2020: Daniel Lewis Lee

1 comment July 14th, 2020 Headsman

This morning in Terre Haute, Indiana, like the French guillotine making its way to the western front, America’s twilight men saluted Bastille Day by animating their empire’s creaking machinery on an absurd project to kill one guy to nobody’s edification in the midst of a rolling bloodbath.

Back in 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee traveled from Washington state to Arkansas with fellow white supremacist Chevie Kehoe where they slaughtered a family of three in the course of a robbery aimed at financing a racist enclave in the Pacific Northwest. Gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and their eight-year-old daughter Sarah Powell were bound hand and foot and suffocated with plastic bags taped over their heads, before being dumped in a bayou. Kehoe and Lee netted $50,000 in cash and weapons.*

Yet family members of those victims were the most vocal critics of executing Lee.

For one thing, everyone involved in the case, including the prosecuting attorney and trial judge, agrees that Kehoe was the instigator of the crime. But perversely, it was Kehoe who received the lighter sentence. Sometimes this occurs when a wily ringleader turns state’s-evidence against his confederates; in the case at hand, it might have been nothing but the comparative visual affect presented to jurors by the baby-faced Kehoe as compared to the menacing Lee, one-eyed (courtesy of a bar fight) and swastika-tattooed. The two were tried and convicted together in a death case; when the jury returned a life sentence for Kehoe, the U.S. Attorney on the case attempted to withdraw the death notice still pending against Lee, only to be overruled by higher-ups at the Department of Justice.

Earlene Peterson, Nancy Mueller’s mother and Sarah Powell’s grandmother, “believes the jury’s prejudices led to Kehoe and Lee receiving different sentences,” according to a Reason magazine profile.

“Chevie Kehoe was dressed very nicely, like a young businessman, and Daniel Lee was not,” Peterson said, noting that Lee was missing an eye and had a swastika tattooed on his neck. “He looked like an outlaw,” and “was instantly judged the minute he walked into the courtroom,” she says.

And Peterson, joined by several other family members, didn’t want anyone whether businessman or outlaw executed in her name.

Peterson, her granddaughter Monica Veillette, and Kimma Gurel (Nancy Mueller’s sister) sued in federal courts arguing that conducting the execution in the midst of the dangerous COVID-19 outbreak frustrated their right and expressed desire to witness Lee’s execution. But what they would have preferred most of all would have been no execution at all, regardless of COVID; they petitioned President Trump to this same effect.** “For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” Veillette told the press.

As everyone knows, victims/survivors with an attitude of clemency get no special consideration in the breach from the closure-for-victims crowd. Thus while Attorney General William Barr scheduled Lee’s execution — along with four others — last year to the familiar strains of “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” his agency defeated these victims’ family members by arguing that their allowance to witness the execution was in fact not any sort of “right” that anyone was “owed.” The first federal execution in 17 years was delayed half a day from its Monday-afternoon schedule by a last-minute judicial injunction that was predictably reversed by the Supreme Court: that issue concerned the lethal injection drug selection.

Peterson, Veillette, and Gurel did not in the end attend the execution, for fear of the coronavirus. Besides being afoot broadly, it was known to have broken out in the Terre Haute federal prison. In fact, one of the execution planners tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the execution and the small viewing chamber reserved for official witnesses makes no allowance for social distancing. (Prison officials and the “Appalachian pagan minister” present to conduct the execution itself also wore no masks, nor did the executed criminal himself.) Considering the short shrift federal authorities have given to protective measures surrounding people who didn’t commit triple homicide, it’s no surprise that the pandemic was also no obstacle, with Barr making the Orwellian assurance — which doubles as a distillation of his philosophy of governance — that his team could “carry out these executions without being at risk.”

* Lee later also pipe-bombed the Spokane, Washington, city hall.

** Lee’s was the first execution to proceed on Donald Trump’s say-so.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indiana,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft,U.S. Federal,USA

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2020: Walter Barton, coronavirus milestone

Add comment May 19th, 2020 Headsman

Missouri graced America with her first coronavirus pandemic execution tonight.

Aptly emblematic of a moment where crumbling institutions reveal the post-Cold War empire’s far-advanced rot, Walter “Arkie”* Barton’s death on the gurney culminated three decades of shambolic re-prosecutions, reliant in the end for their victory on nothing but the unequal strength of the prosecutor’s office and the willingness of courts to certify junk science as real evidence.

The victim of the murder was the 81-year-old manager of Riverview Trailer Park, where Barton lived. He was friends with that woman, Gladys Kuehler, and visited her the afternoon of her murder; later, he together with Kuehler’s granddaughter and a neighbor discovered the woman’s body. She’d been sexually assaulted and horribly knifed, slashed and stabbed more than 50 times.

The key bits of evidence convincing jurors — several of whom submitted affidavits during Barton’s clemency stage regretting their findings — that Barton had been the author of this savage attack were essentially two:

  1. Blood-spatter expert testimony that a drop of blood on Barton’s shirt that was a DNA match for Gladys Kuehler had arrived there via a “high-impact” splat at velocity –i.e., flying fast off the murder weapon. This stuff is humbug of the same genus as the burn pattern pseudoscience that wrongly executed Cameron Willingham, and more importantly it’s conspicuously silent on why Barton, who didn’t change or wash his clothes, wasn’t ribboned with high-impact bloodstains from his slasher-film murder. His own hypothesis that he picked up a spot of blood at the time he helped discover the body is at least as compelling an explanation.
  2. The ubiquitous jailhouse snitch, behind bars for a list of frauds as long as your arm, to whom Walter Barton, that fool, just spontaneously confessed even while otherwise maintaining his innocence to everyone else who would listen. The use and abuse of these finks, whose comforts are directly controlled by one party in the adversarial hearing, is a factor in a great many wrongful convictions.

