1999: Andrew Kokoraleis, the last ever in Illinois?

6 comments March 17th, 2011 Headsman

There was certainly no cause when killer Andrew Kokoraleis suffered lethal injection at 12:34 this afternoon to suppose that his would be the last execution in the illustrious history of Illinois.

Against all odds, however, it was the last.

Illinois has had plenty of poster boys for death penalty foes — Rolando Cruz; the Ford Heights Four — but Andrew Kokoraleis was hardly among them.

As a member of a satanic murder cult branded the Ripper Crew, he’d participated in abducting, raping, mutilating, murdering, and cannibalizing prostitutes under the charismatic sway of one Robin Gecht.*

The exploits of Gecht, Edward Spreitzer, and brothers Andrew and Thomas Kokoraleis in the Dark Lord’s services are nauseatingly recounted at trutv.com and the spellbinding true-crime book Deadly Thrills.

By the time Andrew Kokoraleis’s appeals had wended their way through the courts, it was high tide for capital punishment in the United States: a modern record 98 executions were carried out in 1999; a Texas governor best-known to the general public for his prodigious execution output was lining up the White House bid that would hurl America into much deadlier pastimes; a law stripping condemned prisoners of federal appellate avenues had just been passed with overwhelming support. Even liberal Democrats dared not touch the divisive issue of capital punishment for fear of appearing soft on crime.

Though sub-Texan in its gurney output, the Land of Lincoln was cranking out a consistent 1 to 2 executions per year in the late 1990’s. It had just inaugurated a Republican governor who as a lawmaker had voted to reinstitute that state’s death penalty statute. Illinois held well over 100 death row prisoners, including one of Kokoraleis’s own confederates from the Ripper Crew.

So the 21st century figured to present an ample harvest for the Illinois death chamber.

Even as Ryan’s graft-plagued term was beginning, however, the executioner’s swan song was underway.

Just days into Ryan’s term, a man named Anthony Porter, who had avoided execution by the narrowest of margins the year before, walked out of Illinois death row a free man — exonerated by the efforts of a Northwestern University journalism class.

“I turned to my wife, and I said, how the hell does that happen? How does an innocent man sit on death row for 15 years and gets no relief? And that piqued my interest, Anthony Porter.”

-George Ryan

Ryan okayed the execution of Kokoraleis six weeks later, but the piqued governor would soon impose an executive moratorium on further executions.

Ryan’s personal journey on the death penalty during his four years in the governor’s office, as linked to his state’s journey over the past decades, must be one of the rare operatic sagas in modern American political life.

Days before he left office (bound for trial on federal corruption charges, and thence to prison), George Ryan emptied death row in Illinois — including a commutation to Ripper Crew member Edward Spreitzer.

Because our three year study has found only more questions about the fairness of the sentencing; because of the spectacular failure to reform the system; because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates with potentially meritorious claims; because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious – and therefore immoral – I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.

I cannot say it more eloquently than Justice Blackmun.

The legislature couldn’t reform it.

Lawmakers won’t repeal it.

But I will not stand for it.

I must act.

Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error, error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die.

This move drew plenty of criticism, but the George Ryan death penalty moratorium persisted through the terms of his successors.

Finally, legislators did repeal it.

Early in 2011, longstanding efforts to push that moratorium into formal abolition finally bore fruit in the state legislature. After a protracted silence on the matter, Gov. Pat Quinn** finally — just eight days ago as of this posting — signed that legislation into law, simultaneously commuting all the state’s then-existing death sentences.

Naturally, no government can bind its successors, and laws eliminated today might be reinstated tomorrow. But for now and for the foreseeable future, this date in 1999 marks the final destination not just for Andrew Kokoraleis — but for the Illinois executioner.

* To magnify this troupe’s outsized crime-tabloid appeal, Gecht, the leader, had actually worked for legendary serial sex-killer John Wayne Gacy.

** In earlier years, Quinn was a political rival of George Ryan.

On this day..

