2005: Kenneth Boyd, the 1,000th modern execution in the U.S.

Add comment December 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Kenneth Lee Boyd died to lethal injection in Florida. His was the 1,000th execution conducted in the so-called “modern” death penalty era in the United States.

“I’d hate to be remembered as that,” Boyd said of his prospective milestone distinction. “I don’t like the idea of being picked as a number.”

He’d not needed a number to fight in Vietnam thirty-odd years before: he volunteered, and worked heavy equipment under fire, which his attorneys would later argue made him a PTSD victim.

The victims of the PTSD victim were his estranged wife Julie Curry Boyd and Julie’s father Thomas Dillard Curry, both of whom he gunned down with a .357 magnum in the presence of his and Julie’s three children back in 1988. Then he called 911 with the report, “I’ve shot my wife and her father — come on and get me.” In his voluntary confession upon surrender to the responding officers, he invoked the ghost of his youth’s imperial war.

It was just like I was in Vietnam. I pulled the gun out and started shooting. I think I shot Dillard one time and he fell. Then I walked past him and into the kitchen and living room area. The whole time I was pointing and shooting. Then I saw another silhouette that I believe was Julie come out of the bedroom. I shot again, probably several times. Then I reloaded my gun. I dropped the empty shell casings onto the floor. As I reloaded, I heard someone groan, Julie I guess. I turned and aimed, shooting again. My only thoughts were to shoot my way out of the house. I kept pointing and shooting at anything that moved.

The press comments from people linked by kinship to this horror make heartbreaking reading. This excerpt is from the New York Times report:

As to the provision of justice, Marie Curry, who lost her husband and her daughter when Mr. Boyd shot them 17 years ago, said she was at a loss to provide any answers. “I really don’t know,” she said.

Mrs. Curry raised Mr. Boyd’s three sons, Christopher, Jamie, and Daniel, after their father was sent to prison for their mother’s murder. “It’s just a sad day. The bible says to forgive anyone that asks you, and I did,” she said, “But I can’t ever forget.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,North Carolina,USA

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2005: Wesley Baker, the last in Maryland

2 comments December 5th, 2017 Headsman

The U.S. state Maryland executed Wesley Baker on this date in 2005 — the last man ever put to death there.

Baker accosted* a 49-year-old woman named Jane Frances Tyson in the parking lot of a Catonsville shopping mall after she’d finished shoe-shopping, shooting her point-blank while two young grandkids looked on in order to grab her purse. Had Baker and his getaway driver/accomplice Gregory Lawrence not been captured almost immediately — a bystander noted the license plate and called it in — they’d have had $12 to share.

Baker’s life, too, was cheap, according to a Washington Post profile.

Born unwanted to a teenage mother, he was sexually abused by age 5 and was using heroin regularly by age 10, his attorneys wrote in the petition to the governor. By 14, Baker was living with a prostitute twice his age, trading sex for drugs. He became a father the next year.

Maryland was a halfhearted readopter of the death penalty in its late-20th century “modern” era in the U.S., and by the 2000s Baker’s execution was delayed for a moratorium to study racial inequity in the system. After concluding that, yes, racial bias was rife in the Maryland capital punishment system, the state went ahead and executed him anyway.

But this proved to be a throwback to a disappearing law-and-order era. The very next year, complications with the state’s lethal injection procedures led Maryland courts to suspend executions, a situation that transitioned into another moratorium and eventually, in 2013, outright abolition. Maryland today has no death penalty, and its last four pre-abolition condemned prisoners had their sentences commuted on December 31, 2014 by outgoing Governor Martin O’Malley.

* Baker argued deep into his appeals that Lawrence was, or at least might have been, the gunman; the Fourth Circuit federal court of appeal agreed that proof that Baker fired the shot “was not overwhelming,” but did not mitigate the sentence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Maryland,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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2005: Steven Vincent, Iraq War journalist

Add comment August 2nd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 2005, U.S. journalist Stephen Vincent was abducted off the streets of Basra by a Shia militia. Before the day was out, he had been extrajudicially executed on the outskirts of town — along with his assistant and translator, who managed to survive the execution.

