1987: Jimmy Glass, electrocution appellant

June 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1987, Jimmy L. Glass died in Louisiana’s electric chair — having come one vote short of having the device declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The 20-year-old Glass escaped from a parish jail with fellow inmate Jimmy Wingo on Christmas Eve, 1982, robbing and murdering an elderly couple in the process. Each blamed the other; both got the chair.*

But should they have?

Glass would lend his name to a landmark 1985 Supreme Court decision contesting Louisiana’s method of execution.

By a 5-4 decision, the high court held that electrocution, still at that point the country’s prevailing method of execution despite its medieval reputation for grisly botches, remained a constitutional method of inflicting death.

Liberal Justice William Brennan‘s vigorous dissent from that judgment is not for the squeamish. (For readability, I’ve added emphasis and removed the many citations in the original.)

[E]vidence suggests that death by electrical current is extremely violent and inflicts pain and indignities far beyond the “mere extinguishment of life.” Witnesses routinely report that, when the switch is thrown, the condemned prisoner “cringes,” “leaps,” and ” ‘fights the straps with amazing strength.’ ” “The hands turn red, then white, and the cords of the neck stand out like steel bands.” The prisoner’s limbs, fingers, toes, and face are severely contorted. The force of the electrical current is so powerful that the prisoner’s eyeballs sometimes pop out and “rest on [his] cheeks.” The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool.

“The body turns bright red as its temperature rises,” and the prisoner’s “flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking.” Sometimes the prisoner catches on fire, particularly “if [he] perspires excessively.” Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound ” like bacon frying,” and “the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh” permeates the chamber. This “smell of frying human flesh in the immediate neighbourhood of the chair is sometimes bad enough to nauseate even the Press representatives who are present.” In the meantime, the prisoner almost literally boils: “the temperature in the brain itself approaches the boiling point of water,” and when the postelectrocution autopsy is performed “the liver is so hot that doctors have said that it cannot be touched by the human hand.” The body frequently is badly burned and disfigured.

The violence of killing prisoners through electrical current is frequently explained away by the assumption that death in these circumstances is instantaneous and painless. This assumption, however, in fact “is open to serious question” and is “a matter of sharp conflict of expert opinion.” Throughout the 20th century a number of distinguished electrical scientists and medical doctors have argued that the available evidence strongly suggests that electrocution causes unspeakable pain and suffering. Because ” ‘[t]he current flows along a restricted path into the body, and destroys all the tissue confronted in this path . . . [i]n the meantime the vital organs may be preserved; and pain, too great for us to imagine, is induced. . . . For the sufferer, time stands still; and this excruciating torture seems to last for an eternity.‘ ” L.G.V. Rota, a renowned French electrical scientist, concluded after extensive research that

“[i]n every case of electrocution, . . . death inevitably supervenes but it may be very long, and above all, excruciatingly painful . . . . [T]he space of time before death supervenes varies according to the subject. Some have a greater physiological resistance than others. I do not believe that anyone killed by electrocution dies instantly, no matter how weak the subject may be. In certain cases death will not have come about even though the point of contact of the electrode with the body shows distinct burns. Thus, in particular cases, the condemned person may be alive and even conscious for several minutes without it being possible for a doctor to say whether the victim is dead or not. . . . This method of execution is a form of torture.”

At least neither the juridical near miss nor Brennan’s graphic description of his impending manner of death dented Jimmy’s sense of humor. Asked for his last words, the “swaggering” inmate, already strapped in the chair, replied

Yeah, I think I’d rather be fishing.

Luckily for Carlisle United, he’s not the same guy as journeyman goaltender Jimmy Glass, who in 1999 improbably struck home one of the greatest goals in English football history.

* Wingo was put to death four days after Glass.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Gallows Humor,Louisiana,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Theft,USA

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2004: Enzo Baldoni

2 comments August 26th, 2008 Headsman

On this day four years ago, an Islamic militants in Iraq executed* hostage Enzo Baldoni, an Italian freelance journalist and Red Cross volunteer.


Baldoni had a variegated copyriting career, often working through his company Le Balene Colpiscono Ancora (“The Whales Strike Again”)

Baldoni (English Wikipedia page | Italian) made his writing chops with advertising copy, but also translated (notably the American comic strip Doonesbury, whose creator saluted him “Enzo the miraculous” in this FAQ) and segued into journalism. He was an early adopter of blogging and made a habit of traveling to the world’s hot spots; he had interviews with Subcomandante Marcos and Xanana Gusmao under his belt … but he was no scavenger of human misery.

Some people think I am some sort of a Rambo who loves strong emotions and seeing people die. I am miles away from that mentality. I am a convinced pacifist and for that reason I am curious to understand what make normal people brandish a gun.

