Posts filed under '21st Century'

2015: Khaled al-Asaad, Palmyra archaeologist

Add comment August 18th, 2020 Headsman

Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad was beheaded by the Islamic State on this date in 2015 for refusing them the ancient artifacts of his native Palmyra.

Eighty-two years old — Palmyra was still a French colony at the time of this birth — Al-Asaad was involved in excavations around that city throughout his adult life. He became the custodian of the archaeological site in 1963 and held the post for 40 years.

When the Salafist militant army rolled up on his oasis city that spring.* he helped to evacuate the town’s museum and Daesh put him to torture to extract the whereabouts of the priceless cultural treasures he’d concealed from them. He made himself a hero to Syrians and antiquarians alike by denying his captors any satisfaction save his death — which was accomplished by a public beheading.

At least one other scholar, Qassem Abdullah Yehya, the Deputy Director of DGAM Laboratories, was also killed by ISIS/ISIL for protecting the dig site.

after Khaled al-Asaad

bonepole bonepole since you died
there’s been dying everywhere
do you see it slivered where you are
between a crown and a tongue     the question still
more god or less     I am all tangled
in the smoke you left     the swampy herbs
the paper crows     horror leans in and brings
its own light     this life so often inadequately
lit     your skin peels away     your bones soften
your rich unbecoming     a kind of apology

when you were alive your cheekbones
dropped shadows across your jaw     I saw a picture
I want to dive into that darkness     smell
the rosewater     the sand     irreplaceable
jewel how much of the map did you leave
unfinished     there were so many spiders
your mouth a moonless system
of caves filling with dust
the dust thickened to tar
your mouth opened and tar spilled out

“Palmyra”, by Kaveh Akbar

* The modern city of Palmyra (also called Tadmur) is adjacent to but not synonymous with the ancient city/archaeological site of Palmyra.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Caliphate,Execution,Gibbeted,History,Intellectuals,ISIS/ISIL,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Syria,Torture,Wartime Executions

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2001: Vishal and Sonu, honor killings

Add comment August 7th, 2020 Headsman

Late (and seemingly past midnight) the night of August 6-7 of 2001, two teenage* lovers named Vishal Sharma and Sonu were hanged in the Uttar Pradesh village of Alinagar ka Majra, for loving across the caste line.

Late on Monday night [Monday, August 6, 2001 -ed.] the week before last, a neighbour caught the pair together as they chatted on the roadside next to a bush. She accused them of having “suspicious intentions” and dragged them into her shed. And then she summoned their families. It was not that the teenagers had been caught in flagrante — they were not even holding hands. Their crime was far more primal and ancient: they were from different castes. Under India’s enduring system of social stratification, a relationship between the pair was unthinkable.

Vishal was an upper-caste Brahmin; Sonu was a lower-caste Jat. Though it was not generally known, Sonu had recently been expelled from school for skipping lessons and, it seems, being galat — the Hindi word for immoral.

The girl’s parents, Surender and Munesh, decided there was only one way to escape the terrible social humiliation their daughter had heaped upon them — they would kill her. And so, aided by three neighbours, they proceeded to strangle her in the dark shed, with its abandoned bicycle and mattresses, in front of her terrified boyfriend.

“The boy’s mother told them: ‘Don’t do this.’ The girl’s parents then scolded her, so the boy’s mother went and stood outside,” says local police officer Raispal Singh. “After that, they got a rope. They made a noose out of it and hanged the girl. They then told the boy’s mother and brother and sister-in-law: ‘Now you kill the boy.’ They replied: ‘We can’t kill him. You only kill him.’ At this, the girl’s parents hanged the boy.”

Afterwards, both Vishal and Sonu were burned on an impromptu pyre fired by balls of dung.

“Honor killings”, the extrajudicial slaying of kin for bringing shame on the family — often, as here, tied to caste-breaching illicit concupiscence** — remain a going concern in India, particularly the north. The official annual count of such instances runs to dozens per annum, with an unimaginable 251 in 2015 … yet activists think there are many more that go unreported.