Vincent, originally from California, had been a New York journalist (most prominent on the arts scene) for more than twenty years when he stood on his apartment’s roof on September 11, 2001, and watched United Airlines Flight 175 smash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Deeply shaken by the specter of Islamic terrorism and wanting to, as he put it, “do my part in the conflict”, Vincent took an abrupt turn from his Gotham haunts and in 2003 bought his own ticket to Iraq to venture into the war zone with nothing but wits honed by a lifetime’s freelancing. Free of both institutional control and institutional protection, and picking up his Arabic on the fly, the dauntless Vincent reported from the ground in war-ravaged Iraq, eyed by perplexed officials who could scarcely help but suspect him a spy.

His 2004 book In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq captures his impressions.

In April 2005, Vincent returned to Iraq — this time, to Muqtada al-Sadr‘s* bastion in the Shia south where, as he put it in a post on his still-extant blog, “militant Shiites … have transformed once free-wheeling Basra into something resembling Savonarola‘s Florence.”

One of few Western journalists in British-occupied but increasingly Sadr-controlled Basra, Vincent filed numerous stories raising the alarm on fundamentalism and Iranian influence.

“Basran politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups,” Vincent wrote in a July 31, 2005 New York Times piece that would prove to be his last. “And unfortunately, the British seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.”

Vincent traces the early cracks that would widen into Iraq’s now-familiar sectarian fracturing, and the ruins of a secular society as institutions like the university dare not shoo away self-appointed purity monitors of students’ dress and conduct lest they invite the wrath of the Iranian-backed Shia parties (and Shia police).

An Iraqi police lieutenant, who for obvious reasons asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to me the widespread rumors that a few police officers are perpetrating many of the hundreds of assassinations — mostly of former Baath Party members — that take place in Basra each month. He told me that there is even a sort of “death car”: a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment.

This passage prefigures Vincent’s own fate, and it’s thought to be the fact of his filing reports like this one that sealed it. Returning on the afternoon of August 2 from a Basra currency exchange with his translator Nouriya Itais Wadi (or Nouri al-Khal; Steven Vincent referred to her as “Leyla” in the personal dispatches he posted on his blog),** the pair was seized in broad daylight by armed men in a white police vehicle. Hours later, their bodies were recovered just a short drive away. Or rather, Vincent’s body was recovered: his aide, left for dead by her executioners, was clinging to life despite multiple gunshot wounds.

There’s an Open Source Radio interview with Vincent’s widow Lisa Ramaci-Vincent from August 10, 2005, available as a podcast here. After yet another journalist was abducted and murdered in Basra a few weeks later, Ramaci-Vincent launched the Steven Vincent Foundation “to assist the families of indigenous journalists in regions of conflict throughout the world who are killed for doing their jobs, and to support the work of female journalists in those regions.” She also helped Nouriya, who survived her injuries, to emigrate to the U.S.

Muqtada al-Sadr, who survived a 2008 attack by the American-backed Iraqi army on Basra, remains today one of the dominant figures in Iraqi politics.

* Saddam Hussein — a Sunni — had the name “Muqtada” chanted at him by his executioners during the fiasco of his hanging.

** Vincent’s relationship with his unmarried translator has also been cited as a possible factor in their murder. He was apparently planning to marry her opportunistically to help her escape Iraq, a plan that his wife knew about and supported.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Executions Survived,History,Iraq,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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2005: Hastings Arthur Wise, workplace shooter

Add comment November 4th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Hastings Arthur Wise was executed in South Carolina for a shooting rampage at his workplace.

Or rather — and this was the problem — his former workplace.

Canned from his machine-operator job of four years at the Aiken County R.E. Phelon engine manufacturing plant that July, Wise warned that he’d be back.

On September 15, 1997, he turned up packing a 9 mm pistol and exacted his revenge — just another of America’s endless cavalcade of mass shootings.

He shot a guard to get into the plant. The guard survived, but four others were not so fortunate as Wise stalked through his former employer’s halls screaming and firing. Police later recovered four empty eight-round magazines.

The human resources director who had fired him was the first Wise killed.

