2011: Leroy White

2 comments January 13th, 2019 Headsman

Leroy White received a lethal injection in the HuntsvilleAtmore, Alabama death chamber on this date in 2011.

White had fatally shotgunned his estranged wife but by now it’ll hardly be remembered beyond the people directly touched by this horror. Yet in its banality this case haas something to tell us about America’s shambolic death penalty system.

Although this rule changed in 2017, Alabama used to permit, and its elected judges very actively practice, overruling a jury life sentence recommendation with a harsher judgment from the bench. Something like a fifth of Alabama’s condemned prisoners were there on judge overrides.

White numbered among this misfortunate fifth, and the trial judge wasn’t the only authority in the process whose priors were stacked against Leroy White.

Post-conviction, a Maryland tax attorney who represented White pro bono withdrew from the case and neither he nor anyone else told White about it. That doesn’t even seem possible but attorneys who are overmatched, stretched thin, and even outright incentivized to screw their clients make up an essential component of the system. In this case, the secret withdrawal caused White to miss a deadline for filing an appeal.

The heroic Bryan Stevenson of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative took over the case once this damage was done, but his appeal for a mulligan on the missed deadline fell on deaf ears because he

didn’t have a persuasive argument on the key issue: given more time to appeal, could he win the appeal on the merits of his case?

Stevenson said about half of the roughly 200 prisoners on Alabama’s death row were represented by a lawyer who is not allowed to spend more than $1,000 on out-of-court time working on the case, unless given permission by the trial court under Alabama indigent defense rules. He said that inequity leads to problems with the quality of assistance defendants are getting.

“The death penalty is not just about do people deserve to die for the crimes they are accused of, the death penalty is also about do we deserve to kill,” Stevenson said. “If we don’t provide fair trials, fair review procedures, when we have executions that are unnecessarily cruel and distressing, or if we have a death penalty that is arbitrary or political or discriminatory, then we are all implicated.”

White still had one last hope: a clemency grant by outgoing governor Bob Riley. Riley’s term in office ended four days after this execution, and he has had no political career since. Did he, like predecessor George Wallace, find his conscience burdened by the executioner’s office? In this precious interval released from all political pressure or consequence did he make use of a free hit at the quality of mercy? Reader, he did not — spurning a plea by the surviving daughter of both victim and killer not to give her another dead family member to mourn.

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1400: Thomas le Despenser, for the Epiphany Rising

Add comment January 13th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1400, the Thomas le Despenser was beheaded — as much a lynching as an execution — by a mob at Bristol.

“I have to London sent
The heads of Salisbury, Spencer, Blunt, and Kent.”

-Henry’s loyal (for now) nobleman Northumberland summing up the destruction of the Epiphany Rising in the last scene of Shakespeare’s Richard II

House Despenser had painstakingly rebuilt its position in the three generations since Thomas’s great-grandfather, the notorious royal favorite Hugh Despenser, was grotesquely butchered for the pleasure of Roger Mortimer. (Readers interested in a deep dive should consult this doctoral thesis (pdf))

By the end of the 14th century, the family patriarch, our man Thomas, had by 1397 parlayed his firm support of Richard II against the Lord Appellant into elevation to a peerage created just for him, the Earldom of Gloucester.

The “Gloucester” sobriquet had just gone onto the market thanks to the beheading that year of the attainted Duke of Gloucester and the consequent revocation of that patrimony. This ought to have been a hint, if his ancestors’ fate did not suffice, that such glories are fleeting. Thomas le Despenser had barely two years to enjoy his newfound rank before Richard II was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke who now styled himself Henry IV.

Despite initially making his terms with the new regime, Despenser joined a conspiracy of nobles that contemplated a coup d’etat during the 1399-1400 holidays — the Epiphany Rising, whose misfire has brought other victims to our attention previously.* Titles are the least of what one forfeits in such circumstances; Thomas managed to grab a boat for Cardiff and possible refuge but to his unhappy surprise the ship’s captain put in at Bristol to deliver him to his enemies: death was summary, his head posted to the capital for duty on the London Bridge.

