1998: Faisal Saleh bin Zuba’a, speedy trial

Add comment October 14th, 2017 Headsman

From Executions in Yemen, 1998-2001:

October 14 [1998]: Faisal Saleh bin Zuba’a, a tribesman, executed two days after killing a local pediatrician. In an unusually fast trial, the man was found guilty of killing Dr. Mohammad Hayel while trying to steal his car. Reuters quoted an official as saying: “Citizens in Marib who attended the execution opened fire in the air expressing their happiness that justice had been done.”

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1998: Cheung Tze-keung, Hong Kong kidnapper

Add comment December 5th, 2016 Headsman

Hong Kong gangster Cheung Tze-keung was shot with four accomplices on this date in 1998.

Unsubtly nicknamed “Big Spender”, Cheung financed his bankbusting lifestyle with big-ticket heists and elite kidnappings, even threatening the Guinness world record by “earning” a $138 million ransom for the son of tycoon Li Ka-shing. (Cheung had the chutzpah to then solicit Li’s investment advice.)

After a (different) failed kidnapping, Cheung ducked into mainland China to lay low for a spell; he was arrested there in early 1998, months after his Hong Kong stomping-grounds had been transferred to Chinese sovereignty.

Although the man’s guilt was not merely plain but legend, his case was a controversial one when it became an early bellwether for Hong Kong’s judicial independence. Cheung was put on trial for his Hong Kong robbery and kidnapping spree not in Hong Kong but in Guangzhou, the neighboring mainland city — seemingly in order to subject him China’s harsher criminal justice system. (Among other differences, Hong Kong does not have the death penalty.)

“A crime — that of kidnapping certain Hong Kong tycoons — allegedly committed in Hong Kong by some Hong Kong residents [was] tried in the Guangzhou court,” one prominent Hong Kong lawyer explained. “Is it surprising that Hong Kong people are alarmed and ask how is this permissible?”

But if possession is nine-tenths of the law, the Guangzhou authorities had all the permission they could need — the criminal’s own person.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Hong Kong,Kidnapping,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Pelf,Shot,Theft

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1998: Jonathan Wayne Nobles

6 comments October 7th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1998, Jonathan Nobles was executed in Texas for a double murder — choked off by the lethal drugs as he sang the words “…sweetmother and child” in the Christmas hymn “Silent Night”.

On parole for theft, the drug-addled former electrician Nobles broke into an Austin home on September 13, 1986 wielding a 5.5-inch knife and turned it into a scene of carnage.

Nobles knifed to death two young women, 21-year-old Mitzi Nalley and 24-year-old Kelly Farquhar; when Mitzi’s boyfriend, Ron Ross, attempted to come to their aid, Nobles stabbed him 19 times. Ross survived but lost an eye in the attack.

Nobles confessed and was convicted with ease. This is very obviously not a happy story (few are, on this here site) because two innocent humans were destroyed in the bloom of youth, and a third paid for the crime with his own life. But the journey of redemption and forgiveness undertaken thereafter by both Nobles and at least some of those whose lives he devastated cannot help but inspire.*

The Nobles of death row — the man who was finally executed, 12 years after the crime — was at the last a hard man to hate. He converted on death row to Catholicism, eventually becoming a lay preacher. Murder, of course, is such a great crime because in the end the loss is eternal and can never really be repaired or compensated. Nevertheless, it was clear to all those who knew him that Nobles’s remorse, his change, was deep and genuine.

“I don’t think I’m the monster who perpetrated these terrible acts,” Nobles said not long before his execution. “Nothing I can do for a thousand years can relieve me of my responsibility.”

Mitzi Nalley’s mother, Paula Kurland, made an even more dramatic journey from the other side of that horrible night in Austin. Kurland decided that she needed to forgive her daughter’s killer in order to release the bitterness of his crime.

“You forgive because it frees you,” she said. “Hopefully, one day, it will free the offender, but that’s not the reason you do it. You do it because it frees you.”

Kurland eventually met Nobles face to face — “the hardest thing I ever did, second only to burying my child.”

I went against my whole family, but I knew that if I didn’t tell Jonathan I had forgiven him, I would be a prisoner for the rest of my life. And I couldn’t live with that. …

I never wanted to ask him why. That was never important to me. What was important was that I have the opportunity to give him back the responsibility for the devastation and pain and destruction that he brought into a lot of people’s lives.

The singer-songwriter (and longtime anti-death penalty activist) Steve Earle, who befriended Nobles, was one of the witnesses to his execution.** Earle quoted his friend’s last statement, addressing most of those present by name, thus:

I know some of you won’t believe me, but I am truly sorry for what I have done. I wish that I could undo what happened back then and bring back your loved ones, but I can’t. [to Paula Kurland] I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wish I could bring her back to you. [to Ron Ross] And Ron … I took so much from you. I’m sorry. I know you probably don’t want my love, but you have it.

