutes after midnight on this date in 1996, Georgia electrocuted Larry Lonchar

Ten grand in the red on gambling debts, Lonchar in 1986 raided the home of the bookie he owed and gunned down that bookie, his female partner, and his two sons. (One of the sons survived by playing dead.)

A DeKalb county 911 call recorded the horrifying last moments of Margaret Sweat:

911: DeKalb Emergency 911.

Caller: Police.

911: What address?

Caller: [redacted]

911: What’s the problem?

Caller: Everybody’s been shot.

911: Who’s been shot?

Caller: Me — and —

911: With a gun?

Caller: Yes.

911: Who did it?

Caller: I don’t know.

911: Is that a house or an apartment?

Caller: It’s a condominium. . . .

911: Okay. Now you say everybody’s been shot, I already got you help on the way, but when you say everybody’s been shot, how many?

Caller: Uh, me.

911: Where are you shot at?

Caller: In the living room — I’ve crawled to the phone.

911: I mean what part of your body, Ma’am.

Caller: I think my stomach — they’re coming back in — please-(inaudible)

911: Who did it? Give me a description of them!

Caller: Why are you doing this. Please — (inaudible). Please, please, I don’t even know your name. Please — please Larry. I don’t even know your n –.

Lonchar had little stomach to fight a death sentence he acknowledged deserving — an execution date in 1993 had been averted only at the last moment when his brother’s suicide threat induced Lonchar to reluctantly pick up his appeals — and by the end he was holding out strangely for only a late delay. It seems that he wanted to donate his kidneys, but the wrack of the electrical chair promised to damage the tissue past using. That situation had even led Georgia lawmaker Doug Teper to introduce legislation to conduct executions by guillotine: say what you will about the iconic French razor, it’s easy on the organs.

The spectacle of legal beheadings was spared America, then and since — though who knows what may someday come of the ongoing breakdown of the lethal injection process.

Lonchar’s execution was witnessed by British human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who had come to represent him: Smith wrote about the experience for the Guardian here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Georgia,Murder,Pelf,USA,Volunteers

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1996: Antonio James, final judgment

1 comment March 1st, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Antonio James downed a last meal of fried oysters and crab gumbo, then went to the death chamber of Angola Prison to suffer lethal injection for the murder of Henry Silver.

Silver was a 70-year-old fellow whom James shot dead in a New Orleans robbery way back in 1979. (Net return: $35.) A few weeks later, he bungled another robbery and ended up shot with his own gun … and under arrest. It was his second murder conviction. Although James dodged 13 death dates and was the senior figure on the state’s death row when his time came, his was pretty unremarkable as death penalty cases go.

This did chance to be the first execution in Louisiana after the film Dead Man Walking (which is set in that state) was released, and it got a bit of additional media coverage as a consequence.

James’s last hours became the subject of the ABC Primetime Live documentary Final Judgment (or Judgment at Midnight). It’s a little hard to come by clips of this program online, but here’s one review, and here’s another. In it, the warden Burl Cain* described James’s execution.

Well, he was laying there, and then he kind of grabbed my hand, so I held his hand, and then I told him, ‘He’s waiting for us. Get ready, we’re going for the ride.’ And I said, ‘The angels are here.’ He kind of smiled, and he said, ‘Bless you.’ That’s the last words he said. And then I nodded my head to go ahead. He was holding my hand real tight. And then after a couple of minutes, he took about three or four deep breaths, and then he relaxed my hand. I do believe right now his soul is in heaven, and he’s OK. And since I believe that, it makes it easier.

* In the Angola memoir In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance by onetime Louisiana death row habitue turned prison journalist Wilbert Rideau, Cain comes off as a real camera-hound.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Theft,USA

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1996: Ravji Rao aka Ramchandra, on questionable jurisprudence

May 4th, 2013 Headsman

India’s recent re-entry into the death penalty club makes this an apt occasion to recall a past generation when that country was a somewhat more willing hangman than it has been in recent years.

Ravji was among India’s last hangings prior to the near-moratorium in India in the first years of the 21st century.

And considering India’s recent reputation for extreme deliberation, with death sentences routinely stuck in decades-long holding patterns, Ravji’s case was not at all typical. He hanged just two days shy of the third anniversary of his murder — the horrifying slaughter of his three children, his pregnant wife, and his neighbor, all for no discernible reason.

Death sentences in India have to be handed down only for the “rarest of the rare” crimes, but when a two-judge Supreme Court panel (India has a large high court which decides most cases without sitting en banc) heard the appeal in 1995, it had no trouble ruling this filicide easily qualified as rarest-rare. I mean, you’d think, right?