The Despensers had already proven the resilience of their line in the face of the violent death of this or that scion and although this was a rough coda for their century of glory they were not done for the English political scene by a long shot. Thomas’s widow Constance** got her own plotting afoot by conspiring unsuccessfully in 1405 to kidnap Richard II’s heir from Henry’s custody as an instrument to leverage for political realignment. (Constance, Executed Today is grieved to report, was not executed for this.)

* Episode 134 of the History of England podcast grapples with the Epiphany Rising.

** Constance’s brother is popularly believed to have betrayed the Epiphany Rising.

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1973: Lt. Col. Mohamed Amekrane, no asylum

Add comment January 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1973, Morocco shot 11 officers for a regicidal mutiny.

Amekrane (left) with the coup’s leading spirit, Mohamed Oufkir

Their deaths were the consequence of the near-miss bid to bring down Morocco’s King Hassan II by bringing down his airplane, a plot to which Lt. Col. Mohamed Amekrane, the commander of the air base that launched fighters against the king’s convoy, was utterly pivotal. It’s no surprise that he’d be in the way of the royal revenge domestically after this incident; more surprising and controversial was the role the British would play in dooming the man.

As he discovered that the king’s passenger plane had somehow escaped the predations of his F-5s, Amekrane (it’s also sometimes spelled Amokrane) alertly requisitioned a helicopter and fled with another officer to British soil at nearby Gibraltar, where they requested asylum on Aug. 16.

This put Westminster in an awkward situation: repatriate the men to sure execution, or give refuge to the would-be assassins of a friendly head of state.* Still more was it a procedural twilight, where the power of bureaucratic discretion prevailed by declaring the form of the law in ambiguous circumstances.

After a flurry of consultations “at ministerial level” that also weighed “the possibility of repercussions with other governments,” (London Times, Aug. 18, 1972) the Heath government classified the fugitives as refugee illegal aliens and repatriated them within days, lamely explaining that Gibraltar, a small place, didn’t have much room for asylum claimants. And once they were fitted with the “illegal alien” hat it was simple: “they were returned to Morocco because that was the place from which they came.” (the Times, Aug. 19) Application, rejection, and deportation all took place within a mere 15 hours, purposefully too fast for anyone to get wind of what was happening or to mobilize resources in support of the Moroccans.

London’s legal chicanery drew a discomfited response from some other elites as well as members of the public or at least those with a propensity towards letters to the editor in the early 1970s. Parliamentarian Ivor Richard fumed that “there was surely no necessity in international law or in humanity deliberately to have sent them back to what appears to be their deaths.”

The Times would editorialize in that same Aug. 19, 1972 edition against the “haste and informality in the procedure which contradict Britain’s long tradition of care in such cases” — noting the irony that

the absence of an extradition treaty [might have been thought] would make it more difficult for the Moroccan authorities to reach out to fugitive offenders on British soil. In fact it has made it easier for them … because of British ministers’ willingness to use the power to deport aliens whose presence is judged undesirable in such a way as to achieve the result of extradition. And the exercise of that power is not subject to the same safeguards.

Amekrane had no safeguards at all once he was back in Moroccan hands. That November, he was condemned to die along with his companion on the Gibraltar caper Lt. Lyazid Midoaui, plus nine other members of the Moroccan Air Force complicit in the coup attempt; the whole batch was executed together on this date at a prison in Kenitra.

But in Britain his case outlived the fusillade. For the overhasty asylum refusal, Amekrane’s widow filed suit against the UK in a European Commission of Human Rights court, eventually winning a £37,500 settlement.

* The relations between the states in question went beyond mere chumminess: Franco’s Spain was maintaining a blockade against Gibraltar, in consequence of which the imperial outpost was heavily supplied by and from Morocco. The men’s lives were sold, so critics carped, for “lettuces.”

