1961: John A. Bennett, the last American military execution (so far)

As of this date, it’s been 48 years since the United States military last carried out an execution — the Fort Leavenworth hanging* of John Arthur Bennett for rape.

An epileptic black soldier with a family history of mental illness, Bennett had enlisted to find a way up out of sharecropping. Instead, on Christmas Eve 1954, he drunkenly raped a 12-year-old girl near his base in Austria.

He spent six years awaiting execution — “six years,” observed the Los Angeles Times, “in which six other black soldiers were hanged while all four of the white men — many of them multiple murderers — were saved.”

Bennett dodged two execution dates, once receiving his stay during his last meal, but a seemingly compelling plea for clemency — the victim herself, and her parents, asked for mercy — availed Bennett nothing. His last frantic plea to the new president, John F. Kennedy, was dispatched with only hours yet to live.

I beg in the name of God … Will you please in the name of God and mercy spare my life?”

No dice. Kennedy was preoccupied.

Coincidentally, but poignantly for this case, the Kirk Douglas vehicle A Town Without Pity opened a month before Bennett’s execution. In that film (trailer here), four American servicemen face capital trial for the rape of a German girl — and Douglas, as their lawyer, struggles to talk pity into someone so he won’t be obliged to humiliate the victim in court in order to save his clients from the noose.

The victim’s father in that movie is so blinded by his lust for vengeance that he forces Douglas to destroy his own daughter: striking contrast with the real-life father of Bennett’s flesh-and-blood victim, who wrote in support of clemency for his daughter’s assailant, “I know how hard it is for the parents when their own child is so close to the verge of death.”

Bennett’s milestone, however, is hardly assured of lasting much beyond this 49th year.

In 2008, President George W. Bush affirmed the death sentence of condemned Army cook Ronald Gray, the first such action by any U.S. president since Bennett’s day. According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Death Row USA most current as of this writing,** Gray is one of nine prisoners currently on the U.S. military’s death row.

* Curious to know about the procedure? The Library of Congress has that period’s Procedure for Military Executions — complete with exact diagrams — online in pdf form.

** Death Row USA, Summer 2008 (direct pdf link)

On this day..

16 thoughts on “1961: John A. Bennett, the last American military execution (so far)

  1. Pingback: Homeland Security! | Terrorist in Fort Hood massacre sentenced to death – Examiner.com

  2. Jesus, there are a lot of right-wing sociopaths on the Internet.

    The death penalty is nothing more than state-sanctioned revenge murder. It’s the classic sign of a primitive, vengeful society (eg Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, the US). It’s man playing God. AND…

    # the death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent because the crime has already been committed. Anyway, the murder rate is far lower in most countries without it.

    # the death penalty doesn’t bring the victim back to life. Nor has it every been proved that it brings real closure to the families of victims.

    # the death penalty is absolute and irreversible.

    # the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment

    And if that’s not enough for you, the death penalty is FAR more expensive than incarceration for life

    “This is because the amount of due process is far higher than that with incarceration. In one state, the cost of lifetime incarceration is $11.5m year vs the death penalty which is $137m. Over TEN TIMES the cost.

    Source: Report of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (2008)

  3. It is shocking to me that anyone would call for any punishment besides the death penalty. Understanding Islam won’t change their evil intentions and may I remind the liberals there that the methods of punishment that Islamic nations use are hanging for homosexuality and they stone women for reporting rape without 4 male witnesses and they decapitate people routinely for speaking out against their faith. No there is no other penalty appropriate for this case but death and there is no other way to protect liberalism from Islam than death to Muslims.

  4. Is this guy great or what? Just a peace loving Muslim who only wants us all to believe just like he does. The Liberals have the same problem, do as we say and everything will be good for America. The difference is that the Libs have not began to kill us for our beliefs. You can take to the bank, the Muslims hate us period. The Libs just want to control us.

  5. “How is their vile fantasy of violence any different than what Mr. Hasan did?”

    This is one of the main problems with liberal ‘thinking’–the lack of ability to distinguish between two very different things.

    As for Bennett, the child rapist hanged in 1961, I hope sincerely that he’s still burning in hell, where he belongs. For you liberals out there–that’s a very different sentiment from Bennett’s decision to grab an innocent little girl and rape her.

  6. Is the LAtimes really the best source for this? Made me wonder if it was the only source for it if it was what was chosen to back up this story. Not saying it didn’t happen, but it frustrates me when journalists do not share the hard evidence they use. It does eventually (albeit reluctantly) become used by historians. Just would be nice if LA times was more clear w where they got their info from. Especially now when it is extremely relevant to today’s trial.

  7. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » Executioner-in-Chief: a tour of U.S. Presidents and the death penalty

  8. I agree #5, Soccor Mom Mentality. Why was Robert Bales serving a 4th (?) tour when he had a traumatic brain injury during his last tour of duty. He should have been in a VA hospital getting treatment. Or, really, any hospital of his choosing at tax payer’s expense.

  9. Well, #3 somebody has to take the reigns in this country and quit apologizing to all these countries. Just like the guy in Afghanistan – my question to our government would be why is he there anyway with a brain injury two years ago. This guy should have been in a VA hospital getting treatment. No body apologized to the Lt. Col. who was shot in the back of the head a few weeks ago by our supposed allies. Why didn’t Afghans apologize for that. They can all go to hell as far as I am concerned!!!

  10. What lovely thoughts from the commentators above. How is their vile fantasy of violence any different than what Mr. Hasan did? And “nuke them idiots?” That would be a crime thousands of times worse than the mass murder of Major Hasan. With sentiments like this it is amazing we still have any civilization left.

  11. As recent developments will proceed on, the former U.S. Major Hasan which is a disgrace to the U.S.Army and the heritage of American Soldiers, who has fought and died for this country of ours, he is entitled to a fair trial under law, but in reality as an retired American soldier, I am hoping that he is executed in the electric chair, death by firing squad, or hanged by the neck until he is dead!!! For the crimes he has commited on those Americans at Ft.Hood He deseves to die without honor. No American Flag should be put on his grave. He is a traiter and a terrorist. He can scream to Alla all he wants to ,creating an holy jihad in his mind. If it was my way, I would give him a reminder of Garry Owens and then teminate his life. Then I would drop his sorry pice of sh_t carcass to Osama Bin Laden 3000ft agl. At the same time I would nuke them idiots and make it into a K-Mart parking lot. They want an holy jihad, I ‘ll give them Garry Owens (7th calvary). That ought to put the wrath of God into their minds.

  12. I just want to know why my tax dollars are being spent to keep this motherf_cker alive ???? I so tired of these bleeding hearts out there that its make me puke. This piece of sh_t is total waste of space…… I say lodge a 9mm in the base of his skull and bury his ass in the nearest trash dump…….

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