Posts filed under 'Texas'

2000: Ricky McGinn

Add comment September 27th, 2020 Headsman

“I thought being away from the prison system would make me think about the things I’d seen less, but it was quite the opposite. I’d think about it all the time. It was like I’d taken the lid off Pandora’s Box and I couldn’t put it back on.

I’d open a bag of chips and smell the death chamber, or something on the radio would remind me of a conversation I’d had with an inmate, hours before he was executed. Or I’d see the wrinkled hands of Ricky McGinn’s mother, pressed against the glass of the death chamber, and I’d dissolve into tears.

Michelle Lyons, former spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, on the burden she carries from witnessing some 300 executions. McGinn was executed by lethal injection on September 27, 2000, for raping and murdering his 12-year-old stepdaughter.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Texas,USA

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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.

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

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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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2002: Johnny Joe Martinez

Add 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.”

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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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1994: Raymond Carl Kinnamon, filibusterer

Add comment December 11th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1994 — the ten-year anniversary of the robbery-murder that earned him his death sentence — Raymond Carl Kinnamon died to lethal injection despite his loquacity.

A career criminal with 17 felony convictions and three prison stints previously to his name, Kinnamon robbed a Houston bar at gunpoint on December 11, 1984. The crime escalated to murder when one of the patrons, Raymond Charles Longmire, smacked the gunman’s hand away from his pocket.

On this unusual Sunday-morning execution, the death warrant specified the execution be completed before dawn. Kinnamon received a last-minute stay that was subsequently overturned by an appellate court, but the legal chicanery ate up most of the window. Seeing an angle, Kinnamon delivered a rambling, 30-minute last statement looking to run out the clock on his executioners. According to the Associated Press (here via the Paris News of Dec. 12, 1994), prison officials eventually forced the start of the lethal drugs while the prisoner was still mid-filibuster, to the complaints of Kinnamon’s family.

“I’ve got a few things to say,” Kinnamon said as witnesses filed into the death chamber about 5:15 a.m. CST.

Thirty minutes later, after thanking dozens of people, criticizing capital punishment, expressing love for his family and getting a drink of water from the prison warden, he was still talking.

“I can see no reason for my death,” he said, then began squirming, lifting his head and shoulders and tried sliding his right arm from a leather strap.

Warden Morris Jones and a prison chaplain, Alex Taylor, both stationed a few feet away at opposite corners of the gurney, stepped in to control the inmate and executioners behind a one-way mirror in an adjacent room began the lethal dose.

Kinnamon’s niece, standing with her mother and a friend behind a clear plastic shielded window, began sobbing loudly.

“They didn’t let him finish,” Natasha Fremin cried out. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

The dispatch notes that “it was not clear what would have happened if Kinnamon had continued to speak past sunrise.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Texas,Theft,USA

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1902: Jim Buchanan, escaping lynching

Add comment October 17th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1902, Jim Buchanan was tried, convicted, sentence, and immediately executed in Nagocdoches, Texas … with his full assent.

Barely a week earlier, a word had been received of a “prosperous farmer”, Duncan Hicks, found murdered with his wife and his daughter near the village of Attoyac.

Although Buchanan was swiftly arrested by a Sheriff Spradley, the fury of multiple mobs hunting him made the lawman and the murderer temporary collaborators on the run, trying to reach the safe haven of a secure jail cell to frustrate the vigilantes.


Daily People (N.Y.), Oct. 15, 1902.

Law and lynch law for years collaborated as good cop and bad cop. In this case, the work of their respective pressures on a desperate prisoner becomes unusually visible.

Buchanan was tried on the morning of October 17 in Nacogdoches. Reportedly the town teemed with vengeful white men readying for any opportunity to seize their prey from the legitimate authorities and have their own way. It was expected that if taken by the frighteningly determined mob, Buchanan would be horrifically burned to death.

Buchanan did what he could do to avoid that fate.

After he was sentenced to hang on November 17, the prisoner aggressively insisted on waiving the month-long wait and signed away all his appeals in the interest of dying on the gallows right now. And so before noon, that’s exactly what happened. His whole legal journey from the first gavel to the drop of the trap took a mere two hours, but at least it didn’t end at the stake.


Dallas Morning News, Oct. 18, 1902.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Texas,Theft,USA

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1878: John Speer

Add comment September 20th, 2019 Headsman

From the Galveston (Texas) News, September 24, 1878:


Execution of Speer.