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1864: Private Samuel Jones, in retaliation for Private Daniel Bright

Add comment January 13th, 2016 Headsman

The New York Times of January 23, 1864

Gen. Getty:

DEAR SIR: We, the subscribers, request to say that there was found this morning a dead man, and still hanging, in our neighborhood, as the inclosed scrip which was found pinned to his back, will show you by whom it was done. We have made a suitable box and buried him near the place he was found hung. Should his friends wish to get his body, they can get it by applying to any of the subscribers. We trust that you will not attach any blame to any of the citizens of this neighborhood, as we were entirely ignorant of any of the circumstances until we found the body. From all we can learn, he was brought across the Chowan River to this place, and as soon as the men who had him in charge hung him, they went back.

It was signed by ten people of Pasquotank County, North Carolina.

The note they enclosed, retrieved from the hanging body, read:

NOTICE

Here hangs Private Samuel Jones, of Company B, Fifth Ohio regiment, by order of Maj.-Gen. Pickett, in retaliation for Private Daniel Bright, of Company L, Sixty-second Georgia regiment, hung Dec. 18, 1863, by order of Brig.-Gen. Wild.

Bright, a member of the newly-formed 66th North Carolina guerrillas, had been hanged as a spy. Jones had been obtained by casting lots among Union prisoners of war held at the Confederate capital of Richmond, in response to Pickett’s demand for some Yankee to execute tit for tat. (Pickett’s proclivity for retaliatory executions would soon require him to quit the country at the end of the Civil War.)

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1809: Seven Valladolid ruffians, by Napoleon

Add comment January 13th, 2015 Headsman

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Machiavelli, The Prince

This date in 1809, Napoleon gave that dread of punishment to the Spanish with the execution of seven insurgents at Valladolid, where he had come to collect grudging oaths of loyalty from that conquered nation’s grandees to his brother and puppet king Joseph.

We get this entry from Adolphe ThiersHistory of the consulate and the empire of France under Napoleon. We’ve added some paragraph breaks for readability.

Napoleon very distinctly discerned in the alleged devotion of the Spanish people for the house of Bourbon the demagogue passions that stirred them, and which took that strange way to manifest themselves; for it was the most violent democracy under the appearance of the purest royalism.

This people, extreme in all things, had in fact begun again the work of assassination in revenge for the disasters of the Spanish armies. Since the murders of the unfortunate marquis de Parales in Madrid, and of Don Juan Benito at Talavera, they had massacred in Ciudad Real Don Juan Duro, canon of Toledo, and a friend of the prince of the Peace; and at Malagon, the ex-minister of finance, Don Soler. Wherever there were no French armies, honest men trembled for their property and their lives.

Napoleon, resolving to make a severe example of the assassins, ordered the arrest in Valladolid of a dozen of ruffians known to have been concerned in all the massacres, particularly in that of the unfortunate governor of Segovia, Don Miguel Cevallos; and he had them executed, notwithstanding the apparent entreaties of the principal inhabitants of Valladolid.

“You must make yourself feared first, and loved afterwards,” was his frequent remark in his letters to his brother. “They have been soliciting me here for the pardon of some bandits who have committed murder and robbery, but they have been delighted not to obtain it, and subsequently everything has returned to its proper course.”

Our historian encloses as a footnote the text of a Napoleonic correspondence, documenting not only this date’s particular entry into the annals of execution but the Corsican’s methods generally.

The historian Thiers, it transpired, would soon be called upon to implement the sanguinary lessons of his study.

To the king of Spain

Valladolid, January 12, 1809 — noon.