Two men in the tool and die area who had jobs that Wise had once sought unsuccessfully were the next.

A young woman in a job Wise had sought promotion to was wounded with shots to the back and leg, then finished off execution-style.

Wise took to firing almost indiscriminately and wounded a few others, but the body count still might have been higher. Some others Wise saw and could have murdered, but did not — some possibly saved by happenstance, others whom Wise said in court that he declined to shoot because he used to get along with them as coworkers. The whole rampage was calculated to such an extent that Wise took a 9,000-mile road trip to California and Texas to tick a few items off his bucket list first.

Wise always intended to check out at the end of his spree; the SWAT team found him on the floor suffering from a swallow of insecticide that turned out to be non-fatal. The judicial process was the slow train, but the destination remained the same.

“I don’t have much to say except that I did not wish to take advantage of the court as far as asking mercy,” Wise said to the court at his sentencing. “It’s a fair trial. I committed the crimes.”

As good as his word, Wise voluntarily dropped his appeals and went quickly from his 2001 conviction to execution, declining to make any final statement.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Carolina,USA,Volunteers

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2005: Glen James Ocha, poorly endowed

Add comment April 5th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Glen James Ocha took a lethal injection on account of his tiny penis.

It’s true. Ocha on Ocober 5, 1999 picked up a Kissimmee, Fla., barmaid named Carol Skjerva and got her (consensually) into bed.

But Skjerva sent his manhood meter to half mast by busting on Ocha’s unimpressive junk and threatening to tell her boyfriend, who was probably the kind of guy who wouldn’t stand for another man rogering his girl with a mere gherkin.

It’s sad but true that we can’t all wear magnums, and probably most on the hung-like-a-mouse side of the spectrum would prefer not to broadcast the fact to the wide world. But here’s a tip it might have done Glen Ocha well to reflect upon: one good way of keeping strangers in the dark about the paltry dimensions of your John Thomas is not to get yourself arrested for strangling and beheading a woman who makes fun of the paltry dimensions of your John Thomas.

Adolescent chortling aside, this was obviously quite a horrible tragedy for Carol Skjerva, as well as the boyfriend (actually her fiance). Nor was genitalia the only compromised characteristic of the murderer, who was high on ecstasy at the time this all happened and had a history of psychiatric problems and suicidal ideation, all circumstances that comport well with Ocha’s decision to sit his victim’s decapitated head in his lap for a little post-mortem conversation.

This gentleman went right onto suicide watch in the prison, but they needn’t have worried: Ocha was more than ready to work within the system. He confessed to the murder, pled guilty at trial, and dropped all appeals past the minimum required by law, hastening his trip to Florida’s gurney. (Along the way he legally changed his name to Raven Raven.)

His final statement:

I would like to say I apologize to Carol Skjerva, the girl that I murdered, her family and her friends. This is the punishment that I deserve. I’m taking responsibility for my actions. I want everybody to know I’m not a volunteer but this is my responsibility I have to take.

(Meanwhile, he released a last written statement, reading “I unjustly took the life of Carol Skjerva. I have made my peace with my God and go now to face His judgment.”)

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic just as Ocha was, said he was actually prepared to delay the execution out of respect to the April 2 passing of Pope John Paul II. Ocha, the determined volunteer, had no interest in any delay.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Florida,Lethal Injection,Murder,USA,Volunteers

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2005: Brian Steckel, the Driftwood Killer

10 comments November 4th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Brian Steckel was executed by lethal injection for a Delaware rape-murder.

Steckel got 29-year-old Sandra Lee Long to let him into her apartment on the pretext of making a phone call. (This was 1994, pre-cell phones.) Then he throttled her, sodomized her, raped her with a screwdriver, and set her bedroom on fire. Then he fled. (Long survived the immediate attack; she would die of smoke inhalation from the arson.)

Hours later, he called The News Journal identifying himself as the “Driftwood Killer” and threatening his next prospective victim by name. Police took that woman into protective custody and traced harassing calls she’d been receiving to Steckel, who obligingly confessed when arrested.