The First White Man Hanged is in McLennan County.

A Solemn and Impressive Scene — Speer’s Letter to his Friends in Arkansas and Texas — History of the Murder and Prosecution.

WACO, Sept. 20. — John W. Speer born in Arkansas in 1852, whose execution took place here to-day for the murder of the Rev. J.S. Pledger, came to Texas in 1874 on account of bad health, and remained with his brother-in-law until July, 1875, when he was arrested, being charged with the murder. His father die when he was 16 years of age, and his mother died July 6, 1877, the day after being notified of his second conviction. In early life he was of lively disposition, fond of excitement, but not such as would indicate anything of malice or violence toward any one, even an enemy. A fair education was acquired before his father’s death, but from that time it was necessary for him to make every effort for his own support, and to accomplish this he rented a piece of land in this county and commenced farming, his land adjoining that of Mr. Pledger. Ill will existed between the two for some time, and a double fence had been constructed in consequence.

On the 13th day of July, 1875, Rev. J.S. Pledger, while plowing in his field, was shot down by some one concealed in the weeds between the fences, and a man plowing with Mr. Pledger recognized J.W. Speer as the one who fired the fatal shot. He was arrested shortly after and remained in prison until May, 1876, when his trial took place. Messrs. Herring, Anderson & Kelly were retained for his defense, and did all in their power to save him, but the jury returned a verdict of murder in the first degree, assessing the death penalty. An appeal was taken, and the case remanded. In July, 1877, a new trial was had before Judge L.C Alexander, resulting in a verdict the same as the former one. Again his counsel appealed to the higher tribunal, when in due time the judgement was affirmed, and on July 6, 1878, Judge Alexander sentenced him to be hung on August 28. Gov. Hubbard granted a respite until September 20, after declining any commutation of punishment, though earnestly petitioned to do so by many citizens of this county, for the following reasons, addressed to Col. Parrott:

[some boilerplate omitted -ed.] … No newly discovered proofs tending to show the innocence of the defendant have been presented to the executive. No proofs tending to mitigate or palliate the crime, or bring it under the denomination of murder in the second degree, or manslaughter, have been presented. The statement of facts, certified by the district judge as being the only evidence on the final trial, has alone governed the executive in determining his decision in this case. From a most earnest review of this evidence, he arrives at the conclusion that the defendant was guilty of murder, as charged. A credible witness swears positively to seeing the defendant kill the deceased by a gun, which he saw defendant hold in his hands, and di[s]charge at the body of the deceased; and that from the wounds then received did die. Other witnesses testify to a chain of circumstances establishing the guilt of the defendant as clearly as the positive evidence. Add to all which the defendant, when not under duress, and when not under threats, or under promises of liberty or life, confessed to having killed the deceased … The crime is not relieved by any mitigating circumstances. If the facts as sworn to are true, it was an assassination of an old and unarmed citizen, who had no opportunity of defense, or even notice of the fate which awaited him. With such convictions, formed upon the evidence presented, the executive can not interfere with the judgment of the court.

R.B. HUBBARD, Governor.

Your correspondent visited him on yesterday in company with his spiritual adviser, Rev. M.H. Wells, and found him in good health, and quite cheerful, considering his approaching doom.

In response to questions asked him he declines to make any confession, as it would do him no good, but only bring trouble upon others. In a letter to his friends he says: “I will leave no statement of my case. You will judge me as leniently as possible. I will make my confession to God alone, not to man.” He appears quite reconciled to his fate, and claims every reason to hope for the pardon of his sins, and acceptance at the throne of grace. In his will made on the 17th inst. he bequeathed the remaining estate to his sister, now twelve years of age, sent his trunk by express to his brother, and placed papers and other valuables in the hands of Rev. M.H. Wells to be disposed of as directed. He renders grateful thanks to sheriff Ross and John Magee, the jailer, and other officers and many friends for constant and uniform kindness to him during his long imprisonment. The members of the young men’s christian association have done much to encourage him by their kind words and earnest prayers. His great regret is that he has not yet been able fully to forgive those who were instrumental in bringing upon him this great trouble, and not coming to his rescue as they promised.

Early this morning crowds of people from the surrounding country gathered around the jail. The trees and housetops and every available window were filled with anxious spectators, awaiting the hour of execution, and not less than 3000 persons were on the ground.