The operation effected by Belliard is excellent. You must have a score of rascals hanged. To-morrow I hang seven here, notorious for having committed all sorts of atrocities, and whose presence was an affliction for the honest folks who secretly denounced them, and who are recovering courage since they are quit of them. You must do the same in Madrid. If a hundred incendiaries and brigands are not got rid of there, nothing is done. Of these hundred have a dozen or fifteen shot or hanged, and send the rest to France to the galleys. I have had quiet in France only in consequence of arresting 200 incendiaries, September murderers, and brigands, whom I sent off to the colonies. Since that time the tone of the capital changed as if at a whistle.

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1869: William German, surprising Klan lynch victim

2 comments January 13th, 2014 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1869, a man named William German was lynched by the newly formed Ku Klux Klan.

German, a white man, had been hanged for killing a black man, Bill Cullum.

Yes, you read that right.

Bill Cullum was a former slave; William German, a former soldier in the Confederate Army. German was living on a farm he’d rented from a white plantation owner, Alvin Cullum, who had been Bill’s owner.

German was ordered to clear off the land so the ex-slave could live there instead. Furious, German put on KKK robes and, with another man, tracked down Bill Cullum and shot him several times. The dying man was able to crawl to a nearby house and name his attacker before he expired.

The local KKK chapter was outraged. William German had committed his act wearing their garb, but without their authorization and against their rules.

What happened next was recounted in the Memphis Daily Appeal (now called The Commercial Appeal):

The Union and American of Saturday says: “By a private letter from a trustworthy gentleman residing at Cookville in Putnam County, we give some further information in regard to the recent execution near Livingston, in Overton County, by a body of supposed Ku-Klux, of the young man Wm. German, an account of which we published Thursday morning. “He says that a few days before the execution, German shot and badly wounded, and supposed he had killed, a Negro man living in his neighborhood. The shooting took place in a public road, and the Negro managed to crawl to the house of his employer, where he told who had shot him. The Negro had the character of being a quiet, peaceable man, and as there had been no previous trouble between him and German, it was supposed the crime was perpetrated in pure wantonness.

It is thought that the persons by whom German was killed were members of a secret organization, to which he belonged — but whether Ku-Klux or not, nobody in the neighborhood appears to know. The body of men concerned in the execution numbered about 200, and none of them were identified by citizens who witnessed their appearance and departure. Accounts reported Bill German was found hanged in a nearby barn; a sign posted there declared: Hung for shooting a Negro, Bill Cullum, and violating the laws of Ku Klux.”

These days, this story has been used by the KKK as evidence that they are a peaceable organization and not at all racist, honest, pinky-swear.

An aside: executions ran in the German family. William German’s brother, Columbus C. “Lum” German, had also served in the Confederate Army and also met his death at the end of a rope, in 1866.

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1979: Pin Peungyard, Gasem Singhara, and (twice) Ginggaew Lorsoungnern

4 comments January 13th, 2013 Headsman

For this date’s entry we turn to The Last Executioner — the memoirs of Chavoret Jaruboon, who was the last prison executioner in Thailand.


Bang. The late (he died in 2012) Chavoret Jaruboon, on the left.

Thailand uses lethal injection today, but our narrator here was the last to conduct executions by that country’s previous execution method, a unique shooting arrangement that prevailed through 2002.*

The prisoner to be executed was tied to a wooden cross, hands pinned in a prayerful position (wai), and facing a wall; behind him (or occasionally, as in today’s post, her), a screen; behind the screen, Chavoret Jaruboon with a mounted automatic rifle that would discharge a burst of up to 15 bullets into the vicinity of the heart, generally terminating life immediately.

The clientele this date were three members of a kidnap gang. Ginggaew Lorsoungnern, a former domestic for a Pathumwan, Bangkok family, had picked up from school the six-year-old child who was her former charge and delivered her to a bunch of toughs. When the ransom delivery went awry — the parents were supposed to toss the money out of a moving train at the spot of a flag, but missed the flag owing to darkness — the enraged kidnappers stabbed the little boy to death. Ginggaew allegedly flung herself over the child in a vain effort to protect him.

