2005: Michael Ross, the Roadside Strangler

4 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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2005: Luis Ramirez, claiming innocence

1 comment October 20th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Luis Ramirez was executed in Texas for engineering the murder-for-hire of his ex-wife’s new flame.

Ramirez went to his death still insisting on his innocence.

I did not kill your loved one, but I hope that one day you find out who did. I wish I could tell you the reason why, or give some kind of solace; you lost someone you love very much. The same as my family and friends are going to lose in a few minutes. I am sure he died unjustly, just like I am.

Maybe so. Maybe not.

Contrary to the widespread misapprehension that DNA and other forensic evidence are rendering criminology a perfect science, the majority of criminal procedures make do without them — consequently depending on the more impressionistic and time-honored pillars of jurisprudence: a weighing of circumstantial evidence; an estimate of the credibility of competing witnesses; the structural advantage of the well-resourced prosecutor’s office against its typical adversaries.

There may never be an answer to Luis Ramirez’s last statement, simply because there’s no obvious prospect of a dramatic forensic science reveal.

Wherever Ramirez’s soul might truly stand on the matter of capital murder, he left behind this interesting portrait of human connection on death row.

I’m about the share with you a story who’s telling is long past due. It’s a familiar story to most of you reading this from death row. And now it’s one that all of you in “free world ” may benefit from. This is the story of my first day on the row.

I came here in May of 1999. The exact date is something that I can’t recall. I do remember arriving in the afternoon. I was placed in a cell on H-20 wing over at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, TX. A tsunami of emotions and thoughts were going through my mind at the time. I remember the only things in the cell were a mattress, pillow, a couple of sheets, a pillow case, a roll of toilet paper, and a blanket. I remember sitting there, utterly lost.

The first person I met there was Napoleon Beazley. Back then, death row prisoners still worked. His job at the time was to clean up the wing and help serve during meal times. He was walking around sweeping the pod in these ridiculous looking rubber boots. He came up to the bars on my cell and asked me if I was new. I told him that I had just arrived on death row. He asked what my name is. I told him, not seeing any harm in it. He then stepped back where he could see all three tiers. He hollered at everyone, “There’s a new man here. He just drove up. His name is Luis Ramirez.” When he did that, I didn’t know what to make of it at first. I thought I had made some kind of mistake. You see, like most of you, I was of the impression that everyone on death row was evil. I thought I would find hundreds of “Hannibal Lecters” in here. And now, they all knew my name. I thought “Oh well,” that’s strike one. I was sure that they would soon begin harassing me. This is what happens in the movies after all.

Well, that’s not what happened . After supper was served, Napoleon was once again sweeping the floors. As he passed my cell, He swept a brown paper bag into it. I asked him “What’s this?” He said for me to look inside and continued on his way. Man, I didn’t know what to expect. I was certain it was something bad. Curiosity did get the best of me though. I carefully opened the bag. What I found was the last thing I ever expected to find on death row, and everything I needed. The bag contained some stamps, envelopes, notepad, pen, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brush, a pastry, a soda, and a couple of Ramen noodles. I remember asking Napoleon where this came from.

He told me that everyone had pitched in. That they knew that I didn’t have anything and that it may be a while before I could get them. I asked him to find out who had contributed. I wanted to pay them back. He said, “It’s not like that. Just remember the next time you see someone come here like you. You pitch in something.”

I sat there on my bunk with my brown paper bag of goodies, and thought about what had just happened to me. The last things I expected to find on death row was kindness and generosity. They knew what I needed and they took it upon themselves to meet those needs. They did this without any expectation of reimbursement or compensation. They did this for a stranger, not a known friend. I don’t know what they felt when they committed this act of incredible kindness. I only know that like them, twelve “good people” had deemed me beyond redemption. The only remedy that these “good people” could offer us is death. Somehow what these “good people” saw and what I was seeing didn’t add up. How could these men, who just showed me so much humanity, be considered the “worst of the worst.”