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

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1999: Zarmeena

4 comments November 16th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1999,* a burka-clad woman known only as Zarmeena (alternatively, Zarmina … or in some early reports, Zareena) was executed by gunshot in Kabul’s Ghazi Sports Stadium.

This first public execution of a woman under the Taliban — ordered because she had supposedly killed her husband** — was secretly filmed by a Revolutionary Association of the Woman of Afghanistan activist smuggling a camera under her own burka.

Caution: This video is (in)famous enough, thanks to its inclusion in the documentary Beneath the Veil, that you’ve probably already seen it. But it’s still a graphic image of a woman shot through the head at point-blank range. (From around 2:20)

The book With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan expands somewhat on RAWA’s calculations on this occasion, on the young activist who pulled off the risky filming, and on the purportedly hostile-to-the-Taliban crowd reaction.

* Some web resources give Nov. 17 as the date, but all the (admittedly limited) primary documentation available appears to me to point definitively to Nov. 16. RAWA, which shot the video, posts it with this date; wire copy that ran in western papers on Nov. 16 (here) and Nov. 17 (here) attributed the execution to Nov. 16.

** It’s not clear to me how dependable the information about the executee is; it’s said that she had been in prison well over a year but was rather suddenly executed for the Taliban’s exigent reasons of public intimidation. It’s also said that her husband’s family forgave her — which, under sharia as practiced by, e.g., Saudi Arabia, ought to have spared her life — and that Zarmeena herself may not have understood or believed that she was actually going to be executed until the very last moment.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Known But To God,Mature Content,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Women

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1999: Zein al-Abidine al-Mihdar, Yemeni terrorist

2 comments October 17th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1999, Yemen executed (in its own inimitable style) terrorist Zein al-Abidine al-Mihdar, for orchestrating a kidnapping of western tourists.

A Xerox executive among the party of kidnapped tourists relates her post-captivity search to understand her ordeal.

The drama had unfolded in December of 1998, when a convoy of 16 (mostly British) foreign tourists spending the traditional Christmas in Yemen was seized by the Islamic terrorist group Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan.

The very next day, a massive Yemeni army raid busted up the kidnappers and freed the hostages — all, except for the four who were killed in the affray.

Tried for the kidnapping (a capital crime itself) and those resulting deaths — although some victims slated the army and its aggressive response for those lost souls — three men were condemned death.

“The only dialogue,” al-Mihdar told his judges, “should be with bullets.” And so for him, a bullet had the last word. (The other two condemned men drew commutations.)


Al-Mihdar’s followers promised revenge were he executed. Given that the Islamic Army of Aden claimed responsibility for the 2000 bombing of the American warship USS Cole while it refueled at Aden — Khalid Almihdhar, one of the 9/11 hijackers allegedly affiliated with the IAA, participated — it might well have done just that. (However, the IAA as a distinct terrorist entity petered out in the 2000s.)

By the by, the U.S. is basically at war in Yemen now. Better still: that tribal country is also a proving-grounds for brave new assertions of heretofore undiscovered American presidential prerogatives, like the right to assassinate other Americans.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Kidnapping,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Terrorists,Yemen

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1999: Dole Chadee, crime lord

2 comments June 4th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1999, crime lord Dole Chadee hanged at the prison in Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago … to be swiftly followed by two members of his narco-trafficking syndicate, with six more of their number set to die over the succeeding 72 hours.

A big-time mover of cocaine and therefore a big man in the former British colony, Chadee — “Nankissoon Boodram” to his parents — was recognizable for a generation for his slick coiffure, mirrored shades, and greased-palm untouchability.

He greased plenty of people, too.

Maybe it was only consequence of losing the traffic’s underground turf war that made the fatal crimes politically possible to prosecute. Whatever it was, the murder outraged of a small-time cog in his network — and the cog’s sister — and their parents — outraged a public weary of rampant drug violence.

So most of his countrymen were pleased to see Chadee swing, and little wonder: this hombre was bad enough to get the chief witness against him assassinated while behind prison walls.

