2009: John Muhammad, D.C. sniper

3 comments November 10th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2009, D.C. sniper John Muhammad was executed by lethal injection in Virginia.

Muhammad — born John Allen Williams; he renamed himself after joining the Nation of Islam — authored with Lee Boyd Malvo, a juvenile collaborator under his sway, a spree of random sniper attacks around the Washington D.C. suburbs that terrified the nation’s capital in October 2002.

The two were captured together sleeping out in their sniper-mobile — a Chevy Caprice with a hole drilled in the trunk for taking concealed potshots at gas stations and mall parking lots and the like. Although arrested initially in Maryland, the U.S. Attorney General forced their case to the more aggressive death penalty jurisdiction of Virginia. (The two killed people in both states, tallying 10 dead and three wounded all told.)

From the time of his Oct. 24, 2002 arrest until the very end, Muhammad was frustratingly tight-lipped about how and why the carnage took place. Was it personal pique? Religious terrorism? Just a regular criminal racket?

In 2006 testimony, a now-contrite Lee Malvo — at one point he addressed Muhammad directly, saying “You took me into your house and you made me a monster” — outlined a plan that constituted a fearsomely nutty combination of motives: use the mayhem to extort millions of dollars, then take the money and set up a Canadian camp for 140 homeless black youth and rear them as terrorists. It’s just possible that this proposed enterprise pushed every single button in the collective American id.

(Malvo himself pled out to the murders, accepting six life sentences.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Serial Killers,Terrorists,USA,Virginia

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1803: Robert Emmet, “let no man write my epitaph”

2 comments September 20th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1803, Irish nationalist Robert Emmet was hanged and posthumously beheaded, a day after his trial for treason against England.

The well-to-do scion of a Protestant family, Robert Emmet followed his older brother into the Republican ferment of the time and led an unavailing uprising in Dublin on July 23, 1803.

Captured a month later when he romantically recklessly moved his hideout closer to his beloved Sarah Curran.*

Emmet won his great laurels in the annals of Irish Republicanism with a stirring “Speech from the Dock” addressed to the courtroom the day before he died. Or better to say that it was addressed in a courtroom, for knowing that his death sentence was a foregone conclusion, the real audience was posterity and a wider world.

Emmet found that audience with one of the great orations of the 19th century.

This clip is a truncated version of a longer speech not set to paper by Emmet, so no single definitive version exists. Versions can be found at this Irish history site, and at SinnFein.ie.

I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world — it is the charity of its silence! Let no man write my epitaph: for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them. let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them and me repose in obscurity and peace, and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times, and other men, can do justice to my character; when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.

On the strength of such sentiment — and the public’s learning of his love for Sarah Curran — the 25-year-old became iconic in death. Robert’s own death inspired the mandatory Irish patriotic ditty, “Bold Robert Emmet”:

But that sundered love between Emmet and Sarah Curran — who broken-heartedly accepted another proposal and moved to Sicily — was at least as stirring to the Romantic imagination. Washington Irving dedicated a short story to the lost romance; Emmet’s friend Thomas Moore made Curran the subject of a poem (beware: link opens an auto-playing audio file).


Anti-British terrorist Robert Emmet has a statue on Washington, D.C.’s Massachusetts Ave, and probably an entry on the no-fly list.

* 19th century Irish poet Thomas Moore paid her tribute in “She Is Far From the Land”:

She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps,
And lovers are round her, sighing:
But coldly she turns from their gaze, and weeps,
For her heart in his grave is lying.

She sings the wild song of her dear native plains,
Every note which he lov’d awaking; —
Ah! little they think who delight in her strains,
How the heart of the Minstrel is breaking.

He had liv’d for his love, for his country he died,
They were all that to life had entwin’d him;
Nor soon shall the tears of his country be dried,
Nor long will his love stay behind him.

Oh! make her a grave where the sunbeams rest,
When they promise a glorious morrow;
They’ll shine o’er his sleep, like a smile from the West,
From her ow lov’d island of sorrow.

Part of the Themed Set: Counterrevolution.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Treason

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1987: Valery Martynov, betrayed by Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen

9 comments May 28th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1987, a once-promising American intelligence asset was executed with a single gunshot to the head in Moscow — his treachery exposed by two of the most infamous Soviet moles in U.S. intelligence history.

A Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB posted to the Soviets’ official Washington, D.C. offices in 1980, Martynov had turned in 1982 and begun funneling intelligence to the CIA and FBI under the cryptonym “Gentile”. Truth be told, he was a mediocre source, but he was a younger officer with the chance to grow into a more important asset in the years ahead.

Fate had sized him up as an extra in someone else’s story instead.

In 1985, “the year of the spy” to those in the know for the volume of important cloak-and-dagger work, the Soviets landed two highly-placed moles in the American intelligence world — Aldrich Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI.

Both those notorious turncoats shopped Martynov (among others); duly informed, Russian spymaster Victor Cherkashin conned Martynov into returning to Moscow where he could be arrested.

Here’s a 2001 New York Times account on how it went down:

[Soviet counterintelligence officer Vitaliy] Yurchenko, unhappy with his lot as a defector [after coming over to the Americans in August 1985], suddenly redefected back to the Soviet Union in early November [1985, still]. Mr. Cherkashin has said in a previous interview that Mr. Yurchenko’s redefection presented an opportunity to lure Valeriy Martynov, a K.G.B. officer in the Washington station working for the F.B.I., back to the Soviet Union: The K.G.B. arranged for Mr. Martynov to serve as a member of an honor guard escorting Mr. Yurchenko back to Moscow.

When they arrived back in the Soviet Union, it was Mr. Martynov who was arrested; Mr. Yurchenko was given a job at the K.G.B. again.

No honor among thieves.

Martynov left a widow, Natalia, and two children. But he is remembered and written about exclusively in the context of the men who sold him out, who taken separately or together rate among recent history’s most catastrophic intelligence failures. (Or triumphs, depending on your point of view.)

Martynov’s ultimate tragedy, of course — one he shares with his more infamous American betrayers in this shadowland chess match — is that not by all the information he provided, and neither by his life nor his death, was the Cold War protracted or abbreviated by one single hour.

Books about the Ames and Hanssen cases

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Notable Participants,Notable Sleuthing,Russia,Shot,Spies,Treason,USA,USSR

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