* Seemingly every story situates their ages slightly differently in that older teen/young adult spectrum. The youngest ages I’ve seen reported for the pair were 15 and 16 — the oldest, 18 and 19.

** In other cases, consensual relationships that are opposed by a woman’s family are sometimes reported as “rape”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Execution,Hanged,India,Lynching,Sex,Summary Executions

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2003: Allen Wayne Janecka, hit man

Add comment July 24th, 2020 Headsman

Contract killer Allen Wayne Janecka was executed in Texas on this date in 2003.

This bearer of the classic middle name was the instrument and the last casualty of a Houston insurance agent’s campaign for blood money. Markham Duff-Smith, the insurance agent in question — a man whose lifestyle rather outstripped his premiums — had hired Janecka way back in 1975 to murder his, Duff-Smith’s, adoptive mother so that he could take early collection on some inheritance.

Janecka did that, and everyone got away with the crime, Gertrude Duff-Smith Zabolio being taken for a suicide. But of course Duff-Smith’s issue was voracity and by 1979 he’d burned through the windfall … and he ran the same play a second time, retaining Janecka to murder his adoptive sister Diana Wanstrath, her husband, John; and their 14-month-old son, Kevin. When this trio was found shot to death, the coroner initially ruled it a murder-suicide.

A Javert-like detective who was convinced of foul play cussedly kept the investigation going, even publicly airing his dissent from the official finding which caused Duff-Smith to contemplate whacking him. When the only tool you have is a hit man, every problem looks like a hit.

(Janecka in this instance was the voice of reason, refusing the contract on the obviously correct grounds that such an act would bring way too much heat. You can read all about dogged investigator Johnny Bonds in The Cop Who Wouldn’t Quit.)

Not until late 1980 did the needed break emerge, in the form of some incriminating letters between Duff-Smith’s go-between and Janecka. The latter’s unveiling in the suspect brother’s orbit soon exposed the murder scheme, including the 1975 hit.

Duff-Smith was executed in 1993 for instigating the whole catastrophe.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Pelf,Texas,USA

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2020: Daniel Lewis Lee

1 comment July 14th, 2020 Headsman

This morning in Terre Haute, Indiana, like the French guillotine making its way to the western front, America’s twilight men saluted Bastille Day by animating their empire’s creaking machinery on an absurd project to kill one guy to nobody’s edification in the midst of a rolling bloodbath.

Back in 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee traveled from Washington state to Arkansas with fellow white supremacist Chevie Kehoe where they slaughtered a family of three in the course of a robbery aimed at financing a racist enclave in the Pacific Northwest. Gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and their eight-year-old daughter Sarah Powell were bound hand and foot and suffocated with plastic bags taped over their heads, before being dumped in a bayou. Kehoe and Lee netted $50,000 in cash and weapons.*

Yet family members of those victims were the most vocal critics of executing Lee.

For one thing, everyone involved in the case, including the prosecuting attorney and trial judge, agrees that Kehoe was the instigator of the crime. But perversely, it was Kehoe who received the lighter sentence. Sometimes this occurs when a wily ringleader turns state’s-evidence against his confederates; in the case at hand, it might have been nothing but the comparative visual affect presented to jurors by the baby-faced Kehoe as compared to the menacing Lee, one-eyed (courtesy of a bar fight) and swastika-tattooed. The two were tried and convicted together in a death case; when the jury returned a life sentence for Kehoe, the U.S. Attorney on the case attempted to withdraw the death notice still pending against Lee, only to be overruled by higher-ups at the Department of Justice.

Earlene Peterson, Nancy Mueller’s mother and Sarah Powell’s grandmother, “believes the jury’s prejudices led to Kehoe and Lee receiving different sentences,” according to a Reason magazine profile.

“Chevie Kehoe was dressed very nicely, like a young businessman, and Daniel Lee was not,” Peterson said, noting that Lee was missing an eye and had a swastika tattooed on his neck. “He looked like an outlaw,” and “was instantly judged the minute he walked into the courtroom,” she says.

