1807: Henry Niles

Add comment November 4th, 2018 Headsman

From the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Gazette, November 30, 1807:

NEW LONDON, (Con.) Nov. 11.

On Wednesday last, Henry Niles, an Indian, was executed in this city, for the murder of his wife, pursuant to the sentence of the Supreme Court.

The day before his execution the prisoner attempted to anticipate his sentence, and with a piece of the blade of a knife opened a vein in his thigh, from which a large quantity of blood issued before his purpose was prevented.

On the day of execution, he was taken from prison by the Sheriff and his Deputies, (the Independent Company acting as guards) and carried to the Presbyterian meeting house, where a sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. [Abel] M’Ewen.

At the place of execution the prisoner made a short speech to the spectators, and was then launched into eternity.

It is 21 years since the execution of a criminal in this city, and the spectacle of the public death of a human being, though “a poor Indian,” drew together a large concourse of people; the number has, by many observers, been computed at 6, 8, and 10 thousand. The prisoner behaved with much calmness, and when passing from prison thro’ the crowd, his countenance bespoke the magnanimity of the American savage.

The death of his wife was occasioned by a quarrel produced by intoxication, the effects of which are known to be peculiarly mischievous among the aborigines of America.

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1880: Alexander Kvyatkovsky and Andrei Presnyakov, Narodnaya Volya terrorists

Add comment November 16th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1880,* Russian revolutionaries Alexander Kvyatkovsky and Andrei Presnyakov were hanged at St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress.


Kvyatkovsky (left) and Presnyakov.

Kvyatkovsky, 28, and Presnyakov, 24, had each spent the whole of their brief adulthoods agitating, police ever at their heels. As Russia’s “season of terror” opened in the late 1870s, both immediately cast their lot with the violent Narodnaya Volya movement. They were found by police at their respective arrests to have each had more than a passing interest in Narodnaya Volya’s ongoing project to assassinate Tsar Alexander II — an objective that it would indeed achieve a few months later.

Their fellow-traveler Mikhail Frolenko would remember the mass trial they featured at not for any glorious martyr-making but as a propaganda debacle for his movement.

The Trial of the Sixteen** in October 1880 was a model of judicial procedure — the government had learned, planned carefully and conducted the trial with absolute decorum. The sixteen accused included three of the most important figures in the Movement: Shiraev, who had been arrested in Moscow a year before with two suitcases of dynamite, Presnyakov and Kvyatkovsky. The last two were old friends of Andrei Zhelyabov. The evidence against the accused was provided by Grigory Goldenberg; the prosecution’s case was unanswerable. The sixteen were allowed to address the court and their speeches were reported. The prosecutors questioned them with a mix of deliberate courtesy and provocation: the sixteen were given enough rope to hang themselves. They followed no clear line and contradicted each other on endless details. They improvised counter-accusations, became mired in irrelevancies, and exploded in fits of petulance. They made a miserable impression, highlighted at every stage by the correctness of the proceedings. In its sentence the court was lenient, another propaganda victory: fourteen were sentenced to hard labor; two, Presnyakov and Kvyatkovsky, were sentenced to be hanged. We lost sixteen good people, which was bad enough. But worse was our irreparable loss of public esteem. One small sign of this was the fate of the word terror. Hitherto we had freely called ourselves terrorists; it had much the same ring as revolutionary. Terror was simply the first phase of the revolution. Overnight the word became a term of abuse and the exclusive property of the government. That alone might have told us we were following the wrong path. (Excerpted from Saturn’s Daughters: The Birth of Terrorism

Kvyatkovsky’s son, also named Alexander, was a Bolshevik close to Lenin in the early Soviet years.

* November 16 by the Gregorian calendar; it was still November 4 by the archaic Julian calendar still then in use in the Russian Empire.

** Not to be confused with at least two distinct Soviet-era mass trials also respectively designated the “Trial of the Sixteen”.

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1873: Four Cuban rebel generals

Add comment November 4th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1873, not five days after capturing the Virginius — a U.S. blockade runner illegally supplying separatist rebels in Cuba — Spanish General Juan Burriel had four of the rebel brass found aboard shot under martial law.