[to Steve Earle] Steve, I can’t believe that I had to go through all this to see you in a suit coat. Hey man, don’t worry about the phone number, bro. You’ve done so much. I love you. [to his own aunt] Dona, thank you for being here. I know it was hard for you. I love you. [to a British pen pal] Pam, thank you for coming from so far away. Thanks for all you have done. I love you. Bishop Carmody, thank you so much. Reverend Lopez and you, Father Walsh, I love you all. I have something I want to say. It comes from I Corinthians. …

The verse he then recited from memory, the “love is …” passage of 1 Corinthians 13, is all that’s reported on Texas’s “last statements” website.

Earle’s song “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song)” is inspired by Jonathan Nobles.

* These attempts by both offender and victim to alleviate the spiritual injury inflicted by the crime exemplify restorative justice, an approach to crime and justice that emphasizes healing over punishment.

** “I don’t think I’ll ever recover from [seeing Nobles executed]. I have absolute waking nightmares about it.” –Earle

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

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1998: Twenty-four Sierra Leone rebels

Add comment October 19th, 2013 Headsman

Fifteen years ago today, thousands of Freetown residents piled into a stone quarry on the outskirts of the Sierra Leone capital to cheer the firing squad executions of two dozen soldiers linked to the previous year’s coup.

In an episode of Sierra Leone’s intractable 1990s civil war, the government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown in 1997 by a military clique in alliance with the murderous Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

This was the height of Sierra Leone’s “blood diamond” chaos, and the RUF had earned an international reputation for savagery in exploiting this lucrative trade — most vividly symbolized by thousands of civilians whose arms or legs were chopped off in an effort to induce population flight away from the diamond mines it intended to control.

The RUF lived down to its terrifying reputation when it marched into Freetown with its military allies in May 1997. Disorderly gangs brandishing AK-47s looted buildings in Freetown* as President Kabbah fled the country.

The oppressive putsch was short-lived: Nigerian-backed intervention reversed the coup early in 1998, causing the RUF to melt back into the bush.**

The Freetown populace’s enthusiasm for revenge against the rebels is to be understood in this light. Those shot at the quarry this date included some major figures in the coup, according to the New York Times: “Brig. Samuel Koroma, a former chief of defense staff and the elder brother of the junta leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, who is a fugitive, and Cpl. Tamba Gborie, the man who announced the coup. The junta secretary general, Col. Abdul Karim Sesay, was also executed.”

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights later found Sierra Leone in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights for denying the soldiers a “right of appeal to competent national organs” which “falls short of the requirement of the respect for fair trial standards expected of such courts.” Sierra Leone was so little perturbed by the non-binding and unenforceable ruling that it didn’t even bother defending itself against the complaint.

* Dubbed “Operation Pay Yourself”.

** They weren’t done by a long shot. In January 1999, the RUF’s more systematically homicidal “Operation No Living Thing” attack on Freetown claimed 7,000 lives, half of them civilians.

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1998: 22 for the Rwanda genocide

Add comment April 24th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1998, 22 people were tied to wooden stakes in five different cities around Rwanda, then shot dead for their participation in the horrific 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Rwanda had, only shortly before, reversed a ban on public executions — clearly with this date’s spectacle in mind.

A Washington Post reporter described the scene in the capital city of Kigali, where 7,000 to 10,000 witnesses saw the three men and a woman put to death on Nyamirambo Stadium‘s red clay football pitch.

dressed in pale pink uniforms, under a sun that had just driven away a covering of gray clouds.

Four masked police officers leaped from a truck and sprinted to within feet of the black-square targets on the criminals’ chests.

As bullets from AK-47s shredded the prisoners, a sudden sharp silence descended on the crowd. Then a fifth marksman shot each prisoner in the head at point-blank range. Twice.

One man sprinted and danced when the shooting stopped. Women ululated.

A man named Andrew, 45, clapped lustily. “God is great!” he cried.

(Here’s another first-person account of the same execution.)

Among those dying before their eyes that day was the politician Froduald Karamira, once the vice president of the Rwandan Republican Democratic Movement and a prime mover in the 1994 genocide.

Although Karamira was actually born a Tutsi, he “converted” into a Hutu* and how. He established himself as a leading exponent of “Hutu Power” — the chilling banner under which upwards of a million Rwandans were slaughtered — and had control of two of the radio stations inciting Hutu death squads to their bloody work.

According to Hands Off Cain, these are the last executions ever carried out in Rwanda before it abolished the death penalty in 2007.

“Our experience in Rwanda has demonstrated that abolishing the death penalty gave new lease on life and this has contributed to the healing of our society,” said long-serving Rwanda President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi. “Rwandans have achieved a degree of unity and reconciliation, unimagina­ble just a decade and a half ago because a culture of forgiveness — not vengeance — has taken root.”