And Peterson, joined by several other family members, didn’t want anyone whether businessman or outlaw executed in her name.

Peterson, her granddaughter Monica Veillette, and Kimma Gurel (Nancy Mueller’s sister) sued in federal courts arguing that conducting the execution in the midst of the dangerous COVID-19 outbreak frustrated their right and expressed desire to witness Lee’s execution. But what they would have preferred most of all would have been no execution at all, regardless of COVID; they petitioned President Trump to this same effect.** “For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” Veillette told the press.

As everyone knows, victims/survivors with an attitude of clemency get no special consideration in the breach from the closure-for-victims crowd. Thus while Attorney General William Barr scheduled Lee’s execution — along with four others — last year to the familiar strains of “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” his agency defeated these victims’ family members by arguing that their allowance to witness the execution was in fact not any sort of “right” that anyone was “owed.” The first federal execution in 17 years was delayed half a day from its Monday-afternoon schedule by a last-minute judicial injunction that was predictably reversed by the Supreme Court: that issue concerned the lethal injection drug selection.

Peterson, Veillette, and Gurel did not in the end attend the execution, for fear of the coronavirus. Besides being afoot broadly, it was known to have broken out in the Terre Haute federal prison. In fact, one of the execution planners tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the execution and the small viewing chamber reserved for official witnesses makes no allowance for social distancing. (Prison officials and the “Appalachian pagan minister” present to conduct the execution itself also wore no masks, nor did the executed criminal himself.) Considering the short shrift federal authorities have given to protective measures surrounding people who didn’t commit triple homicide, it’s no surprise that the pandemic was also no obstacle, with Barr making the Orwellian assurance — which doubles as a distillation of his philosophy of governance — that his team could “carry out these executions without being at risk.”

* Lee later also pipe-bombed the Spokane, Washington, city hall.

** Lee’s was the first execution to proceed on Donald Trump’s say-so.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indiana,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft,U.S. Federal,USA

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2004: David Harris, Errol Morris subject

Add comment June 30th, 2020 Headsman

Errol Morris’s classic 1988 docudrama The Thin Blue Line helped to exonerate former death row inmate Randall Dale Adams.* He’d been convicted of shooting a Dallas police officer to death during a traffic stop.

On this date in 2004, the man who really pulled the trigger, David Ray Harris, received lethal injection. It wasn’t the murder of Officer Robert Wood he was being punished for: after more or less confessing the crime to Morris’s recorders, Harris was never charged with it. By that time, he was already on death row for an unrelated 1985 murder.

Randall Adams published a book about his ordeal. He died of brain cancer in 2010.

* Adams avoided execution in 1980 and had his sentence commuted. He was still in prison, but no longer on death row, at the time of the film’s release. He was released outright in 1989. Filmmaker Morris describes how he came to make the film — and how Adams “never will be exonerated” officially — in this interview with Bill Moyers.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Texas,USA

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2014: Mahmoud Al Issawi, murderer of Laila Ghofran’s daughter

Add comment June 19th, 2020 Headsman


Hiba Al Akkad (standing) embracing her famous mother.

Mahmoud Al Issawi was hanged at Wadi el-Natrun prison outside Cairo on this date in 2014.

In 2008, he stabbed to death Hiba Al Akkad, the 23-year-old daughter of Moroccan star singer Laila Ghofran, along with Heba’s friend Nadine Gamal, in the course of a botched burglary in Cairo’s affluent Sheikh Zayed suburb.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Notably Survived By,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft

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2004: Three for honor-killing a 6-year-old

Add comment May 31st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about capital punishment in Kuwait that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

On the 31st of May 2004, three executions were carried out simultaneously at 8.15 a.m. in the courtyard of the Nayef Palace. The criminals, two Saudi nationals, Marzook Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 25, Saeed Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 28 and 24 year old Kuwaiti Hamad Mubarak Turki Al-Dihani, had been convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of a six year old girl.