Funny thing.

The judgment in Ravji simply said that “it is the nature and gravity of the crime, but not the criminal, which are germane for consideration of appropriate punishment in a criminal trial.” If the crime is among the most awful murders known and creates “society’s cry for justice against against the criminal,” then it’s among the rarest of the rare: it doesn’t matter if the intent or mental state of the person who carried it out might have been in any way mitigated from full responsibility.

In 2009, the Supreme Court walked that interpretation back, acknowledging that Ravji aka Ramchandra v. State of Rajasthan flatly contravened pre-existing death penalty jurisprudence dating back to 1980* specifying that the characteristics of the criminal counted, too. “We are not oblivious that the Ravji case has been followed in at least six decisions of this Court in which death punishment has been awarded in [the] last nine years,” the judgment noted with some embarrassment. “But, in our opinion, it was rendered per incuriam (ignored the statute of law).”

Subsequent judgments have confirmed that re-reading, and a letter of retired justices even flatly called Ravji’s hanging (along with that of Surja Ram in 1997, under the same since-abandoned jurisprudence) “possibly the gravest known miscarriage of justice in the history of crime and punishment in independent India.”

* A case called Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab was the precedent Ravji erroneously ignored. Bachan Singh delineated several factors that should all be considered in weighing prospective “rarest of the rare” situations:

  1. the manner of the commission of the murder;
  2. the motive;
  3. the antisocial or socially abhorrent nature of the crime;
  4. the magnitude of the crime;
  5. the personality of the victim of murder

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,India,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Ripped from the Headlines,Wrongful Executions

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1996: Thomas Reckley, the first in Bahamas in 12 years

2 comments March 13th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Thomas Reckley was hanged in the Bahamas for a 1989 Nassau drug murder.

This execution was noteworthy as the first in 12 years in the Bahamas.*

It was also notable as the first since the British Privy Council’s 1993 Pratt and Morgan ruling. That decision held that keeping a condemned prisoner awaiting the gallows for more than five years constituted “cruel and inhumane treatment” sufficient to invalidate the death sentence.

In an uncomfortable holdover from the Empire, the Privy Council was then and still remains today the court of last resort for Commonwealth countries in the region. Therefore, Pratt and Morgan had the effect of making death sentences extremely difficult to carry out: the Privy Council itself dilated appeals (or at least, this was what irritated tough-on-crime types said), and also asserted a human rights standard requiring expedited appeals. In 1994, Trinidad & Tobago squared the hemp circle by hanging Glenn Ashby six days before the deadline even though his last Privy Council appeal was still pending. (It was granted … but too late.)

Sentenced to death on November 7, 1990, Reckley was clearly past the five-year pole when the Bahamas decided to hang him. (He’d received five stays of execution in his time.) This execution appears to be the first in the Caribbean that would fail to meet the Pratt and Morgan test.

* The last previous was William Armbrister on April 10, 1984, capping a period in the 1970s and early 1980s when the Bahamas saw routine hangings every year or two.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bahamas,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder

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1996: Lem Tuggle, Tim Kaine client

6 comments December 12th, 2012 Headsman

Tim Kaine, who governed the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2006 to 2010 and was just last month elected to the U.S. Senate, had a different service to perform on this date in 1996.

Kaine saw his client, double-murderer Lem Tuggle, to the Virginia execution chamber on December 12, 1996.

In 1983, fresh off parole for a 1971 homicide, Tuggle raped and shot 52-year-old Jessie Geneva Havens.

“From past experience, I would like to talk to an attorney,” he told the officer who arrested him. “I’ll probably tell you the full story later.”

In this selfsame spring of 1983, 25-year-old Timothy Michael Kaine was receiving his J.D. from Harvard Law. He moved to Richmond, Va., with his classmate Anne Holton, daughter of the state’s former governor.

Kaine and Holton married in 1984.

This was also an eventful year for the now-twice-convicted killer Lem Tuggle: together with five other condemned inmates, Tuggle sensationally busted out of Mecklenburg Correctional Center — capturing several prison guards, making up a phony bomb threat, and simply strolling out the gates in their stolen uniforms during the confusion.

The “Mecklenburg Six”* cast a terrifying pall in the headlines of June 1984; it took weeks to recapture them all. Tuggle, sensibly, made a bid for Canada’s death-penalty-free soil, only sparing Ottawa a major diplomatic headache when he stopped to rob a Vermont diner for gas money and got arrested.

Kaine’s path was destined to cross with this notorious convict, but not for some years yet. In the meantime, the idealistic young J.D. in his first year at the bar was getting acquainted with death row when he accepted a pro bono legal appointment to represent condemned killer Richard Lee Whitley.