Santiago de Cuba, November 4, 1873

To his Excellency the Captain-General

At six o’clock this morning were shot in this city, for being traitors to their country, and for being insurgent chiefs, the following persons, styling themselves ‘patriot generals:’ Bernabe Varona, alias Bembeta, general of division; Pedro Céspedes, commanding general of Cienfuegos; General Jesus del Sol, and Brigadier-General Washington Ryan. The executions took place in the presence of the entire corps of volunteers, the force of regular infantry, and the sailors from the fleet. An immense concourse of people also witnessed the act.

The best of the order prevailed. The prisoners met their death with composure.

Juan B. Burriel

Part of Corpses Strewn: The Virginius Affair.

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1895: Emma Williams, Frank Tinyana, and Jackey

Add comment November 4th, 2016 Headsman

From The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Nov. 5, 1895:

Melbourne, November 4.
Emma Williams, who was convicted of the murder of her child at Port Melbourne on August 13 last, was executed in Melbourne Gaol this morning in the presence of about a dozen persons.

Public excitement was aroused over the murder when it was first discovered owing to the callous and unfeeling way in which the deed was done and the careless attitude of the mother afterwards. The victim, who was only two years of age, was taken by its mother to the pier in the Sandridge Lagoon, where she tied a stone to its body and pushed it into the water.

After her conviction the Anti-Capital Punishment League made strenuous efforts to obtain a reprieve, chiefly because the condemned woman alleged that she was pregnant.

Medical examinations did not support that statement, and it was discovered on Friday last that the condition which lent color to the woman’s statements was produced artificially.

At first Williams treated her terrible sentence with apparent unconcern, being buoyed up with the hope of reprieve; but when that expectation had passed she became most devout and earnest in her attentions to the ministrations of the gaol chaplain (the Rev. H. F. Scott), by whom she was attended to the scaffold. She expressed great sorrow for the crime she had committed and for the loose life she had led.

She remained in that frame of mind to the end.

When the sheriff demanded the body of the prisoner from the governor of the gaol at the door of the little cell alongside the gallows this morning she walked calmly on to the drop, but her face was blanched and wore a terrified expression.

In answer to the usual questions from the sheriff as to whether she wished to say anything Williams answered “No,” in a low but firm voice.

The white cap was immediately drawn over her face and the rope adjusted, and then, as Roberts, the hangman, turned to pull the lever, she exclaimed, “Oh, Lamb of God, I come.”

The next moment the drop fell, and at that moment Williams uttered a nervous, plaintive exclamation that was not quite a scream. Then all was over. The whole of the proceedings did not occupy more than a quarter of an hour, and death was instantaneous.

The dead woman had a very eventful career, having been married when she was 14 years old. At 15 she bore a daughter, who is still living. Her husband left her, and afterwards died in the Melbourne Hospital, while the widow continued a career of dissipation. Her daughter was adopted by a friend of her husband, and the child which she drowned was born after his death.

She was born in Launceston, Tasmania, where her mother still lives.

Brisbane, November 4.
A double execution took place at the Boggo Road Gaol this morning.

Jackey, an aboriginal, was hanged for the murder of a Javanese, Jimmy Williams, at Mount Morgan, and Frank Tinana [or Tinyana -ed.], a Dative of Manila, was executed for the murder of Constable Conroy, on Thursday Island. The men behaved well in prison. Jackey was able to recite prayers taught him by the Bey. Mr. Simmonds, and Father Dorrigan attended Tinana, who admitted having committed murder. He said he bad a jealous quarrel with another colored man, in which Constable Conroy attempted to arrest him. He then stabbed Conroy to death.

During the past few days both condemned men ate and slept well, and this morning they partook of breakfast. When they came upon the scaffold Tinana was agitated and seemed afraid. Neither man spoke.

The preliminaries were quickly arranged and the bolt was drawn. Death, in each case was apparently instantaneous. When Jackey, whose height was nearly 6 ft, fell blood burst from his nose and stained his white cap.


Diagram from an 1880 memorandum the British government sent to colonial authorities in Queensland detailing procedures for the cutting-edge long drop hanging method.