It was a particularly appalling crime that had received a great deal of media coverage. Their victim, Amna Al-Khaledi, was kidnapped from her home on the 1st of May 2002 and driven to a remote desert area, where she was gang raped and stabbed five times in the chest before her throat was slit. The three men were arrested some three weeks after Amna’s body was discovered. They had murdered Amna in a so called honour killing to avenge a sexual relationship between her elder brother, Adel Al-Khaledi, and Al-Saeed’s sister. Amna’s brother was given a five-year prison term for having the illicit sexual relationship.

(Honour killings are committed to avenge a perceived affront to a family’s honour, such as an out of wedlock relationship or a female relative marrying without her parents’ consent.)

A third Saudi, Latifa Mandil Suleiman Al-Saeed, a 21-year-old female cousin of the two brothers, was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in the abduction.

Some 1,000 people, including Amna’s relatives, were at Nayef Palace to see the aftermath of the executions according to Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Adel Al-Hashshash. Incongruous photographs appeared in the press the next day showing the hanging bodies with Kuwaiti women in full Islamic dress taking photos of them with their state of the art mobile phones. The bodies were taken down some 20 minutes after the execution and covered with white sheets. The head of the Penal Execution Department, Najeeb Al-Mulla, announced that it took Hamad Al-Dehani approximately 6 minutes to die, while the two Saudi brothers were timed was 8½ minutes and 5½ minutes respectively. Saeed Al-Saeed and Marzouq Al-Saeed had asked for their remains to be buried in Saudi Arabia and the three convicted asked for the authorities to donate a charity project in their names.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Kuwait,Murder,Other Voices,Sex

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2002: Johnny Joe Martinez

1 comment May 22nd, 2020 Headsman

“My client, Johnny Joe Martinez, was executed on Wednesday, May 22. The time of death was 6:30. Two days before, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against commuting Martinez’s death sentence to a sentence of life in prison by a vote of 9 to 8.”

This is from a touchingly personal obituary written by Martinez’s attorney and friend, David Dow — a prominent anti-death penalty advocate who has bylined several books.

A few books by David Dow

As indicated by drawing eight favorable votes from the notoriously commutation-averse Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Martinez‘s was an unusually sympathetic case.

Twenty years old and drunk, he’d successfully shoplifted some stuff from a Corpus Christi 7-11 late one night, then impulsively returned and robbed the till with a pocket knife to the neck of the clerk, Clay Peterson. He got $25.65 from the register, then suddenly stabbed the unresisting Peterson about the neck, back, and shoulders. You already know that the wounds proved fatal.

Seemingly stunned by his own senseless action, Martinez fled the store in tears, confusedly discarding the knife, then directly turned himself in to police. He couldn’t explain why he’d attacked Clay Peterson. “I don’t know. That’s a question I will never be able to answer.”

He was always going to be convicted of this crime, but a robust defense during the penalty phase of the U.S.’s distinctive bifurcated capital trial process had a high probability of success. Martinez had no criminal history and was obviously sincerely remorseful. You’d have a strong argument to make that he posed as little a future risk to society as one could imagine of a murderer.

Such a defense was not forthcoming, and because the lawyers who handled Martinez’s state appeals (Mr. Dow did federal appeals) also failed to mention it, the entire question became procedurally defaulted. One does not wish to verge into special pleading on behalf of a man who gratuitously took a life. But, weighing aggravation and mitigation is the very crux of the entire enterprise: the point of the death penalty machinery is to select from among homicides the worst crimes and criminals most exceptionally deserving of capital punishment. Were the threshold of “worst” implied by Martinez’s sentencing to be applied generally, there would be thousands of U.S. executions per annum.

Martinez in the end had a better hearing on this score from Clay Peterson’s mother than from the courts. Lana Norris met with her son’s killer personally shortly before the execution — gave him her forgiveness — and appealed for his life, a gesture that Martinez recognized appreciatively in his last statement seconds before the lethal drugs began flowing.