Aggressively prosecuted by an attorney general — Jay Nixon, subsequently Missouri’s governor — more politically ambitious than forensically rigorous over the span of no fewer than five trials, then upheld by a split 4-3 vote in the state’s highest court, this met the emptiest formal standards of technical sufficiency to take the life of Arkie Barton, a sort of hollow malevolent pantomime of a functioning liberal democracy’s justice system.

Barton’s was just the sixth U.S. execution of 2020, and the first since COVID-19 torpedoed everything in mid-March. The last previous U.S. execution was that of Nathaniel Woods in Alabama, on March 5. Various states have delayed scheduled execution dates during the 11 intervening weeks, but those and others loom on the dockets as states push to reopen once it’s semi-safe to operate the machinery of death.

* Because he hailed originally from Arkansas.

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

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2020: The Nirbhaya Gang Rapists

Add comment March 20th, 2020 Headsman

Akshay Thakur, 31, Pawan Gupta, 25, Vinay Sharma, 26, and Mukesh Singh, 32, were hanged at Delhi’s Tihar Jail today — four of the six* widely hated perpetrators of in infamous 2012 gang rape.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and call center worker named Jyoti Singh was returning from the cinema with a male friend on a private bus in a South Delhi neighborhood when the five other passengers plus the driver sealed the doors and assaulted them. After the man was knocked out with an iron rod, the five passengers turned on Singh and horrifically gang-raped her while the driver continued to steer the bus, even using a wheel jack to sodomize the struggling woman. By the time it was finished, and both victims tossed out of the moving vehicle, she’d suffered “massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines.” (Per medical examiners.) She succumbed several days later after desperate surgeries, but she lived long enough to identify her attackers, who were being arrested by the very next day. (Her male friend, Avanindra Pandey, survived the attack with broken ribs.)

The victim became publicly known as “Nirbhaya”, meaning “fearless”, owing to laws against doxxing sex crime victims, but her parents revealed her identity in the media in 2015. “We want the world to know her real name,” her father told British media. “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

Instantly iconic, the case gestated huge public protests against endemic sexual violence, and allegedly contributed to a massive decline in tourism by women costing India billions of dollars. The prosecutions were naturally fast-tracked by a judiciary under intense public pressure, and Delhi police handed down internal punishments to officers for failing to prevent the crime when it emerged that the crime-van had been used to rob another passenger earlier that same night. The seven-year span from crime to execution is relative lightning speed for a country which in recent times has only rarely enforced death sentences. But comparative timetables were of no comfort to Nirbhaya’s parents, who have been publicly implacable on the matter of punishment throughout.

“We all have waited so long for this day,” her mother said upon news of the men’s execution. “Today is a new dawn for daughters of India. The beasts have been hanged.”

This case has been the subject of considerable international commentary, most controversially a BBC documentary titled India’s Daughter (often available on YouTube despite its copyright) which includes interview footage with one of the now-hanged defendants attributing the attack to Jyoti Singh’s “indecency”. The film is still banned in India as of this writing.

* Besides the four executed, a fifth man, the driver Ram Singh, was found hanged in pretrial detention — either suicide or murder — and a sixth was underage. The latter has long been released from his juvenile sentence; he’s reportedly working as a cook, ostracized by his family.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,India,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines

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2020: Nathaniel Woods, #SaveNate

Add comment March 5th, 2020 Headsman

Nathaniel Woods was controversially executed by lethal injection at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, tonight at 9:01 p.m. U.S. Central Time.

Woods and Kerry Spencer — a co-defendant who is awaits execution for the same affair — were in a Birmingham trap house when officers Charles Bennett, Harley Chisholm III, Carlos Owen and Michael Collins arrived to serve a warrant. Of the four, only Collins would outlive the deadliest day in Birmingham police history.

While the facts of the case are contested, one that is universally agreed is that Kerry Spencer, not Nathaniel Woods, killed all three officers. Woods met them but as the police were in the process of taking him into custody, Spencer — just waking up from the commotion, he claimed — burst onto the scene firing an SKS.

“When I looked to the side, there was two police officers trying to train their guns on me so I opened fire with the fucking rifle. I wasn’t trying to get shot, period. I got a rifle in my hand. They’re going to shoot me,” Spencer told CNN. “You point a gun at me, bitch, I’m fixing to shoot.”

Woods said he simply fled from an unexpected crossfire, and Spencer agrees. “Nate is absolutely innocent,” he said. “That man didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody just like I didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody that day, period.” Alabama prosecutors characterized Woods as conspiring with Spencer to lure the cops into an ambush.

Woods and Spencer not only deny this, but developed an explosive appellate argument — never probed by any court — that the slain policemen were hassling the place as part of a routine police shakedown racket, to which the apartment’s owner had fallen behind on payments, and intimidated that owner out of providing exculpatory evidence.

But at a minimum, Woods’s execution presented the disturbing spectacle of a non-triggerman being punished for actions to which he might have been little other than a bystander. The #SaveNate campaign garnered a wide and fruitless call for clemency compassing civil rights leaders …

… celebrities …

… and at least one relative of a victim.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drugs,Execution,Innocent Bystanders,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wrongful Executions

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