At half past 2 o’clock Mr. Wells and other ministers of the methodist church, members of the young men’s christian association and representatives of the press were admitted into the jail, when Speer was brought into the room outside the cage, where religious services were conducted by Mr. Wells, in the following order: Singing first, “Jesus, lover of my soul,” reading the fifty-first psalm; second, hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood;” prayer by Mr. Wells; after which the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered. Prayer by the Rev. W.R.D. Stockton, followed by singing “What a friend we have in Jesus,” and “Shall We Meet Beyond the River,” the latter at the request of the prisoner, and during the singing he shook hands with all in the room; then turning to his companions in prison, bade them good-by, expressing the hope they should meet in heaven. The services and leave-taking were one of the most solemn and impressive scenes it has ever been my lot to witness. Deputy sheriff J.S. Moore then came forward and read the death warrant, the prisoner listening attentively and without any apparent emotion.

The door being thrown open, he took the arms of his spiritual adviser and A.R. McCollum, of the Telephone, who was a friend of his youth, and walked with a firm step around the building, and up the steps to the platform of the gallows, where he stood alone and unmoved during a short and fervent prayer. The rope was then adjusted, his arms and feet pinioned, during which there was no perceptible emotion, but a smile lit up his countenance, which continued until the black cap was drawn over the face. The officers and friends descended from the platform, and at 4.05 the wedge was knocked away, and J.W. Speer was suspended between earth and heaven. The rope having slipped his neck was not broken, but he strangled. At 4.17 the physicians pronounced him dead, and at 4.22 he was cut down and placed in his coffin. Mr. A.R. McCollum took charge of the corpse, and had it buried in the Waco cemetery, Rev. M.H. Wells conducting the burial services.

Just before ascending the scaffold, Speer gave to McCollum, to whom I am indebted for a copy, the following statement in his own handwriting:

WACO, TEXAS, Sept. 18, 1878.

To my friends in Arkansas and elsewhere:

I adopt the present mode of returning thanks to you for your sympathy and assistance during my late trouble. Though all your efforts have been of no avail toward prolonging my life, yet I duly appreciate the endeavors you have made in my behalf, and thank you as freely and heartily as if your wishes had been accomplished. I have been often asked for a written statement of the case against me, with the names of all persons concerned in the murder, but I have, and must still, decline to give such a statement. But for the gratification of my friends, I will give the names of all the parties that I know of, commencing with myself. To a certain extent I am particepts criminis with W.S. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, though I myself never had a cross word with Mr. Pledger in my life. There may be others who are morally guilty, whom I do not know of. More than this I do not wish to say, but leave those who hav eknown me best to judge for themselves. A lady friend once asked me why I did not tell all that I knew of the case and try to save my own life. In answer to her, I will say I have been as she thinks much wronged by W.S. Nolan, J.M. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, and it was my intention at one time to try to do so, but I listened to the persuasions and promise of assistance from J.M. Nolan and W.S. Nolan until it was too late for me to do anything but await my fate and meet it as best I could.

I have been informed that J.M. Nolan has been recently working against me, and my reasons are good for believing the report to be true. Prejudice at one time was very strong against me here, but since my last trial public opinion seems to have changed to some extent, and I now believe that I have the sympathy of all good citizens. Though the change has come too late to do me any good, yet I am grateful to the people, and thank them from my heart for their sympathy and kind appeal to the governor asking executive clemency in my behalf. I know that my friends have thought it very strange that Gov. Hubbard did not commute my sentence to imprisonment for life. But I can only say that it was my misfortune that the case of Emil Houillion was presented and acted on before mine. Had my case been first of the two before his excellency, I think his decision, would have been different.

