2007: Michael Richard, whose time ran out

3 comments September 25th, 2009 Headsman

Two years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court unexpectedly accepted a case, Baze v. Rees, challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection — the supposedly humane execution method that seemed less and less so.

Texas inmate Michael Richard, condemned for raping and murdering Marguerite Dixon in 1986, was slated to die that very evening, also by lethal injection.

As Richard’s Texas Defender Service lawyers scrambled to prepare a last-minute legal challenge based on the pending Supreme Court case — for how could Texas carry out a procedure whose constitutionality was in question? — they tripped over an unexpected stretch of red tape that ultimately claimed their client’s life:

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals closed at 5 p.m. on the day of the scheduled 6 p.m. execution, and refused to accept an appeal filed a few minutes after 5.

Or more specifically, Judge Sharon Keller refused to accept the appeal, for which she came under immediate fire — and launched campaigns like the website SharonKiller.com.

This bizarre situation, complicated by the fact that the Lone Star State did not have written rules for handling last-minute appeals (it does now), has a thicket of procedural detail best appreciated by lawyers.

But it caught worldwide attention as an illustration of Texas’s cavalier approach to its numerous death penalty cases.

Keller, who has what you might say is an inordinate regard for “finality” (and for prosecutors), has herself been forced to defend her conduct in hearings of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Those hearings could result in her removal from the bench over this incident; a decision is expected soon. (Update: She skated.)

Though it was not completely clear for a few more weeks, it was in fact true that the pending Baze decision suspended the death penalty in the United States. As a result, Michael Richard — whose execution would have been stayed had the appeal entered the judicial system — was the last American put to death until May of 2008.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,USA

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1792: Jacques Cazotte, occultist

2 comments September 25th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1792, Jacques Cazotte, a writer distinctly out of step with his times, was guillotined for treason in Paris.

The Martinique-born Cazotte (English Wikipedia entry | French) was into his 40s when he launched the writing career that earns him notice enough for this blog.

He wasn’t a liberte, egalite, fraternite kind of guy: Cazotte’s works, like Le Diable Amoureux (The Devil in Love),* were fantastical, Gothic — far from the rationalist fare of the Enlightenment.

And that wasn’t exclusively a literary posture.

Cazotte fancied himself gifted with prophecy — enthusiasts’ accounts have him prophesying the course of the Revolution — and preferred the mystical enlightenment of the illuminati to the Voltairean kind.** He viewed the onset of the French Revolution with horror.

When some scribblings to that effect were discovered in his papers, the mystical goose was cooked. The French Wikipedia entry credits his daughter with saving his life during the September Massacres … buying the 72-year-old only a few weeks of life.

Cazotte’s Le Diable Amoureux has the devil as a young man’s servant girl, endeavoring to seduce him. Here is Cesare Pugni‘s balletic rendition, Satanella, with its grand pas de deux, “Le Carnaval de Venise,” from the Kirov:

Cazotte finds his way to us, as the dark arts are wont to do, through more meandering channels as well.

Le Diable Amoureux inspired supernatural mystery The Club Dumas by Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte. That novel in turn was riffed by Roman Polanski for the weird 1999 flick The Ninth Gate (review), starring Johnny Depp. (Cazotte’s book is explicitly referenced in both its progeny.)

Although only tangentially related, this digression into the occult gives us leave to notice one of the many cultural ephemera of executions linked to no particularly blog-friendly date. The Club Dumas and The Ninth Gate make use of striking woodcuts of modern vintage but after a style of centuries past that help unlock the central puzzle.

Charged with esoterica, the topical-looking “hanged man” print comes clearly modeled after its tarot cousin … although the tarot version, in most instances, is hoped to be of less deadly effect upon the plot.

* Available free in the original French at Project Gutenberg.

** Voltairean rationalism had its own ways of getting in trouble. It may have been an age of ideas, but it was hardly safe to have them.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Hanged,History,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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