1959: Frank Wojculewicz, paraplegic electrocution

Add comment October 26th, 2019 Headsman


October 27, 1959 headline of the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun.

Connecticut reluctantly electrocuted paraplegic murderer Frank Wojculewicz on this date in 1959.

A lifetime crook, Wojculewicz was surprised by two patrolmen in the course of robbing the AYO Meat Packing Company of New Britain, way back in 1951. In the gun battle that ensued, Wojculewicz shot dead Sgt. William Grabeck, as well as a bystander named William Otipka — but Wojculewicz was also struck in the spine by a police bullet.

That left the robber alive — and it left Connecticut a very uncomfortable case.

His guilt was in no question whatever and the death sentence for his two murder convictions was mandated by law. But the prospect of putting a permanently paralyzed man into the state’s electric chair was so aesthetically discomfiting that his legal odyssey dragged on for nearly 8 years at a time when the median death penalty case resulted in execution in 15 months. He had to be tried in a prison hospital bed.

As this retrospective from the New York Daily News observes, slow-walking Connecticut officials were likely hoping that the killer’s injuries would take his life “naturally” before it came to that. But the tough bastard kept hanging on, and not only that, but fighting for his own life both in the courts (where State v. Wojculewicz cases reached the Connecticut Supreme Court in both 1953 and 1956) and the court of public opinion. Wojculewicz passed his time “feeding pigeons through barred windows. He lobbied for life, arguing in letters to supporters that his paralysis was ‘a greater punishment than death’ and calling state execution ‘the evil of evils.'”

In the end, though, Wojculewicz was a fully competent, fully guilty criminal asking an exemption from the law based on an injury that he’d suffered in the course of committing the crime. Nobody really wanted to put an invalid in the electric chair but neither did anybody have a proper reason not to do so.

Time ran out for Frank Wojculewicz on the frosty night of October 26, 1959. Death row guards found him lying face-down as usual. They gently lifted the helpless man from his mattress and placed him in a wheelchair. Then began a slow procession. One by one the other condemned men called their farewells to Wojculewicz as he was wheeled past their cells. The scene was extremely affecting. When the procession entered the execution chamber it was greeted by the warden. He then asked Wojculewicz if he had a last request. Bitter to the end, the doomed man asked that the prison chaplain not be allowed near him. He said that he neither wanted nor needed any pious prepping for what he was about to face. The warden was displeased but he granted the request. Guards then wheeled Wojculewicz to the middle of the chamber. There they carefully lifted him from the wheelchair and put him in the electric chair. A wooden box was used as a stool to support his paralyzed legs. When the guards completed the task of affixing the electrodes and adjusting the straps they signaled that all was ready. Then the executioner turned on the current and Frank Wojculewicz was no more.

Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,USA

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