Ever since Napoleon was executed, for a crime he committed as a teen, I’ve wanted to share this story with his family. I would like for them to know that their son was a good man. One who I will never forget. I want for them to know how sorry I am that we as a society failed them and him. I still find it ridiculous that we as a people feel that we cannot teach or love our young properly. I’m appalled at the idea that a teen is beyond redemption, that the only solution that we can offer is death. It’s tragic that this is being pointed out to the “good people” by one of the “worst of the worst”. God help us all.

What’s in the brown paper bag? I found caring, kindness, love, humanity, and compassion of a scale that I’ve never seen the “good people” in the free world show towards one another.

On this day..

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

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2005: Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, gay teens

39 comments July 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2005, two teenagers were hanged in Mashhad, Iran.

Affecting photos of these two youths, their faces etched in fright and grief, their 16- and 18-year-old bodies pitifully boyish next to their executioners, became an immediate worldwide sensation.

These shocking images were quickly followed by a storm of controversy. The crime for which Asgari and Marhoni swung was the rape of a 13-year-old while both the offenders were themselves minors; gay organizations and human rights groups subsequently became mired in contentious dispute over whether (as a factual, legal, or tactical matter) they could be said to have succumbed to a “lethal reign of terror targeting Iranian gays”. For instance, was the conviction reliable, or a pretext? Would these boys actually have self-identified as “gay”?

To that were added charges and countercharges among western campaigners of racism, imperial lickspittle-ism, objective-pro-Islamic-fascism, and the like. Like, awfully convenient that Iran’s longtime dim view of homosexuality has everyone exercised at just the moment bombing Tehran was being openly mooted.

But whatever the text: those pictures. Still, those pictures.

It is certain that both Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were juvenile offenders, whose execution is anathema almost everywhere in the world but Iran — just one of that country’s unique characteristics.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Iran,Mature Content,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex

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2005: Mohammed Bijeh, the desert vampire

6 comments March 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Iran “desert vampire” was flogged to the point of collapse and hanged before a bloodthirsty throng in Pakdasht.


Mohammed Bijeh collapses during his flogging (top); then, as he is hoisted by a crane — with what one would take to be the stab wound from a victim’s brother visible on his back. More frightful photos of this execution here.

Bijeh confessed to raping and murdering 16 boys age 8 to 15 over a yearlong spree.

His modus operandi? Lure them into the desert on the pretext of hunting animals.

Unsurprisingly a figure of intense public hatred, Bijeh stolidly endured his own death before a jeering mob.

Riot police held back the angry crowd, but at one point a brother of one of the victims managed to break through and stab Bijeh in the back.

After 100 lashes, the desert vampire was noosed to a crane arm by one of the victims’ mothers, and hoisted 10 meters into the air for public strangulation, to the cheers of onlookers who had to be restrained from savaging the body when it was finally brought down.

An accomplice, Ali Baghi, somehow avoided execution and got off with whipping and a prison term.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Infamous,Iran,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions,Rape,Serial Killers,Sex,Torture

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2005: Elias Syriani, a family affair

1 comment November 18th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2005, North Carolina executed 67-year-old immigrant Elias Syriani at Raleigh’s Central Prison for the murder of his wife — despite the emotional clemency intervention of the couple’s children.

Syriani, an ethnic Assyrian driven from his native Jerusalem by al nakba who moved to the U.S. from Jordan through marriage to a Jordanian immigrant, had a stormy marriage hit the rocks in 1990. Teresa filed for divorce after a few years facing Elias’s violent objections to her westernized behavior.

Syriani responded by jumping her when she drove home one night, and stabbed her to death with a screwdriver in front of their 10-year-old child.

This case meandered forgettably through the bowels of the criminal justice system; the traumatized children moved on (.pdf).

Until the year before Syriani met his fate, when the mysteries of the human heart flipped the script.