And investigators took Steckel’s threats at their word — as well they might with Long’s ghastly murder already under his belt — and counted themselves lucky to have nipped a potential spree killer in the bud. Steckel “thought about committing a murder for a long time,” New Castle County detective John Downs said. “We got him relatively early in his career. This was something he’d worked at.”

Fond of the drink and none too stable, Steckel menaced his own attorneys, spat at prosecutors, soaked up the media attention, and sent dozens of letters from prison, including Long’s autopsy sent to Long’s mother with a scribbled taunt reading “Happy, Happy. Joy Joy. Read it and weep. She’s gone forever. Don’t cry over burnt flesh.” He also made and retracted various dubious confessions to various murders in various states, and alternated between slandering his (known) victim and calling himself an “animal” for killing her.

If the evil was unfeigned, so was the remorse. At the end of his trial, he surprisingly addressed the the jury with an assent to his own execution.

I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry. How do you tell someone’s family you’re sorry for strangling them? … How do you do such a thing? I don’t know. I ask you people to hold me accountable for what I did. I’ve gotten away with so much in my life that I stand here today … I know I deserve to die for what I did to Sandy. … I’m prepared to give up my life because I deserve to.

He carried a like sentiment to the gurney, where he was apologetic to the victim’s mother he had once mocked.

I want to say I’m sorry for the cruel things I did. I’m not the same man I was when I came to jail. I changed. I’m a better man … I walked in here without a fight, and I accept my punishment. It is time to go. I love you people … I’m at peace.

At this point where the repentant felon ought to close his eyes and exit, an awkward 12-minute delay followed while the lethal injection machine clicked several times and Steckel remained lucid, appending his last statement with observations like, “I didn’t think it would take this long.”

While state officials denied there was any problem with the exceedingly slow lethal injection, Steckel did not appear to have been rendered unconscious, and was awake when he finally snorted and convulsed into death.

Attorney Michael Wiseman, pursuing a later lawsuit against the state’s death penalty procedure, claimed that the main IV line was blocked and when executioners switched to the backup line, they didn’t bother (pdf) re-administering the anesthetic sodium thiopental that forms the first drug of the basic three-drug lethal injection cocktail. That omission meant that Steckel would have been conscious when he was hit with a paralytic dose of pancuronium bromide, and still conscious when that was followed with an excrutiating heart-stopping shot of potassium chloride. (More on the process.)

Wiseman even got a member of the execution team to testify that he was “okay with” causing Steckel suffering owing to the bestial nature of Steckel’s crimes. (The source for this is the January 29, 2009 News Journal; the article is no longer available online.)

A federal circuit court rapped Delaware for “occasional blitheness” and “isolated examples of maladministration,” but rejected the lawsuit.

After a five-plus year hiatus following Steckel’s execution, the Blue Hen State resumed executions in 2011, switching for the occasion to the trendy new anesthetic drug pentobarbital since execution chambers can no longer get hold of sodium thiopental. Just like Brian Steckel.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arson,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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2005: Shanmugam Murugesu, for the chronic

2 comments May 13th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Singapore hanged a 34-year-old for pot.

Shanmugam Murugesu, an ethnically Tamil Singaporean, was nabbed carrying a kilo of marijuana.

Your basic “wtf drug war” case study, this divorced father actually represented Singapore at international watersports competitions and otherwise led a productive, non-criminal life.

The city-state: a mite crazy over drugs. (And over the death penalty.) Mere mary jane is among the substances that can get you a death sentence there — carrying 500 grams or more is supposed to trigger automatic execution.

While awaiting that fate, Shanmugam befriended the young Australian drug mule and “simple soul” Van Tuong Nguyen, who was bound to follow in his footsteps; Shanmugam’s last appeal to his lawyer was “to save Nguyen Tuong Van’s life at all costs.”

(No luck, but it’s the thought that counts.)

Shanmugam Murugesu’s hanging was also notable as a civic event in Singapore for the landmark public protest (organized in large measure by the hanged man’s own family) it generated — a rarity for that “Disneyland with the death penalty”.