Inasmuch as her inside position was the lynchpin for the whole operation, however, these hystrionics would not save her from reprisal. (It wasn’t quite judicial reprisal since the execution was carried out by executive decree: not uncommon in dictatorial 1970s Thailand.) It probably didn’t help that coroners discovered soil in the victim’s lungs … meaning that when they’d dumped his body into its grave, he wasn’t yet dead.

The case was a media sensation. The late executioner’s 21st century book (copyright date: 2006) says that he was even then still “constantly asked about Ginggaew.” For what it’s worth, he thought the sentence was too harsh for her part in the crime. But executioners don’t get to make these decisions.

Ginggaew was the first woman shot in Thailand since 1942, and the first that Chavoret Jaruboon ever saw executed. In his time, he shot three women; Ginggaew is not among their number because in 1979, he was only a member of the execution team, not the man with his finger on the trigger. He was an “escort”, part of the team that brought the doomed from their cell to the execution chamber and then removed the corpse.

Escort duty was “one of the most emotional roles in the whole process of execution,” he writes. “Even the executioner does not have to see the body after he has done his job.”

And on January 13, 1979, the day Ginggaew died followed by two of her collaborators, the escorts had especially unpleasant duty.

While the men died stoic, Ginggaew was frantic, and fainted repeatedly over the hours before execution. “I didn’t do it, I didn’t kill the boy,” she pleaded. “Please don’t kill me, I didn’t kill him.”

Worse was to come.

At 5pm Ginggaew was selected to be brought to the execution room first. The escorts helped her to her feet but she immediately crumpled to the ground. She sobbed that she felt too weak to stand … As she approached the room she had to be revived from another faint.

I found this very difficult to deal with. Between us [escorts on the execution team] we finally got the stricken woman to the cross. She cried while they bound her at the waist, shoulders, and elbows. Her arms were brought up over the beam in a position of prayer. Still, she struggled and tried vainly to break free. The escorts pulled across the screen and fixed it so that the white square indicated where her heart was. Then they stepped out of range. I walked to the gun to load it and aim it at the target on the screen. I was aware that Ginggaew was still struggling. Normally once the prisoner was fixed to the cross they gave up fighting, but this was not the case with her. I secured the gun over her stifled sobs, locking it into position. When I was satisfied, I nodded at Prathom to take over. He took his position and at 5.40pm exactly he released ten bullets into Ginggaew’s body.

Doctor Porngul went up to her and checked for the pulse and retina response. As expected, he confirmed her dead. The escorts quickly untied her body, which was bleeding profusely from the chest, and laid her face down on the floor. She jerked and twitched a little. This wasn’t out of the ordinary but was distressing to witness. Her chest burst open and the blood looked like it would never stop flowing. They carried her into the morgue, the tiny room that we used just off the execution hall. I followed them just to make sure everything was alright. They placed her gently on the bed and we went out to prepare for the next one. What happened then will never leave me.

As the second prisoner, Gasem, was brought into the execution room, there was a sound from the morgue. I could see everything from where I was standing as the door was wide open — Ginggaew was trying to get up. The shocked escorts and I ran back to her. There was blood everywhere. One of the escorts rolled her over and pressed down on her back to accelerate the bleeding and help her die. Another escort, a real hard man, tried to strangle her to finish her off but I swept his arms away in disgust. We stood there watching her gasp for breath for I don’t know how long, but it could only have been a minute or two. I was filled with pity for her. I couldn’t help thinking that she was dying the way that little boy had died — except suffocating from blood instead of earth.

Meanwhile, Gasem had been shot. He died instantly from ten bullets. He had not resisted his death in any way, and spoke to nobody on the way to the cross. After the doctor confirmed that Gasem was definitely dead he checked on Ginggaew. Amazingly she was still breathing. It was a horrible, horrible situation. He told the escorts to put her back on the cross. The men complied, somewhat relieved to be able to just follow orders. It was a grim, nauseating job and they were covered in her blood when they turned to pull the screen across. This time the full quota of 15 bullets were used, and finally, she was dead.