The four children visited Syriani and found themselves forgiving their mother’s murderer … and forging an unexpected bond with the father they hadn’t known for a decade. They called it a miracle, a gift from their late mother to go from “hate, absolute hate, to love in a split second.”

The children — by then grown — became Syriani’s advocates for executive clemency, posing an unusual challenge for Gov. Mike Easley: in an environment that (rhetorically, at least) often counts on survivors’ rage and grief as arbiters of punishment, would he spare a father for killing a mother when the children said execution would redouble the family’s injury?

But commutations rarely happen — there’s just no percentage in them for politicians.

“After careful review of the facts and circumstances of this crime and conviction, I find no convincing reason to grant clemency and overturn the unanimous jury verdict affirmed by the state and federal courts.” (Easley)

This startling story became the subject of a 2007 documentary, Love Lived on Death Row

[flv:http://www.executedtoday.com/video/Love_Lived_on_Death_Row_trailer.flv 440 330]

The following are excerpts from an interview with the film’s Producer/Director Linda Booker originally conducted by Sean O’Connell of The Charlotte Weekly.

When did you first hear about/become interested in this story?

Back in July 2005, I was checking the weather on a local news website and scanning the headlines when the article about the Syriani siblings forgiving their father caught my eye. I think at first it interested me because I have been involved with our local domestic violence agency as a volunteer and fundraiser, but as I read the article something about their reconciling with and forgiving their father really touched me. At this point they had begun to share their story with the public and had just appeared at a domestic violence conference in Charlotte called “Hope to Heal.”

At what point did you get the idea to film the story in documentary form? How long did it take to complete the film?

It was an immediate reaction for me upon reading the article that their story might make a compelling documentary film. I printed it out and carried it around with me. But I was still finishing up interviews and editing my first documentary project “Millworker: the Documentary” so I didn’t act on it right away. Then several months later I learned that they would be speaking in Chapel Hill, close to where I live, and I thought, “okay, if I feel this strongly about this, here’s my chance to meet them and film their discussion.” So there I was, a relatively new filmmaker and very nervous about that first step, but I received permission to film that night. That’s also when I first heard about and met Meg Eggleston, who had been writing letters and visiting Elias Syriani on death row for four years and the Syriani sibling’s attorney Russell Sizemore, who was helping them through their father’s clemency appeal pro-bono. I came to learn that Meg’s friendship with Elias was an essential part of their father’s transformation and was such an interesting story in itself.

I started filming in October 2005, edited in the fall of ’06 and started doing preview screenings in early ’07. Since then the film has screened at film festivals and many grassroots screenings with various non-profits and faith groups as sponsors in the U.S. especially in North Carolina.

The Syriani children are open and honest in the film. Did you have trouble accessing them? Were they open to the idea of participating in the film, even though at this point it could not help their father?

I started filming interviews with Meg Eggleston and Russell Sizemore first who trusted that I was not trying to do a sensationalized story, but that I recognized the Syriani’s story of forgiveness was inspirational, regardless of the outcome of the clemency appeal. The Syrianis knew that I was working with Meg & Russ, but out of respect for all they were going through, I did not push the issue of their participation. About six months after the appeal, I wrote them about participating and subsequently we went to California and Chicago in the summer of ’06 to film interviews with them. While they know that a part of the discussion around the film will be capital punishment, the Syriani siblings have expressed that they want their story to live on in hope that their experience of surviving a domestic violence tragedy and the healing that came from forgiveness will touch people’s hearts and help others.

I think it’s because this case is so unique, but I found the film’s stance on the death penalty unclear. Can you, as the filmmaker, clarify your thoughts on the death penalty?

Well, I’ll take that as a compliment, because the documentaries I admire aren’t pounding you over the head with the filmmaker’s opinion. I can tell you that making this film made me face how I felt about the death penalty and I spent a lot of time researching and doing some deep thinking about the issue.