“Please do not cause another mother to lose her son to murder, needlessly!” she wrote to that same clemency board that would refuse Martinez’s appeal by a single vote. “There is no doubt in my mind, that to execute Mr. Martinez would be a double crime against society. Here is a young man that has truly repented and regrets his actions.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,Theft,USA

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2020: Walter Barton, coronavirus milestone

Add comment May 19th, 2020 Headsman

Missouri graced America with her first coronavirus pandemic execution tonight.

Aptly emblematic of a moment where crumbling institutions reveal the post-Cold War empire’s far-advanced rot, Walter “Arkie”* Barton’s death on the gurney culminated three decades of shambolic re-prosecutions, reliant in the end for their victory on nothing but the unequal strength of the prosecutor’s office and the willingness of courts to certify junk science as real evidence.

The victim of the murder was the 81-year-old manager of Riverview Trailer Park, where Barton lived. He was friends with that woman, Gladys Kuehler, and visited her the afternoon of her murder; later, he together with Kuehler’s granddaughter and a neighbor discovered the woman’s body. She’d been sexually assaulted and horribly knifed, slashed and stabbed more than 50 times.

The key bits of evidence convincing jurors — several of whom submitted affidavits during Barton’s clemency stage regretting their findings — that Barton had been the author of this savage attack were essentially two:

  1. Blood-spatter expert testimony that a drop of blood on Barton’s shirt that was a DNA match for Gladys Kuehler had arrived there via a “high-impact” splat at velocity –i.e., flying fast off the murder weapon. This stuff is humbug of the same genus as the burn pattern pseudoscience that wrongly executed Cameron Willingham, and more importantly it’s conspicuously silent on why Barton, who didn’t change or wash his clothes, wasn’t ribboned with high-impact bloodstains from his slasher-film murder. His own hypothesis that he picked up a spot of blood at the time he helped discover the body is at least as compelling an explanation.
  2. The ubiquitous jailhouse snitch, behind bars for a list of frauds as long as your arm, to whom Walter Barton, that fool, just spontaneously confessed even while otherwise maintaining his innocence to everyone else who would listen. The use and abuse of these finks, whose comforts are directly controlled by one party in the adversarial hearing, is a factor in a great many wrongful convictions.

Aggressively prosecuted by an attorney general — Jay Nixon, subsequently Missouri’s governor — more politically ambitious than forensically rigorous over the span of no fewer than five trials, then upheld by a split 4-3 vote in the state’s highest court, this met the emptiest formal standards of technical sufficiency to take the life of Arkie Barton, a sort of hollow malevolent pantomime of a functioning liberal democracy’s justice system.

Barton’s was just the sixth U.S. execution of 2020, and the first since COVID-19 torpedoed everything in mid-March. The last previous U.S. execution was that of Nathaniel Woods in Alabama, on March 5. Various states have delayed scheduled execution dates during the 11 intervening weeks, but those and others loom on the dockets as states push to reopen once it’s semi-safe to operate the machinery of death.

* Because he hailed originally from Arkansas.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Missouri,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wrongful Executions

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2012: Zhang Jianfei, job-seeker

Add comment May 11th, 2020 Headsman

From Xinhua on May 12, 2012:

A 50-year-old man was executed in Beijing Friday for killing two and injuring 14 others in the capital’s downtown area in 2009.

Zhang Jianfei, a native of northeast China’s Jilin province, was found guilty in 2010 of endangering public security by stabbing two to death and injuring another 14 in the Dashila area on Sept. 17, 2009.

Tourists, security guards and salesmen at roadside shops were among the victims.

Zhang, a former worker at a primary school in Yongji county of Jilin, blamed his actions on him becoming emotionally distraught while looking for a job.

He argued that he was drunk at that time, and but forensic doctors concluded following an investigation that Zhang was only slightly drunk and had the full ability to control himself.

Zhang’s death penalty was meted out in November 2010. The verdict has been approved by the Supreme People’s Court, as required.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder

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