No colored men were present to witness the execution, which was carried out in the presence of the usual officials. Jackey left a letter to a woman who is looking after his child, telling her to take great care of the infant, to bring it up as a white man’s, and not to let it drink rum or go to the blacks’ camp. Tinana left a letter coached in terms of great affection to his wife.

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1949: Arthur Bruce Perkins, “I knew I could never face her again”

Add comment November 4th, 2015 Headsman

Minutes after midnight on this date in 1949, Washington state hanged Arthur Bruce Perkins for stabbing and bludgeoning to death an Olympia couple during the course of a robbery two years prior.

An alcoholic delinquent from his teen years, Perkins moved to Olympia after being paroled from a stretch in the state reformatory on November 11, 1947. One of the victims living there, Geneva Jessup, “had practically been a foster mother to” Perkins, according to court records. “‘I called Mrs. Jessup Aunt Neenie.'”

Perkins and a friend were peacably repairing a broken-down vehicle near the Jessup home when Perkins got a phone call at that house. Precisely how events escalated so dramatically from this everyday neighborly scene into a bloodbath is not very well-developed, and Perkins did not seem inclined to elaborate on the point beyond what was necessary to expedite his conviction. (He had no last words on the gallows. “Some time perhaps, the truth of this whole affair will be known,” he had mused enigmatically in the hours before.) The best one can present by way of conflict is that Mrs. Jessup attempted to dissuade her “nephew” from an ill-considered marriage. The confession that he gave police suggests that a moment of heartbreak that became a mad and horrible crime.

[Mrs. Jessup] kept talking about [the woman Perkins intended to marry] and I slapped her first. I then realized what I had done and knew I could never face her again. The rock I used was in a flower pot or was used as a door jam. I remember the old man coming into the room and I knew right then I would have to kill him as he saw the whole thing. I think the knife was on the kitchen table or drain board. I don’t know how many times I stabbed them. I think I choked Mr. Jessup until he was unconcious and I think I hit him once or twice with my fist and then I remember stabbing him. She was standing up when I hit her and when it was all over I picked her up and put her on the davenport.

He fled towards Centralia, and was picked up within days. By then, he preferred to throw away his own life rather than confront in court the enormity of his deed. While driving Perkins to jail, the sheriff said,

he was in the back seat and he spoke up rather loud and asked me what my suggestion or what my advice would be to getting this thing over with as quick as possible, get it straightened around and he didn’t want to spend any long time in jail; said he wanted to be executed … I told him the best thing for him to do to simplify it would be to sign a confession, a short statement of the facts and then hire the poorest lawyer he could find.

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1881: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

1 comment November 4th, 2014 Headsman

Three murderers’ coincidental hanging dates on November 4, 1881, were reported by the next day’s issue of the New York Herald. We reproduce all three bulletins below, verbatim save added line breaks to aid readability.

Whiteville, N.C., Nov. 4, 1881

Henry Lovett, colored, to-day suffered the extreme penalty of the law for the murder of Archelaus P. Williams, who was also colored.

The doomed man slept quietly last night and ate a hearty breakfast this morning. The Rev. H. Gore, colored, of the Missionary Baptist Church, who had attended the malefactor on several occasions and officiated with him to the last moment, states that Lovett professed himself as willing to die. His demeanor this morning was calm and collected and he bade goodby to the sheriff, jailer and others in attendance with perfect composure.

At half-past eleven o’clock this forenoon he was taken from the jail to the gallows, which was erected in the jail yard. He mounted the scaffold with a firm step, attended by the jailer, sheriff and clergyman.

PRAYING ON THE SCAFFOLD.

The execution being public, the yard and surrounding grounds were packed with an eager populace anxious to witness a spectacle seldom seen in the county of Columbus.

Religious services were held upon the scaffold, in which Lovett joined with fervor.

At the conclusion of the devotions the Sheriff adjusted the rope, and at ten minutes past twelve the drop fell. At the expiration of fifteen minutes the physicians in attendance pronounced Lovett dead. He died with scarcely a struggle, the neck being dislocated by the fall. After remaining suspended for twenty minutes the body was cut down and taken to the public burial ground for interment.