Needless to say it’s very complex, and it is completely understandable that feelings of anger and retribution can occur when you have lost a loved one to violence. We need to do more for those dealing with the aftermath of murder with as much support, assistance and counseling services as possible, especially children. But as I went to restorative justice forums and have met many people who belong to organizations such as Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, I kept hearing stories about how the death penalty was causing more grief, stress and division in families that had experienced murder. Between making the documentary and doing the research, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t support a system of justice that can possibly create more pain and victims in its wake and that was also irreversible and arbitrary.

On this day..

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

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2005: Wang Binyu, desperate migrant laborer

3 comments October 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2005, a Chinese murderer who became the unlikely symbol of migrant laborers’ desperate plight was — quickly and quietly — put to death.

Binyu knifed four people to death, which isn’t the typical stuff to earn a public outpouring. In the course of things, he’d ordinarily have gone to his grave in the anonymity that attends most Chinese executions, perhaps not even a number to international monitors who struggle to ballpark China’s executions to the nearest thousand.

But the government news service published a surprisingly sympathetic interview of him, raising the case up for public comment that state authorities surely did not intend.

Jobbed

Wang earned his sentence during an altercation that occurred as he tried to collect years of unpaid back wages from his employer. It was the last of several encounters of escalating desperation driven by Wang’s father’s need for expensive medical treatment. Wang’s boss kept refusing to settle with his man, ultimately barring him from the factory premises.

In a China shaken by industrialization — proletarianization — Wang’s plight struck a chord. (Although there may have been a mistaken sense that he killed the nasty boss; in fact, the victims were the foreman and other factory employees who’d been detailed to force him out.) China has 200 million migrant workers like Wang, collectively owed billions in unpaid wages they have scant prospect of recovering.

I want to die. When I am dead, nobody can exploit me anymore. Right?

Exploitation at an end, Wang Binyu became the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning profile* in the New York Times; some additional coverage is here. The briefly vigorous conversation about his case in China, however, was forcibly shut down.

* The Pulitzer was actually awarded to the Times’ Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley for a series of articles on the Chinese justice system; the linked story on Wang Binyu is one of eight.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot

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2005: Nguyen Van Van

1 comment January 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Nguyen Van Van, the onetime coach of Vietnam’s national taekwondo team, was shot for murder in Ho Chi Minh City.

The wire story does not appear to be available in a current archive but was secondhandedly cited here and here. Here’s how it ran:

Martial arts master executed

From correspondents in Hanoi
January 14, 2005

A FORMER coach of the Vietnamese national tae kwon do team was executed by firing squad in Vietnam for murder, a court official said today. Nguyen Van Van was put to death today at Long Binh execution ground in the southern Ho Chi Minh City, an official from the city People’s Court said.

A municipal appeal court handed down in June 2004 the death sentence to Van, who was only sentenced to life imprisonment at his first trial in March of the same year, for murdering a man in an ambush on December 19, 1996.

The incident took place at a cafe after one of Van’s sons got involved in a brawl with a customer. Accompanied by family members, Van stormed into the cafe where he injured the cafe owner and stabbed to death his brother-in-law, Le Hong Quan.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Vietnam

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2005: Van Tuong Nguyen

3 comments December 2nd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Australian national Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged* in Singapore’s Changi Prison for smuggling heroin.

Three years before, in dire financial straits, Nguyen had agreed to act as a drug courier and been caught attempting to carry 396.2 grams — less than a pound — of heroin through the airport of the notoriously execution-happy city-state. He had no criminal history and cooperated with the authorities, but the quantity of contraband on his person incurred an automatic death sentence.

Nguyen became an international cause celebre and the Australian government appealed for clemency — though some detected tepid public notice for the young man of Vietnamese extraction in comparison with white Australians in similar situations.

His family’s two-year campaign mobilizing worldwide pressure to save him was the profile of a 2006 documentary that laid bare the continuing grief left to Nguyen’s family and friends … and their continuing work against the death penalty in his remembrance. This personal tribute of unidentified provenance captures both:

* By Darshan Singh, whose identity as Singapore’s hangman was exposed on the occasion.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore

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