A lifelong Catholic who had spent a youthful finding-himself year working at a mission in Honduras, Kaine was (and remains) a death penalty opponent. This would later prove a sticky wicket, but mid-1980s Kaine didn’t have a career in politics on his radar, as evidenced by his distinctly impolitic remark that “murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala, in Fairfax County … and even the Spring Street Penitentiary.”

Later, when he was in politics, Kaine would tell a reporter profiling him during the 2005 gubernatorial campaign that he didn’t want the assignment but would have felt like a “hypocrite” to refuse it. The Commonwealth was less easily overcome than Kaine’s scruples, and Whitley died in Virginia’s electric chair on June 6, 1987.

“I just remember sitting on my back step late and just having a couple of beers and just staring out at my backyard,” Kaine recalled of the night he lost his client.

Having had this first taste of failing with a man’s life on the line while being publicly vilified for his work, Kaine signed on to represent Tuggle in 1989.

By the time Tuggle’s legal rope ran out in 1996, Tim Kaine was a 38-year-old Richmond city council member — the trailhead for his new and now-familiar career in politics.

As Kaine elevated himself into a statewide figure in the early 2000s, his death penalty position came in for some controversy which Kaine finessed by taking the position that while he himself opposed capital punishment, he would enforce the state’s death penalty law in his capacity as governor.**

Death penalty stuff has ample third-rail potential, but especially in Kaine’s gubernatorial race, his own personal legal work at the defense bar became fodder for some truly repellent attack ads by the mouthbreather lobby who tried to put Kaine personally on the hook for Tuggle’s crimes by virtue of having represented the man in court.

* The other five were Linwood Briley, James Briley, Earl Clanton, Willie Leroy Jones, and Derick Peterson. All of these men were also executed.

** That was indeed the case. Gov. Kaine commuted only one death sentence, that of Percy Walton, while allowing 11 others to go forward. D.C. sniper John Muhammad was the most notorious man with Kaine’s signature on his death warrant.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Participants,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Virginia

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1996: John Martin Scripps, British serial killer

3 comments April 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1996, the first westerner hanged for murder in Singapore got his deserts in Changi Prison.

Mild-mannered John Martin Scripps had created a sensation in the city-state for turning South African tourist Gerard Lowe into a sack full of dismembered body parts at Clifford Pier.

“The tourist from hell” argued in defense that it had all been a gay panic after Lowe came onto him. Not a bit of it.

Turns out Scripps, recently absconded from British custody after his latest in a series of drug and theft arrests,* had used the same chop-shop m.o. on a Canadian mother and son in Thailand and, as with Lowe, leached their electronic assets thereafter.

(Ever the jet-setter, Scripps was also a suspect in three other murders — of two Brits in Central America and of an American male prostitute in San Francisco.)

“John disappeared on several trips and went to the United States and South-East Asia,” his Mexican ex-wife said later. “I knew something awful was happening, but I could not believe he had started killing people.”

After conviction, Scripps declined to appeal or petition for clemency, saying he wanted the law to take its course quickly. He was hanged alongside two drug traffickers.

* He’d learned butchery in prison — so well that he’d talked about opening a shop when he got out. Which is sort of what he did.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Serial Killers,Singapore,Volunteers

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1996: Richard Townes, Jr.

Add comment January 23rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1996, the executioners of Richard Townes, Jr., mucked about for 22 minutes looking for a vein before sticking the lethal injection needle into his foot. (Source)

The Vietnam veteran’s last words were murmured to the prison warden, an assertion of innocence in the execution-style murder of convenience store worker Virginia Goebel in 1985.

He didn’t have a lot of takers; even the de rigueur anti-death penalty protesters outside the prison were reportedly nowhere to be found.

Townes’s clemency push turned on a once common issue now largely passe: his trial jurors were concerned that the alternative “life” sentence might put the killer back on the street before his dotage. The panel asked the judge to clarify the matter, and in 1985, the judge wasn’t allowed to answer the question — even though the real answer was a reassuring “life means life.” In most jurisdictions, jurors are now entitled to know that information.

Once they got off the jury and found out the answer, two of Townes’s jurors regretted the death sentence sufficiently to sign affidavits opposing Townes’s execution.

“I would not have sentenced Mr. Townes to death had I known that a life sentence meant that he would have really served a life sentence and not been eligible for parole,” juror Ethel Keith said in an affidavit. “In fact, I do not believe any of the jurors would have sentenced him to die under those circumstances.” (Virginian-Pilot, Jan. 23, 1996)

On this day..