STORY OF THE CRIME.

The murder of Williams by Lovett was committed at a place known at Williamson’s Cross Roads, in Tatums township, in this county, on the 19th of July, 1880.

The parties had always been on friendly terms, but upon the day of the murder, both men being intoxicated, some misunderstanding had arisen between them, during which Williams picked up a rock to throw it at Lovett, who had drawn a pocket knife. High words and threats passed between them, but finally apparent peace was restored and Williams threw down the rock in token of amity.

Lovett then approached him, and putting his arm around Williams’ neck said, “There is no trouble, Ned (a name by which the latter was usually known), between us,” and they walked off together in seeming good friendship, when a blow was heard and Williams exclaimed, “I’m a dead man without a cause!”

At the same instant Lovett was seen by one of the bystanders to draw a knife from the neck of his victim.

Some of those present immediately secured Lovett, while others hastened to the assistance of the wounded man. The former made no effort to escape, nor did he attempt to resist arrest.

Medical attendance was very promptly on hand, and it was found that the jugular vein was partially severed and the throat and windpipe badly cut. Williams, however, lived twenty-four hours after receiving the fatal wound.

He was about fifty-five years of age, and left a wife and several children. He was generally a peacable man, but at times, especially when partially intoxicated, was inclined to be quarrelsome.

TRIAL AND CONVICTION.

At the fall term of the Superior Court of Columbus county last year the Grand Jury found a true bill against Lovett, and he was duly arraigned for trial.

As the prisoner was entirely without means the Court assigned counsel to defend him. Upon affidavit being made that the prisoner was not prepared for trial the case was continued until the spring term of 1881, at which the prisoner’s counsel asked for a further continuance to enable them to secure important witnesses, and upon affidavit made to that effect the request was granted.

At the fall term, which convened at Whiteville, September 19, 1881, Judge Jesse F. Graves, presiding, Lovett was brought to trial, and after a fair and impartial hearing, an able defence by his counsel and an exhaustive charge by the court, the jury rendered a verdict of “guilty of murder in the first degree.”

A motion was made for a new trial upon the ground that no malice had been shown upon the part of the defendant, but it was overruled. The court then pronounced sentence of death upon the prisoner.

INDIFFERENCE TO HIS FATE.

Lovett received the sentence with stolid indifference, apparently without remorse for the fearful crime he had committed or solicitude for the awful fate which awaited him.

This utter disregard of the past or future he has as a rule maintained ever since. Spiritual consolation has been offered him through the ministrations of a Baptist (white) clergyman and also by two colored ministers of the same denomination, but he paid little attention to any of them, although his conduct has been quiet, peacable and orderly during his long confinement.

He claimed to be but twenty-one years of age, although his appearance would indicate that he was at least four years old. He also claimed to have had no recollection of the events of that fatal day.

Lovett was a full black, about five feet and five inches in height, and his status as a colored man was considerably below the average of intelligence among those people. He was unmarried.


Plattsburg, N.Y., Nov. 4, 1881

Henry King was executed here to-day for the murder of Michael Hamilton at the State Prison, at Clinton, on July 13, in which both men were convicts.

Both were New York burglars, who had been drafted from Sing Sing Prison. King was serving a life term for killing Police Sergeant McGiven, of New York. He had been very quiet and penitent in the jail and attended strictly to the religious advice given him by Father Walsh.

The arrangements for the execution were carefully made by Sheriff Mooney, the gallows being placed in the rear yard of the jail.

At thirty-six minutes after eleven o’clock the Sheriff and deputies, two medical men and representatives of the press took their places.

The warrant had been previously read in the cell. The condemned man walked unpinioned, with a determined air to his fate, behind Fathers Walsh and Carroll, who were reciting the offices of the Church. King spoke briefly, thanking the Sheriff and his deputies for their kindness, and saying that he had hopes of God’s forgiveness.

DEATH BY STRANGULATION.

The rope and cap having been adjusted by Sheriff Mooney, that official stepped behind a screen, and at seventeen minutes to twelve the body of King sprang upward and was dangling in the air four feet from the ground.