* Rwanda’s ethnic categories are notoriously artificial.

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1998: Wissam Issa and Hassan Abu Jabal

Add comment May 19th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1998,* Wissam Issa and Hassan Jabal were shockingly hanged in public in Tabarja, Lebanon.

Executions hadn’t seen the outside of prison walls in that country for 15 years at that time — back when there was a civil war on.

But Issa and Jabal were condemned for a home burgling attempt gone wrong(er): when the owners unexpectedly returned, Issa fled — but Jabal gunned them down. They both answered for the murders.

Marched out onto a somewhat jerry-built hanging platform (Issa was stoic; Jabal, unmanned), the two died at dawn before a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 spectators … and plenty of cameras. The grisly proceedings made the nightly news, of course.

“It was horrible,” one Tabarja woman remembered. “The kids were playing at hanging each other afterwards at school.”

Oddly enough, it was also the last hanging (private or public) for over five more years to come. Later in 1998, a staunch death penalty foe became Prime Minister, and refused to approve any execution warrants.

* Reports of May 25 instead of May 19 are out there, but that’s easily disproven by, e.g., this Robert Fisk dispatch on the hanging which saw print on May 21, 1998.

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1998: Kenneth Allen McDuff, Texas nightmare

20 comments November 17th, 2010 Mary OGrady

(Thanks to Mary O’Grady for the guest post. -ed.)

Kenneth Allen McDuff grew from the small-time bully of tiny Rosebud, Texas, to a feared and reviled killer finally apprehended with the help of the America’s Most Wanted television series. By the time of his execution on November 17, 1998, he stood as a symbol of how the best-intentioned prison reforms could bring the most hideous results.*

In 1966, on parole for a string of burglaries, McDuff was first sentenced to death for the brutal murder of three teenagers he kidnapped and killed. The female member of the trio was sexually abused and raped for hours before McDuff used a broomstick to snap her neck “just like you’d kill a possum,” in the words of Falls County Sheriff Brady Pamplin, one of the first generation of Central Texas lawmen to deal with McDuff.

He remained on death row until 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman vs. Georgia struck down all death penalty statutes in the United States. McDuff’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which left the possibility of parole.

A rape and attempted murder for which McDuff was never prosecuted resulted in a daughter who at the age of 21 visited McDuff in prison. Her visits ceased after McDuff described his fantasy of taking her to Las Vegas and pimping her out to earn himself a fortune.

A prisoner’s fifteen-page handwritten lawsuit, Ruiz vs. Estelle, exposed conditions in Texas prisons which proved unconstitutionally inhumane, including the use of inmates as guards. (McDuff ascended to the position of boss over fellow convicts following his exit from death row into the general prison population; his perks included a “gal-boy” who traded the usual personal services for McDuff’s protection from white supremacist former gang associates whom he had offended.) Ruling in the Ruiz case, Federal Judge William Wayne Justice placed the Texas prison system under the control of a Special Master and ordered that traditional prison overcrowding must cease.

The Texas parole board was ordered to release 150 prisoners a day, to reduce the prison population to the 50,000 for which there was adequate capacity. Despite a 1982 conviction for attempted bribery of a parole board member, McDuff made parole in early October of 1989. Waco’s U.S. Marshall Parnell McNamara could only ask, “Have they gone crazy?”

Author Gary Lavergne also maintains McDuff information on his website, including this collection of photos and this list of victims.

Kenneth Allen McDuff was a rarity on Texas’s death row: He was a son of the middle class among the poorest of the poor. On parole, his family furnished him with motor vehicles as needed, and a credit card so that he would not have to carry cash in his chancy, drug-ridden haunts along the Interstate 35 corridor of Central Texas.

Even a new arrest in July 1990, after he chased and threatened some black teenagers and then spewed racist invective at his parole revocation hearing, did not suffice to return him to prison. Six women, three of them drug-addicted prostitutes, have been verified as murder victims of Kenneth McDuff between his parole date in 1989 and his arrest as a fugitive in Kansas City on May 4, 1992; there may well be others whose identities will never be known.

McDuff was tried for the abductions and murders of Melissa Northrup, a convenience store clerk, and Colleen Reed, an accountant. He was convicted and sentenced to death in both cases.

Parole requirements for violent Texas criminals were stiffened substantially as a direct result of McDuff’s career, by the regulations of the parole board and by the Texas Legislature. (The statutes are known as the McDuff Laws.) McDuff by all accounts became the most hated man in the Texas prison system; once returned to death row, he was held in administrative segregation for his own protection from his latest arrival in 1993 until his execution.

