1996: Antonio James, final judgment

On this date in 1996, Antonio James downed a last meal of fried oysters and crab gumbo, then went to the death chamber of Angola Prison to suffer lethal injection for the murder of Henry Silver.

Silver was a 70-year-old fellow whom James shot dead in a New Orleans robbery way back in 1979. (Net return: $35.) A few weeks later, he bungled another robbery and ended up shot with his own gun … and under arrest. It was his second murder conviction. Although James dodged 13 death dates and was the senior figure on the state’s death row when his time came, his was pretty unremarkable as death penalty cases go.

This did chance to be the first execution in Louisiana after the film Dead Man Walking (which is set in that state) was released, and it got a bit of additional media coverage as a consequence.

James’s last hours became the subject of the ABC Primetime Live documentary Final Judgment (or Judgment at Midnight). It’s a little hard to come by clips of this program online, but here’s one review, and here’s another. In it, the warden Burl Cain* described James’s execution.

Well, he was laying there, and then he kind of grabbed my hand, so I held his hand, and then I told him, ‘He’s waiting for us. Get ready, we’re going for the ride.’ And I said, ‘The angels are here.’ He kind of smiled, and he said, ‘Bless you.’ That’s the last words he said. And then I nodded my head to go ahead. He was holding my hand real tight. And then after a couple of minutes, he took about three or four deep breaths, and then he relaxed my hand. I do believe right now his soul is in heaven, and he’s OK. And since I believe that, it makes it easier.

* In the Angola memoir In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance by onetime Louisiana death row habitue turned prison journalist Wilbert Rideau, Cain comes off as a real camera-hound.

On this day..

One thought on “1996: Antonio James, final judgment

  1. I understand a person wanting justice for their loved ones but if you would forgive me for saying this. But I also feel a bit of sympathy for the condemned too. No crime don’t pay and there is a price to pay for our evil actions and especially if it is a planned crime the penalty seems to be harsher if someone does that. No one is perfect but to get in trouble is a choice that one makes. The only perfect person that ever walked this earth died on a wooden cross long ago. I heard of this tale long ago and came up on it again. As I watch things like this it scares me beyond just straight. I resist all temptation in Jesus name to get in trouble. These kinda shows is what inspired me as an author to create a story of fiction ‘Appreciating Life.”
    We all know James’ life didn’t have to be that way but it’s the choices that we make. I myself will share as a teenager of toilet bowl low self esteem. Craved a desire to be accepted and it led to not so good of a thing. But I do understand people get in trouble. And when you get into trouble as an older person. You are looked at more quilty because a full grown adult even if they are not long out of high school knows what they are doing exactly when they decide to participate in trouble.

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