You might wonder why we didn’t just shoot her where she lay, but it would have been against the regulations. Also, I don’t know that any of us could have stood so close to the young girl and pulled the trigger. As it was, the escorts moved as quickly as possible, each of us was concerned that her suffering should not be prolonged.

Pin had had to wait outside for ten minutes until Ginggaew was carried to the morgue for the second time. He was then brought in and tied to the cross. At 6.05pm Prathom pulled the trigger, sending 13 bullets into his back. The doctor went to check on him and discovered that he too was still alive, only just, but still breathing all the same. I loaded the gun again and Prathom shot a further ten bullets, this time killing him instantly. We were all in need of more than one stiff drink that evening.

There are a couple of reasons why Ginggaew had such a terrible death. Firstly her heart wasn’t on the left side as with most people. She most probably had Kartagener’s Syndrome, which is when a person is born with their heart on the right-hand side instead of the left. And even if it was she wasn’t secured firmly enough to the cross so she was able to move around, therefore the bullets would miss their target. It showed the importance of binding the prisoner as tightly as possible, for their own sake. I had my doubts when she was first pronounced dead. I thought I could detect some strain in her neck, and maybe that’s why I followed the escorts to the morgue. The head should normally flop backwards with the cross being the only support for the limp body.


Ginggaew, Gasem, Pin, and all others who were executed by shooting entered the execution building through this red door … now disused and overgrown since Thailand scrapped shooting. Pic from this Norwegian Amnesty International page.

After Thailand switched to lethal injection, Chavoret Jaruboon retired to a monastery. His books show no disquiet about his career. He explicitly supported the death penalty.

“What I do is empty this story (the executions) from my mind. If I don’t do that I don’t know what (the executions) will do to me.”

-Chavoret Jaruboon

* We’ve previously written about a 2001 execution by gunfire in Thailand.

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1943: Jarvis Catoe

2 comments January 13th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1943, serial killer Jarvis Theodore Roosevelt Catoe was fried in the federal chair for the murder of Washington D.C. resident named Rose Abramowitz.

The 25-year-old victim, who had married only a month before, had hired Catoe to wax her kitchen floor.

Instead he raped and strangled her, left her sprawled on her bed and made off with $20.

Abramowitz wasn’t Catoe’s first victim and she would not be his last — although she was his first white victim; the previous ones had been black like Jarvis himself. This article summarizes Catoe’s career: homicides in New York City and Washington, beginning in 1935, as well as multiple robberies, rapes, indecent exposures and attempted kidnappings. To add insult to injury, an innocent man, James Matthew Smith, was convicted in his first murder and had already served several years of a life sentence by the time of Catoe’s arrest.

Time magazine called him a “one-man crime wave.” The D.C. police’s failure to catch him resulted in serious public embarrassment for the department and a dressing-down before Congress. Not bad for a killer so obscure his name isn’t even in Wikipedia.

Catoe’s last victim was Evelyn Anderson, a waitress in the Bronx. After he strangled her and left her body in an alley he took her purse and watch and gave it to a lady friend, who gave it to another friend, who gave it to a man who pawned it for $20. The New York Police, who had been checking the local pawn shops, found the watch and traced it through its various handlers, finally landing on Catoe, who had moved back to Washington by then.

He confessed to seven murders that he could remember, but reckoned the real body count was “about ten.” Most, but not all, of his victims had been sexually assaulted. A classic sexual sadist, Catoe stated he suffered from “spells” where he had an uncontrollable urge to kill. These spells tended to happen after he’d been reading detective stories and looking at pornography.

Catoe later retracted all his statements, saying he’d been “sick and weak” and the police and badgered him into making up stories. The jury didn’t buy it: in the Abramowitz trial, they were out for only eighteen minutes before voting for conviction and the death penalty.