Progressive Democrat Ann Richards was Governor of Texas at the time of McDuff’s last trial. A recovering alcoholic, she created an unprecedented emphasis on drug and alcohol treatment for Texas prisoners, the overwhelming majority of whose crimes involved substance abuse of one kind or another. No one appreciated the irony more than she: a governor dedicated to rehabilitation of prisoners was forced to kick off the biggest prison building spree in Texas history, to comply with the federal court’s orders on prison overcrowding while trying to ensure that Texas would never again see the likes of Kenneth Allen McDuff.

It took six years for law enforcement officers to persuade McDuff that his continued refusal to reveal where he had hidden the bodies of several of his victims offered him no sort of advantage. Some remains were located by means of hand-drawn maps, but maps did not suffice in every case. A few days before his execution, an unusual excursion party set out from the Ellis I prison outside Huntsville: a caravan of unmarked cars with dark-tinted glass carried McDuff, locked to a back seat and disguised with a baseball cap, on a “clandestine high security move.” Never allowed out of the car, McDuff directed investigators to the shallow grave of Colleen Reed, whom he kidnapped from an Austin car wash on December 29, 1991. Shortly thereafter, McDuff’s nephew received a reduction in his sentence for drug dealing.

McDuff never expressed remorse for any of his crimes. A lifetime of cheap beer and needle drug abuse was catching up to his liver when he climbed on the Walls Unit gurney on November 17, 1998. His last words: “I am ready to be released. Release me.”

* See Gary Cartwright’s “Free to Kill” Texas Monthly, Aug. 1992, Vol. 20, Issue 8, p. 90.

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1998: Cao Haixin, unwelcome meddler

Add comment September 25th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1998, the execution grounds settled a local political rivalry in China.

According to an upsetting 1999 Los Angeles Times feature, Cao Haixin had lately governed a small village that was being swallowed up by the sprawling Zhengzhou metropolis.

The previous village chief, Cao Xinbao, had profiteered gleefully from his run at the top with sweetheart deals on rapidly appreciating real estate for himself and his connections.

Cao Haixin, a reformist farmer, beat Cao Xinbao at the polls in 1995 and set about making unwelcome inquiries into the whereabouts of millions of yuan … at which point a goon squad of the ancien regime led by Cao Xinbao’s own brother actually invaded Cao Haixin’s home looking to intimidate or murder him. No subtlety needed.

Instead, the mayor grabbed a hunting rifle and killed his predecessor’s brother in the affray.

Astonishingly, Cao Haixin was the man arrested for this incident, and sentenced to death in a provincial court seemingly stacked with Cao Xinbao allies. A Zhengzhou municipal judge reportedly told one of the condemned man’s many supporters that local village officials had on a full-court press for execution as the case worked its way through the system.

Eventually — after a few cycles of appeals to the Supreme Court, which in turn fruitlessly referred inquiries back to those very village officials who wanted him dead — Cao Haixin was executed in secret. The next day’s news announcement reported nine executions, but listed only eight names.

The problem, analysts say, is that the national and provincial governments are dependent on local strongmen such as Cao Xinbao to implement the state’s basic rural policies concerning land, grain and taxes. Local cadres’ control of these policies affords them ample opportunities to line their own pockets.

These strongmen often wear the multiple hats of local clan leader, village chief and party boss. They often have a corrosive influence on China’s fledgling village election system, leaving peasants with little recourse to justice.

Today, the faith of many of the villagers–faith in the law, in China’s future and in themselves–lies shattered.

Cao Haixin’s widow and 14-year-old daughter struggle to survive. Many of the villagers, lawyers and journalists who fought for more than two years to stop Cao’s execution remain depressed and cowed.

“I feel powerless and frustrated,” said one of Cao’s lawyers. “I ask myself, did I help to deceive the masses by even participating in this sham trial?”

Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1999

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1998: David Wilson

Add comment July 20th, 2010 Headsman

Just after dawn this date in 1998, David Wilson was hanged for murdering a security guard in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Wilson was only the second person executed by the tiny Caribbean nation since it achieved independence in 1983, and he would be the last hanged there until 2008.

The execution of this run-of-the-mill criminal attracted particular attention as a hempen protest against death penalty skeptics on the bench of the British Privy Council. Especially in the 1990s (and since) the exercise by this high court of the commonwealth of an excessively persnickety supervision of Caribbean death sentences attracted regional backlash against colonial meddling for hampering local response to violent crime. (See also the contemporaneous Trinidad and Tobago case of Dole Chadee.)

Wilson was controversially hanged before he submitted his appeal to the Privy Council.

In a bid to shore up national sovereignty, Caribbean countries were even then hammering out a Caribbean Court of Justice to replace these distant and unaccountable magistrates. However, official adoption of the CCJ has been halting.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,St. Kitts and Nevis

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