Baldoni reported from Iraq for the Italian weekly Diario and kept a blog from the ground as well. On August 21, he was kidnapped after being caught in a firefight between Baghdad and Najaf.** Three days later, Al Jazeera aired his captors’ demand for Italian withdrawal within 48 hours; Baldoni was killed when that demand was ignored.

The day after Baldoni’s death, the black armband-clad Azzurri defeated the upstart Iraqi soccer team for the Olympic bronze medal.

The final legacies of Baldoni’s work well reflected his generous principles. The last entry on his blog Bloghdad (now defunct; here’s how it looked four years ago) was this picture:

And his (translated, obviously) “last testament” as released by a fellow journalist described a man who would not want this blog post to linger on mawkishly.

[At my funeral] I want people to smile — did you notice? Funerals always end up with someone smiling: it’s natural, it’s Life taking over Death. And let people smoke freely anything they like; I’d also be pleased if new love stories would come out, and I’d even consider some casual sex an offer to Life rather than an offense to Death.

At about eight or nine o’clock, with little or no ceremony, bring my coffin quietly to the crematorium, while the party and the music should last until late night.

About my ashes … throw them into the sea. Or do as you want, who fucking cares? Just nothing phony like in The Big Lebowski.

Ciao, Enzo.

* Obviously, this is a case of a borderline execution, owing to the Islamic Army in Iraq’s non-state credentials — in a legal sense, Enzo Baldoni was murdered. But it was precisely the point of his killing to contest legitimate state authority, and according to a later interview with an alleged spokesman of the faction, there was even a juridical proceeding “convicting” Baldoni of espionage.

** According to Reporters Without Borders, a stupefying 142 journalists — Baldoni among them — were killed in Iraq from 2004 through 2007, nearly half the worldwide total of 299 reporters who died in their line of work during that span.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Artists,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Espionage,Execution,God,Hostages,Iraq,Italy,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ripped from the Headlines,Wartime Executions

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1957: Evagoras Pallikarides, teenage guerrilla poet

3 comments March 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1957, Cypriot guerrilla Evagoras Pallikarides was hanged by British colonial authorities for gun possession.

As it was throughout the Empire in the middle 20th century, independence was the order of the day in Cyprus. But it was not simply whether there would be self-rule in Cyprus: the form and terms of independence were themselves hotly contested.

Cyprus would be a fresh battleground between those bitter rivals Turkey and Greece, each asserting an interest in their ethnic cousins on the island; overlapping that, it would be a battleground between the institutional Communist opposition AKEL, which opposed military action for separatism, and the nationalist EOKA, demanding not simply independence but enosis, union with Greece as part of the pan-Hellenic project so inflammatory to the Turks.

From 1955 to 1959, EOKA conducted a four-year campaign of bombing, assassinations and military engagements.

As a 17-year-old, Palikarides — already facing trial and likely prison time for his resistance activities — disappeared to join an EOKA guerrilla cell. A poetic young soul, he bid his classmates farewell with this note left to explain his absence on their first morning without him:

Old classmates. At this time, someone is missing from among you, someone who has left in search of freedom’s air, someone who you might not see alive again. Don’t cry at his graveside. It won’t do for you to cry. A few spring flowers scatter on his grave. This is enough for him …

I’ll take an uphill road
I’ll take the paths
To find the stairs
That lead to freedom

I’ll leave brothers, sisters
My mother, my father
In the valleys beyond
And the mountainsides

Searching for freedom
I’ll have as company
The white snow
Mountains and torrents

Even if it’s winter now
The summer will come
Bringing Freedom
To cities and villages

I’ll take an uphill road
I’ll take the paths
To find the stairs
That lead to freedom

I’ll climb the stairs
I’ll enter a palace
I know it will be an illusion
I know it won’t be real

I’ll wonder in the palace
Until I find the throne
Only a queen
Sitting on it

Beautiful daughter, I will say,
Open your wings
And take me in your embrace
That’s all I ask …

Pallikarides fought for a year before being apprehended with a gun illegally in his possession — a hanging crime under British anti-terrorism laws, but as Pallikarides was just the ninth (and last) EOKA man executed, it seems plain that law was not receiving draconian enforcement. At least one author claims that the authorities threw the book at him on the gun charge because of a murder they believed he committed as a guerrilla but could not prove.

The fact that he turned 19 a fortnight before his execution likewise did not avail him clemency — as the young rebel predicted in court:

I know you will hang me. Whatever I did, I did as a Cypriot Greek fighting for liberty.

As youthful martyrs to nationhood are wont to become, Pallikarides (along with his poetry) lives on as a potent symbol to Greek Cypriots. Shortly after Cyprus achieved independence in 1960, his name and visage were affiliated with a Cyprus football club, Evagoras (which later merged with another club to become AEP Paphos).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Cyprus,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Greece,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Terrorists,Treason,Wartime Executions

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