He walked into the death chamber singing.

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2010: Liu Lieyong and Chen Xiaohui, Hubei gangsters

Add comment January 13th, 2011 Headsman

Two “prime members” — in the words of the Xinhua report — of a central China gang were executed on this date last year in Hubei province.

Liu Lieyong* was sentenced to death for the crimes of organizing and leading an organized criminal gang, murder, blackmail, illegal possession of arms and gambling, said a statement from the SPC.

Chen Xiaohui was convicted of participating in an organized criminal gang, murder, intentional injury, inciting disorder and illegal possession of arms.

Another 19 people convicted in the case received jail terms from one year with two-year reprieve to suspended death sentences, said the statement.

The crime gang, founded by Liu in the city of Xiantao in Hubei in 2001, had opened casinos, which were illegal in China, illegally forced the transfer of shares in local bus companies and manipulated local cement and food markets.

Liu instructed gang members, including Chen, to murder one person. Chen was also held responsible for another death and nine injuries, the statement said.

The statement did not give details about their victims. According to a report in the Wuhan Morning Post in February 2008, one of the victims was Hu Dongfeng, head of a rival gang in Xiantao. Six of Liu’s gang members ambushed him and shot him dead.

* Not to be confused with the singer and actress Liu Liyang.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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1825: Joaquim do Amor Divino Rabelo, Frei Caneca

Add comment January 13th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1825, Portuguese divine Joaquim do Amor Divino Rabelo e Caneca — more popularly and succinctly known as “Frei Caneca” — was executed along with seven others in Recife, Brazil for a short-lived revolt against the newly independent state.

This revolt unfolded against the backdrop of Brazil’s successful war of independence against Portugal.

You’re heard “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”?

It was literally true in this case.

The heir to the Portuguese crown,* Pedro I, made the unusual career choice of declaring Brazil’s independence from his own dad, costing the House of Braganza a good deal more than is usual for family therapy.

And of course one so often grows up into a belated appreciation of one’s parents’ formerly objectionable characteristics.

For Pedro’s new South American polity, there ensued the age-old conflict between federalism and centralization: having promised the one when in need of popular support for his revolution, Pedro delivered the other when securely lodged on the Brazilian throne.

And this triggered the short-lived breakaway attempt of the so-called Confederation of the Equator, centered in Pernambuco, an ornery northeastern province that had likewise abortively rebelled against Portuguese colonial administration in 1817.**

Liberal Carmelite intellectual Frei Caneca — “Father Mug”; here‘s his Portuguese Wikipedia page — had done four years in the clink for his support of that earlier revolt, but he did not hesitate to throw in with Manuel de Carvalho (Portuguese again) when the latter proclaimed independence from Brazil.

Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil, found this sort of behavior much less appealing done to him than by him.

What are the demands of the insults from Pernambuco? Certainly a punishment, and such a punishment that it will serve as an example for the future.

Having a lopsided advantage in the balance-of-force department, Pedro soon got the opportunity to set that example. (Though not on Carvalho, who escaped the roundup and long outlived his king.)

The story goes that Frei Caneca was doomed to hanging — the fate suffered by his fellow-martyrs this day — but so beloved was he that nary a Pernambucano could be found willing to stretch the friar’s neck. It’s a nice 19th century liberal-man-of-the-cloth twist on that ancient hagiographic trope, the “holy man (or woman) who defeats the execution device”.

Unfortunately for Father Mug, that’s usually only a one-device-per-execution deal. In this case, Brazil did locate personnel willing enough for a firing squad’s worth of guys to shoot Caneca dead.

This lyrical end was set to verse in “Auto do Frade” by Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto.

* Pedro would inherit the Portuguese throne in 1826 on his father’s death, briefly and theoretically uniting the realms, but power players in the motherland gave him the boot within weeks.

** The flag of the 1817 Pernambucan Revolution is Pernambuca’s state flag today.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Artists,Brazil,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Treason

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