The knot having slipped to the front the neck was not broke and death ensued by strangulation.

After a lapse of three minutes no pulse could be felt at the wrist, but it was still eighty at the heart. At twelve o’clock it was gone and he was declared dead by the doctors. Seven minutes later the body was lowered, placed in a coffin and given to his mother and brother, who had come up from New York last Tuesday for that purpose.

The remains were taken to St. John’s Church, where a funeral mass was recited, and at two o’clock they were buried in the village cemetery.

DETAILS OF THE TRAGEDY.

On the 10th of August, 1876, Henry King was sentenced to serve a life term in Dannemora Prion for murdering Sergeant James McGiven, of New York.

A short time after the shooting of President Garfield, King and another convict named Hamilton, got into a quarrel regarding the character of Vice President Arthur and his fitness to administer the affairs of the nation in the event of President Garfield’s death and Arthur’s succession to the Presidency.

Hamilton made some remark which was not complimentary to Arthur, whereupon King struck his brother convict two blows on the head with an axe, killing him instantly.

King was tried on the charge of murder, at the Circuit Court in session at Plattsburgh, on September 14, Judge Landon presiding.

Three witneses were sworn for the prosecution — the prison physician, a cook and one of the keepers. No evidence was introduced on behalf of the prisoner. The taking of testimony occupied about one hour and a half, when the jury retired. After an absence of about two hours it returned and requested the Judge to explain the legal difference between murder in the first and second degrees.

EXTRAORDINARY SCENE IN COURT.

Judge Landon was about to reply, when the prisoner arose to his feet and said: — “Your Honor and gentlemen of the jury, this was not a murder in the second degree. It was a deliberate and premeditated murder. I know that I have done wrong, that I ought to confess the truth and that I ought to be hanged.”

Here the prisoner’ counsel tried in vain to silence him.

“No,” continued King.

I have done wrong. It is my duty to confess it, and I cannot help doing so. I cannot keep still. I plead guilty to murder in the first degree. It was fifteen minutes from the time I struck the first blow with the axe until I struck him the second time, and all this time I kept thinking, ‘I will finish this man.’ If this is not premeditated murder what is it? I have already killed two men. What is my life to me? The life of either of these two men whom I have killed is worth a dozen of mine.

THE DEATH SENTENCE.

The prisoner then sat down, whereupon the Judge informed the jury that in view of the prisoner’s admission that the murder was premeditated there was no necessity for any further explanation of the law upon his part.

The jury thereupon retired and very soon came back with a verdict of guilty. In reply to the question as to whether he had anything to say why the sentence of death should not be passed upon him King replied: — “Nothing, sir; the sentence is a just one. I ought to be hanged.”

KING’S RECORD IN NEW YORK.

Policeman Patrick Kennedy, of the City Hall police, said yesterday: —

I arrested King immediately after his stabbing poor McGiven. King had a watch and chain in one hand and an open knife in the other.

As soon as McGiven was wounded he released his hold of the thief, who had thus become a murderer, and cried out ‘I am stabbed!’ Just as this occurred I arrived at the scene and seized the murderer.

McGiven said, ‘Look out for him; he has a knife.’ With some difficulty I succeeded in disarming King, not, however, before he informed me that if he had his pistol with him he would ‘fix’ me.

I subsequently learned that King was one of the worst characters in a locality notorious for crime — viz., from Twelfth to Forty-Second Street, east of First Avenue. He was always ready, for anything in the way of crime, being what is known as a ‘general thief,’ having no particular specialty, but adopting sneak thieving, burglary or highway robbery as occasion offered.

He lived with his mother and brother in Nineteenth street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, and was well known to the police as one of the most desperate characters in the Eighteenth Ward.

He had the most violent temper that ever man was cursed with. He would stop at nothing to injure any one who interfered with or thwarted him.

Since he has been in prison I have ascertained that he wrote letters to this city, in which he expressed the intention, if ever he got out, to put an end to my life. Some idea of the man may be formed from his statement only a day or two ago that he does not want to live, as if he were to obtain his liberty he might commit other murders.