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

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1996: Ebbisaa Addunyaa, extrajudicially executed

1 comment August 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Oromo singer Ebbissaa Addunyaa was slain in his Addis Ababa home.

He “appeared to have been extrajudicially executed on suspicion of supporting the OLF,” according to Amnesty International. “No investigations were known to have taken place into allegations of torture, ”disappearance” or extrajudicial execution.”

“Extrajudicial execution” is a category challenge for these pages; Ebbisaa Addunyaa was not tried for anything, never mind convicted. His “execution” was a close cousin to simple murder … but a murder carried out by state security forces, targeting him specifically, and acting, if not under color of law, at least with legal impunity.

Ebbisaa and his friend Tana Wayessa

were at Ebbisaa’s home … north of the American Embassy in Addis Ababa, when gunmen burst in. Eyewitnesses claim the bodies were dragged from the house and put in a Land Rover with a government license plate. The security men, who carried out the murders, first cleared the street. Residents who looked out of their houses after the gunfire were told to get back indoors. The bodies were recovered [the] next day from the morgue at the Menelik II hospital.

All this took place in the turbulent 1990s wake of the collapsed Derg dictatorship. An initial multiparty post-Derg coalition government had included the Oromo Liberation Front — an organization upholding the rights of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group — but the OLF soon withdrew from the coalition.

Ebbisaa was an OLF cadre who used his musical gifts for advocacy, and became a target when the outlawed OLF was forced underground.

A United Nations “Special Rapporteur” monitors “Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions” for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Many of the Special Rapporteur’s reports dating back to the 1990s are available on the website of NYU’s Project on Extrajudicial Executions, and the 1997 country report (pdf) for Ethiopia reveals that Ebbisaa’s execution/assassination/murder was only one in a pattern.

The Special Rapporteur transmitted the following allegations of violations of the right to life concerning 16 identified persons and 13 unidentified persons: Ahmed Good Abdi, Ahmed Sanay Farah, Ahmed Sangaab and Hassan Ahmed Sagal, reportedly arrested and killed on 8 August 1996 in Toon-Ceeley by members of the Ethiopian armed forces; Ebissa Addunya, a singer and musician, and Tana Wayessa, reportedly shot and killed on 30 August 1996 by members of the Ethiopian security forces in the former’s house in Addis Ababa; 4 unidentified persons reportedly killed on 8 August 1996 in Gabababo; Awal Idire, aged 16, Awal Sani, aged 13, Badiri Shaza, aged 12, and Usen Kalu, aged 12, reportedly killed on 20 July 1996 by members of the Ethiopian armed forces because they had the initials of the Oromo Liberation Front tattooed on their hands; Mohamed Arabi Hirsi, Abdi Mohamed Yare, Gahnug Yusuf Aare, Mohamed Aw Farah Ga’iye, Haye Hirad, alleged to be tribal chiefs and clan elders, reportedly killed on 18 July 1996 by members of the Ethiopian armed forces; Sarecya Seerar Mohamed, her newborn child and eight other unidentified individuals, reportedly killed in mid-August 1996 by members of the Ethiopian armed forces in Qabridaharre (30 September 1996).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Ethiopia,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Wrongful Executions

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1996: William Flamer, Alito’d

Add comment January 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1996, William Flamer was executed for murder in Delaware.

He’s a forgettable criminal who, with an accomplice executed 19 months before, robbed and stabbed to death Flamer’s elderly aunt and uncle.

He has his small footnote in modern American death penalty jurisprudence in a case decided by then-circuit court judge Samuel Alito, which was — er — exhumed when President George W. Bush elevated Alito to the Supreme Court.

The matter was, to all but the initiated, a fairly picayune legal issue: if the jury that imposed his sentence used an aggravating factor subsequently found to be unconstitutional, could the sentence stand with the multiple other, constitutional aggravating factors it also used?

Little compelling as the issue might sound to all but the already converted, this sort of salami-slicing goes on justices’ daily bread to make up the great hero sandwich of jurisprudence. Mmm-mmm.

Anyway, the State of the Union head-shaker held — as Flamer’s presence in this blog would suggest — against the appellant.

Pdf examinations of Flamer v. Delaware (and other Alito death penalty legal opinions) prepared around the justice’s confirmation hearing are available from the Congressional Research Service and from the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, the latter a pro-death penalty source.

(This decision also affected fellow Delaware death row inmate Billy Bailey, whom we have just met as the last man hanged in that state. Flamer could have had that distinction for himself; he chose lethal injection instead, and died four days after Bailey hanged.)

On this day..

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

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