In fact, Chadee led an active life in the criminal underworld from the shadow of the gallows. Chadee’s own brother was kidnapped for ransom in a gangland tit-for-tat episode while the boss awaited the rope. Dole Chadee refused to have it paid, and the brother was murdered.

And there was family drama on the other side of the legal briefs, too.

The hangings were secured by the aggressive action of Attorney General — and former anti-death penalty lawyer — Ramesh Maharaj. During the very time he was getting the noose around Dole Chadee’s neck, Maharaj’s own brother was on death row in Florida (the sentence has since been reduced to life imprisonment).

There were fears (or hopes!) that the Caribbean island’s breakthrough executions could open the floodgates for “hundreds” held up by legal rigmarole and the picky oversight (pdf) of the British Privy Council. In the event, however, actual executions in Trinidad and Tobago remain a very rare phenomenon.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Organized Crime,Trinidad and Tobago

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1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis, the end of the road for Old Sparky

48 comments July 8th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1999, America’s obesity epidemic met Florida’s death penalty politics in the ugly electrocution of Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis.

The reader will discern that Tiny earned his nickname ironically. Reportedly 159 kg (350 pounds) at his death, he’d put his ample heft to work bludgeoning a pregnant mother of two beyond recognition with a revolver handle back in 1982 … and then shooting to death the now-motherless two.

As his appeals meandered through the courts, Davis got fatter — and got high blood pressure, arthritis, hypertension and a wheelchair. Meanwhile, the death penalty was meandering its own way across the weird political chessboard of the Sunshine State.

For the American death penalty nowadays, it’s Texas and then everyone else … but time was that Florida was the capital of capital punishment.

It conducted the first “modern” involuntary execution in 1979. It had carried out three executions before anyone else had more than one. And when the the drip-drip-drip pace of one or two execution nationwide per year in the early 1980’s finally burst into a torrent, Florida led the way with eight of the 21 executions in 1984.

Not until late in 1986 did Texas overtake Florida in the body count sweepstakes.

All that time, Florida was happily using its vintage electric chair, Old Sparky (one of several electric chairs with that moniker), built in 1923 of 100% oak wood and prison labor. And the more the chair’s quasi-medieval ickiness drove other states to lethal injection, the more Floridians cherished electrocution.

Law-and-order Tampa mayor Bob Martinez won the governorship in 1986 on the promise that “Florida’s electric bill will go up.” There was a high-profile botch in 1990, and another in 1997 — flames shooting from the inmates’ heads. What was the state’s Attorney General going to do about it? “People who wish to commit murder, they’d better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with the electric chair.” Under pressure to move to lethal injection — the chair’s unsightly malfunctions were spawning legal and public relations nightmares that were gumming up the gears — the legislature voted nearly unanimously to keep Old Sparky.

And then along came a giant.

After three-quarters of a century and 266 jobs, Old Sparky was “falling apart” … and that was going to be a problem for a man of Davis’ carriage.

The killer’s lawyers argued that Davis was so fat he couldn’t conduct electricity efficiently and would be slowly cooked to death. According to Slate, Florida authorities were nervous that he’d break the chair during his electrocution and send a disconnected live cable scything into someone else in the room.

It was time for the unthinkable: Florida retired Old Sparky and built a new chair … and supersized it. (Image, from the Florida Department of Corrections)

And it worked, in that it killed Tiny. But what a mess — especially when an ensuing Florida Supreme Court opinion once again upheld the constitutionality of electrocution, and a dissenting judge attached the photos on this page to his opinions. Naturally, they became a grisly Internet sensation.

Old Sparky’s custom-built successor would only manage this single execution before Florida finally got on the lethal injection bandgurney.

Or at least, it’s only managed one so far. Old electric chairs don’t die, they just fade away … and in Florida, Tiny Davis’s chair remains available for condemned prisoners who choose it. Since this date in 1999, none have.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Florida,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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