Jonesborough, Ga., Nov. 4, 1881

Tom Betts, colored, was hanged here to-day for the murder of Judge H. Moore, last fall.

Betts was taken from jail at 12 o’clock by the Sheriff under a guard of seventy men and carried to the gallows, which was erected a mile from the town.

The condemned man made a speech confessing his crime and expressing the belief that he would be saved. The drop fell at 1:01 o’clock and death resulted in seven minutes from strangulation.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Murder,New York,North Carolina,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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2005: Hastings Arthur Wise, workplace shooter

Add comment November 4th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Hastings Arthur Wise was executed in South Carolina for a shooting rampage at his workplace.

Or rather — and this was the problem — his former workplace.

Canned from his machine-operator job of four years at the Aiken County R.E. Phelon engine manufacturing plant that July, Wise warned that he’d be back.

On September 15, 1997, he turned up packing a 9 mm pistol and exacted his revenge — just another of America’s endless cavalcade of mass shootings.

He shot a guard to get into the plant. The guard survived, but four others were not so fortunate as Wise stalked through his former employer’s halls screaming and firing. Police later recovered four empty eight-round magazines.

The human resources director who had fired him was the first Wise killed.

Two men in the tool and die area who had jobs that Wise had once sought unsuccessfully were the next.

A young woman in a job Wise had sought promotion to was wounded with shots to the back and leg, then finished off execution-style.

Wise took to firing almost indiscriminately and wounded a few others, but the body count still might have been higher. Some others Wise saw and could have murdered, but did not — some possibly saved by happenstance, others whom Wise said in court that he declined to shoot because he used to get along with them as coworkers. The whole rampage was calculated to such an extent that Wise took a 9,000-mile road trip to California and Texas to tick a few items off his bucket list first.

Wise always intended to check out at the end of his spree; the SWAT team found him on the floor suffering from a swallow of insecticide that turned out to be non-fatal. The judicial process was the slow train, but the destination remained the same.

“I don’t have much to say except that I did not wish to take advantage of the court as far as asking mercy,” Wise said to the court at his sentencing. “It’s a fair trial. I committed the crimes.”

As good as his word, Wise voluntarily dropped his appeals and went quickly from his 2001 conviction to execution, declining to make any final statement.

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2005: Brian Steckel, the Driftwood Killer

10 comments November 4th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Brian Steckel was executed by lethal injection for a Delaware rape-murder.

Steckel got 29-year-old Sandra Lee Long to let him into her apartment on the pretext of making a phone call. (This was 1994, pre-cell phones.) Then he throttled her, sodomized her, raped her with a screwdriver, and set her bedroom on fire. Then he fled. (Long survived the immediate attack; she would die of smoke inhalation from the arson.)

Hours later, he called The News Journal identifying himself as the “Driftwood Killer” and threatening his next prospective victim by name. Police took that woman into protective custody and traced harassing calls she’d been receiving to Steckel, who obligingly confessed when arrested.

And investigators took Steckel’s threats at their word — as well they might with Long’s ghastly murder already under his belt — and counted themselves lucky to have nipped a potential spree killer in the bud. Steckel “thought about committing a murder for a long time,” New Castle County detective John Downs said. “We got him relatively early in his career. This was something he’d worked at.”

Fond of the drink and none too stable, Steckel menaced his own attorneys, spat at prosecutors, soaked up the media attention, and sent dozens of letters from prison, including Long’s autopsy sent to Long’s mother with a scribbled taunt reading “Happy, Happy. Joy Joy. Read it and weep. She’s gone forever. Don’t cry over burnt flesh.” He also made and retracted various dubious confessions to various murders in various states, and alternated between slandering his (known) victim and calling himself an “animal” for killing her.

If the evil was unfeigned, so was the remorse. At the end of his trial, he surprisingly addressed the the jury with an assent to his own execution.

I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry. How do you tell someone’s family you’re sorry for strangling them? … How do you do such a thing? I don’t know. I ask you people to hold me accountable for what I did. I’ve gotten away with so much in my life that I stand here today … I know I deserve to die for what I did to Sandy. … I’m prepared to give up my life because I deserve to.

He carried a like sentiment to the gurney, where he was apologetic to the victim’s mother he had once mocked.