Public Forum on Death Penalty and Campaign for Shanmugam Murugesu from Jacob George on Vimeo.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Singapore

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2005: A gay couple in Saudi Arabia

2 comments March 13th, 2011 Headsman

Stay classy, Saudi Arabia.

RIYADH—A gay couple was beaded in a public execution Sunday [March 13, 2005] in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of killing a blackmailer. If they had been exposed as gay they could have been executed anyway.

Homosexuality is punishable by flogging, lengthy prison terms or death under Sharia Islamic law.

The Saudi Interior Ministry issued a statement Sunday announcing the execution. It said that Ahmed al-Enezi and Shahir al-Roubli, both Saudis, ran over Malik Khan in their car, beat him on the head with stones and set fire to his corpse “fearing they would be exposed after the victim witnessed them in a shameful situation”.

The term “shameful situation” is regularly used by the government to refer to homosexual acts.

The ministry said the two men were executed in the northern town of Arar, near the Iraq border.

The Saudi government routinely rounds up people suspected of being gay. All that is needed is a complaint from someone. In some instances men who are not gay who have been arrested were picked up on the complaint of a neighbor following a dispute.

The kingdom also, on a number of occasions, has blocked access to the only gay Arab news and information site on the internet.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Homosexuals,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Saudi Arabia,Sex

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2005: Richard Cartwright, uncensored

3 comments May 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Richard Cartwright was executed in Texas for robbing and murdering a gay man in Corpus Christi.

Cartwright attained some recognition (if not exactly a plausible purchase on clemency) as the writer of Uncensored from Texas Death Row, a sort of death row blog.

(As befits a blogger in the early 2000s, Cartwright also had a MySpace page, which remains active. “Chi-town” grew up in Chicago. He played youth hockey there, for this club. This is the sort of thing one learns about bloggers.)

Cartwright was admittedly involved in the robbery-murder, though he insisted he wasn’t the one who did the murdering.

Whatever one makes of that, his fairly prolific “Uncensored” series over the last six months of his life furnish a sometimes bracingly personal chronicle of a man among the lowest of the dead … and drawing nearer and nearer to a fate he realizes he cannot avert.

People are looking at me differently, like they are trying to instill into memory or something. They don’t mean to, but they do, and it is spooky. Like I am already dead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Pelf,Texas,USA

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2005: Michael Ross, the Roadside Strangler

3 comments May 13th, 2010 Headsman

As of this writing, New England has seen only one solitary execution in the past half-century.*

That one execution happened five years ago today: the lethal injection of serial murderer/rapist Michael Ross in Connecticut.

The “farm boy from Brooklyn, Conn.”, sexual sadist, and Cornell University graduate** went no a rape-and-murder spree in the early 1980s. He would confess to eight homicides.

Condemned in 1987, Ross spent 17 years fighting execution before a 2004 volte face had him waiving his appeals in the interests of sparing victims’ families any further agony.

This precipitated an intense last-minute legal melee over whether the admittedly disturbed Ross possessed legally sufficient competency to pursue his own death. A scheduled execution in January was scratched at the last moment when a federal judge insisted on a competency determination.

A serial killer who consents to his own execution wouldn’t typically be the sort to attract a lot of sympathy, but in true-blue New England, any brush with the executioner is cause for public hand-wringing.

Ross, of course, was adjudged competent to drop his appeals, and that was that.

After the execution, one of the psychiatrists who disputed Ross’s competency to choose execution received a mailed taunt from the killer, dated May 10:

Check, and mate. You never had a chance!

And it seems our date’s principal reserved an even gnarlier gambit for the judge who once blocked his execution.

District Court jurist Robert Chatigny has found himself much in the news with Michael Ross since he was nominated by President Barack Obama for a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. That nomination has been held up thus far largely because Chatigny berated and threatened Ross’s attorney (the one who was trying to get his client executed) with disbarment.

* The last one before Michael Ross? Joseph Taborsky, electrocuted in Connecticut on May 17, 1960.

** His criminal career began in Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell is famous for its suicides, but Ross apparently couldn’t go through with his after he contemplated taking his own life.

Ross was also a graduate of something called Killingly High School. True story.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Serial Killers,USA,Volunteers

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