My treatment here has been very good. Col. Ross, sheriff, and Mr. McGee, jailer, and Mr. McGee’s family have been very kind to me. I have no irons of any sort on me, and have been allowed all the liberties and favors that a person could ask — more, in fact, than one in my condition could expect. To you, my friends, I would respectfully remember his excellency Gov. Miller, of Arkansas, United States senator A.H. Garland, of that state and Col. A.B. Williams, who have indeed tried to befriend me in this trouble; and should it ever be in your power to assist either of these gentlemen, then think of me, who will remember them and you when with my Father in heaven. There are many others, both in this country and there, whose memory and friendship are very dear to me, but their names are too numerous to mention in this statement. It is indeed a priceless pleasure to me to know that I have so many friends and few enemies; and I hope my friends will remember me in after years with pleasure, and not let my memory die entirely out of their hearts. One of my earliest friends, who knew me when I was a little boy in Camden, Arkansas — Mr. McCollum, editor of the Telephone — will kindly take charge of my remains and see that everything is properly attended to, and should any of my friends ever come to Waco and wish to see the last resting-place allotted me here, Mr. McCollum will no doubt cheerfully show them my grave. I would have much preferred that my death could have been a natural one; but, as it is, I feel prepared to go, as a christian should, with hopes of a happy home in heaven. And I shall hope, sooner or later, to meet you all there, where pain and grief have no part, but all is joy and peace. I have one great consolation — that my mother is not here to suffer with my sisters. But I soon will be with her, and await them there. As my time is short, I will bring this letter to a close. May God, in his infinite love and mercy, ever bless and protect you while on earth, and finally reunited us in His upper and better kingdoms, is my daily prayer. In life and in death I remain, with love and well wishes, your true and much wronged friend, formerly of Antoine, Arkansas,

JOHN SPEER

A detachment of the Waco Greys, under command of Capt. Robinson, and of the Central City Guards, under command of Lieut. M.V. Fort, were detailed as guard during the day. Doctors Hamlet, Willis, Holbert, Park, Campbell and Tollivero were announced by the sheriff to be in attendance. The reporter of the News and other representatives of the press, together with some seventy-five others, were admitted into the jail yard, amongst whom were a daughter of Mr. Pledger, the murdered man, and her four children.

The above is the record of the first execution of a white man in McLennan county, and may we not hope that few such scenes will occur in future! -R.G.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Texas,USA

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1918: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment May 24th, 2019 Headsman

From the Pueblo Chieftain (May 25, 1918):

Salt Lake City, May 24. — Howard H. Deweese, who was shot here today for the murder of his wife, Fannie Fisher Deweese, left a grim legacy for his wife’s former husband. It is a silk handkerchief and the bullets which passed thru the heart of Deweese, first passed thru the bit of silk which he had pinned over his chest.

Before his execution Deweese secured the promise of the warden of the state prison to forward the handkerchief, together with a note to Fisher in New York. The letter, dated at the Utah state penitentiary last Monday, reads:

Mr. H.W. Fisher, 150 Second avenue, New York:

Greetings:

In accordance with customs observed by certain people, I herewith conform with precedents and law governing the conduct of aforesaid people. I have rigidly adhered to my vows. You have violated yours. Therefore, put your house in order. The allotted time customary in such cases is yours. The souvenir enclosed herewith (by the warden of this institution) will doubtless serve to convince you that time, distance, political influence or money cannot change the inexorable workings of things decreed by men who do not hesitate in risking all, even life, for things they have sworn to uphold.

The U.B.C. thru one who has proven loyal, bids you ‘prepare.’ It is written.

(Signed)
J.E.W.

The initials affixed at the bottom of the note stand for Deweese’s alias — J.E. Warren. The “U.B.C.” Deweese explained just before his execution, was the initials of the “Universal Brotherhood Club of New York.”


From the Kansas City Star (May 24, 1918):

DALLAS, TEX. May 23. — A claim that the idea for the Red Cross poster, “The Greatest Mother in the World,” originated in the mind of Leonard Dodd, who with Walter Stevenson is sentenced to hang here tomorrow for murder, was placed here today before the state board of pardons at Austin as part of a plea for commutation of sentence.

Council for Dodd informed the board a draft of the poster had been sent by him to the Red Cross headquarters at Washington and that it was later drawn by an Eastern artist. Dodd, Stevenson, and Emmett Vestal, also convicted of murder, will be hanged tomorrow unless Governor Hobby commutes their sentences. [Dodd and Stevenson hanged; as for Vestal’s … read on. -ed.]


From the Arizona Republic, Jan. 1, 1955:

Evangelist Emmett T. (Texas Slim) Vestal, a man twice condemned to die in the electric chair, is in Phoenix conducting a revival, and illustrating that “no matter how low a man can get, he still can be saved by following Christ.”

For more than 20 years, Mr. Vestal has been preaching in churches throughout the country, and recounting his experiences as bank robber, drug addict, and gang member.