I want to say I’m sorry for the cruel things I did. I’m not the same man I was when I came to jail. I changed. I’m a better man … I walked in here without a fight, and I accept my punishment. It is time to go. I love you people … I’m at peace.

At this point where the repentant felon ought to close his eyes and exit, an awkward 12-minute delay followed while the lethal injection machine clicked several times and Steckel remained lucid, appending his last statement with observations like, “I didn’t think it would take this long.”

While state officials denied there was any problem with the exceedingly slow lethal injection, Steckel did not appear to have been rendered unconscious, and was awake when he finally snorted and convulsed into death.

Attorney Michael Wiseman, pursuing a later lawsuit against the state’s death penalty procedure, claimed that the main IV line was blocked and when executioners switched to the backup line, they didn’t bother (pdf) re-administering the anesthetic sodium thiopental that forms the first drug of the basic three-drug lethal injection cocktail. That omission meant that Steckel would have been conscious when he was hit with a paralytic dose of pancuronium bromide, and still conscious when that was followed with an excrutiating heart-stopping shot of potassium chloride. (More on the process.)

Wiseman even got a member of the execution team to testify that he was “okay with” causing Steckel suffering owing to the bestial nature of Steckel’s crimes. (The source for this is the January 29, 2009 News Journal; the article is no longer available online.)

A federal circuit court rapped Delaware for “occasional blitheness” and “isolated examples of maladministration,” but rejected the lawsuit.

After a five-plus year hiatus following Steckel’s execution, the Blue Hen State resumed executions in 2011, switching for the occasion to the trendy new anesthetic drug pentobarbital since execution chambers can no longer get hold of sodium thiopental. Just like Brian Steckel.

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1818: Matthew Clydesdale, galvanic subject

3 comments November 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1818, murderer Matthew Clydesdale was publicly hanged at Glasgow’s High Court building, along with a habitual burglar named Simon Ross.*

This was the city’s first hanging in a decade and accordingly drew a throng of gawkers.

But they weren’t there only to mete out justice to the killer of elderly Alexander Love: there as another attraction, too. Ross, the small-timer, was done for after his hanging and buried away unceremoniously.

But Clydesdale’s body “was put into a coffin, and was forthwith conveyed, for the purpose of dissection, to the Professor of Anatomy. The cart was followed by a large portion of the crowd.” (London Times, Nov. 11, 1818)

Before a mob of rubbernecking — sometimes fainting — onlookers, the flesh that had lately belonged to Matthew Clydesdale was subjected to the fashionable and creepy science of galvanism.

Andrew Ure and James Jeffray hooked up a galvanic battery and for an hour excited the corpse with various electrically-charged proddings. Ure, at least, dreamt of the hypothesis that the right jolt to the right spot might in principle achieve a Frankenstein-like reanimation.

We are almost willing to imagine, that if, without cutting into and wounding the spinal marrow and blood-vessels in the neck, the pulmonary organs had been set a-playing at first … life might have been restored. This event, however little desirable with a murderer, and perhaps contrary to law, would yet have been pardonable in one instance, as it would have been highly honourable and useful to science.

I mean, you’d have to think it would at least be good enough for tenure.

Regrettably failing in this honourable endeavor, the gentlemen of science did make such grisly sport with their subject as to strike awe and terror into the astonished crowd.

every muscle of the body was immediately agitated with convulsive movements … the leg was thrown out with such violence as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent its extension …

Every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action: rage, horror, despair, anguish,and ghastly smiles united their hideous expression in the murderer’s face …

When the one rod was applied to the slight incision in the tip of the forefinger, the fist being previously clenched, that finger extended instantly; and from the convulsive agitation of the arm, he seemed to point to the different spectators, some of whom thought he had come to life.

* Two others condemned for the same date’s harvest of souls — James Boyd (housebreaking) and Margaret Kennedy (passing forged notes) — were reprieved.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland

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1778: Abraham Carlisle and John Roberts, triggering Benedict Arnold’s betrayal?

3 comments November 4th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1778, the hanging in Philadelphia of two elderly Quakers for treason perhaps set in motion Benedict Arnold’s notorious defection from the American Revolution.

Brotherly love was a little scarce on the ground in Philly after Gen. William Howe occupied it for the British in 1777-1778.*

British control of the cradle of liberty exacerbated the social tensions swirling around the revolution, most particularly between radical revolutionaries and those of a more go-along, get-along variety. Plenty of North Americans, after all, were British loyalists. Plenty of others were fine with political independence but horrified at the more radically democratic ideas of, say, Tom Paine.

Pennsylvania had proven a relative bastion for militants, who authored its progressive 1776 constitution and imposed loyalty tests to disenfranchise Tories and neutrals. When Howe withdrew from Philadelphia, these elements returned, loaded for bear. Or in this case, Quakers.

Members of this sect were suspect to begin with for pacifism, which is the sort of ideology that would fail a loyalty test. Spurning a Moravian pitch for exemption from the oath, the authorities complained of

persons among us, preferring a slavish dependence on the British King, from prejudice, expectation from lucrative offices, or the most unworthy motives, and screening themselves from the notice of Government, by a professed neutrality, have, nevertheless, as soon as opportunity offered declared themselves in favour of our Enemies, and became active against the Liberties of America

Abraham Carlisle and John Roberts, Quakers of an advanced age who had collaborated with the British, were thought to have done precisely this perfidious thing. In the sentence delivered to Roberts (the men had separate trials), the judge insisted his defendant was either with liberty, or against it.

Treason is a crime of the most dangerous and fatal consequence to society; it is of a most malignant nature; it is of a crimson colour and of a scarlet dye. Maliciously to deprive one man of life, merits the punishment of death, and blood for blood is a just restitution. What punishment, then, must he deserve, who joins the enemies of his country, and endeavours the total destruction of the lives, liberties, and property of all his fellow citizens; who wilfully aids and assists in so impious a cause; a cause which has been complicated with the horrid and crying sin of murdering thousands, who were not only innocent, but meritorious; and aggravated by burning some of them alive, and starving others to death. It is in vain to plead, that you have not personally acted in this wicked business; for all who countenance and assist, are partakers in the guilt.**

The wholesale purge such a logic would license was thankfully not forthcoming, because even revolutionary sentiment was uncomfortable with the treatment of these exemplars. Roberts’s own jury had to be cajoled into a conviction, and most of its members joined thousands of Philadelphians of different political stripes petitioning for mercy.

The post-Howe military governor of Philadelphia at this time was none other than Benedict Arnold, still an American general but putting himself ostentatiously into the tug-of-war over the proper revolutionary line with his profligate living and his courtship of a British-friendly merchant‘s daughter.

Arnold stuck his thumb in the radicals’ eye by hosting a party on the eve of this date’s hanging for society ladies of doubtful [revolutionary] virtue … prompting a fulsome protest by Joseph Reed

Treason, disaffection to the interests of America, and even assistance to the British interest, is called openly only error of judgment, which candour and liberality will overlook … it would astonish you to observe the weight of interest excited to pardon [Carlisle and Roberts] … will you not think it extraordinary that General Arnold made a public entertainment the night before last, of which not only common Tory ladies, but the wives and daughters of persons proscribed by the State, and now with the enemy at New York, formed a very considerable number. The fact is literally true.

Left- and right-wing factions of the revolution crystallized around Reed and Arnold, and the abuse of the more-patriotic-than-thou set soon wore on Gen. Arnold. The latter put his contacts with un-revolutionary Philadelphia to work — specifically, that merchant’s daughter’s former suitor, British Major John Andre. Arnold and Andre began their correspondence six months after Carlisle and Roberts hanged; little more than a year later, Arnold ditched the American revolution … and entered the American lexicon.

* This was the winter George Washington famously spent at Valley Forge, 20 miles from Philly.

** The sentence is as printed in in the Pennsylvania Evening Post, Nov. 6, 1778. The magistrate concludes the sentence by pointing out that in Pennsylvania’s “leniency,” treason was punished “only” with hanging … while in the mother country, it could still get you drawn and quartered.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Pennsylvania,Power,Public Executions,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions

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