Services will be conducted every night through next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Revival Center, 902 N. 24th St.

In 1917 he shot a rival gang leader who tried to ambush him near Victoria, Tex. and was sentenced to die May 24, 1918. Five minutes before the hanging, he was granted a reprieve by the late Governor W.P. Hobby.

He returned to prison, contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a state hospital from which he escaped. Law officials found him in 1926 in St. Louis and took him back to Texas for a new trial because the state had changed his sentence from hanging to electrocution.

He was again convicted and sentenced to die, this time in the electric chair. Three days before the electrocution, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the late Governor Miriam (Ma) Ferguson. Three days after that she granted him a full pardon.

Methodist church workers taught him to read and write and gave him Christian education while he was in prison. After his release he began his evangelic career. He was ordained a baptist minister.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Last Minute Reprieve,Murder,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Shot,Texas,USA,Utah

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1877: James Singleton, Beeville character

Add comment April 27th, 2019 Headsman

James Edward Singleton caught a death sentence in Texas after setting out from Beeville with a business partner carrying a wad of cash with which they intended to set up a saloon in Rockport.

The business partner never made it there, and Singleton swung in Beeville on April 27, 1877, after having been arrested boarding a boat with all their saloon boodle in his pocket. He left this colorful last will and testament; the reader will not be surprised to learn that it was not honored. (The document survives in damaged condition; ellipses indicate lost text.)

In the Name of the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omnificient of science and common sense Amen. I, J.E. Singleton (cosmopolite) Now sojourning in Galveston Jail, State of Texas, And, being of sound mind. Do by these presents, Will, divise, and bequeath, (for the diffusion of anatomical knowledge among mankind) — my mortal remains to J.J. Swann, on the following conditions.

First, that my body — after the execution — be prepared in the most scientific & skillful manner known in anatomical art, and placed in his Office, in the Courthouse in Beeville … O … ter temple of Justice … may …

Second. It is my express desire — If [his prosecutor -ed.] Dave Walton has no objections — That two drumheads, be made of skin. On one of which shall be written in Indellible characters Popes universal prayer, & on the other the following Verdict, –

We, the Jury, find the defendant, Jas. E. Singleton, guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the Indictment, and assess the penalty of death.

The said drum heads to be presented to my distinguished friend and fellow citizen, Frank Boggus — drummer for Tom Holly’s division — On the following conditions that he, the aforesaid Frank Boggus, shall beat, or cause to be beaten on said drum heads the popular tune [Old Mollie Hare] … front on the 8th day of June Annually.

The viscera, and other parts of my body, useless for anatomical purposes, I wish composted for a fertilizer, and presented to Mr. Barclay, proprietor of the Grand Palace Hotel in Beeville, to be used by him for the purpose of nourishing the growth of cabbage, turnips, pertaters, and other garden sass, that the worthy people of Bee County — or at least the masculine portion thereof — may have something to relieve the monotony of hash & dried apples, during their brief sojourn at the aforesaid Hotel, while assembled at Beeville, for the purpose of dishing out Justice to Violators of the Law.

J.E. Singleton.

The foregoing is my last will and testement, and I wish J.J. Swann to act as Executor. I feel very grateful to the Citizens of Bee County in general, and to J.J. Swann in particular for the many favors conferred upon me by them. I also feel that I am indebted to them, to some extent pecuniarily, and being at present in Indigent circumstances, I write and leave this will, alike to liquidate my debts, and prove my gratitude.

Singleton really was quite a character. Newspapers around the Republic reported his pig-out last meal request of “one dish ham and eggs, one apple pie, one peach pie, one egg custard, one fruit pudding, one large pound cake, and two bottles of wine.” He also attempted to cheat the hangman by taking his own life, leaving a note for his mother that also hit the papers in which he confesses himself in very human terms not excluding his amusing disdain for the community that was preparing to take his life. (This from the Galveston Weekly News of May 7, 1877:)

Dear Mother — When you read this, I, your sinful, rebellious, neglectful son, will be no more on this earth. But, mother dear, I am not going to give these worthy people of Bee county the pleasure of publicly executing me. You will understand by this that I contemplate destroying my own life. And such is the case. I am aware that you look upon it as an unpardonable sin, or almost as such, but I can not bear the idea of being hanged in public, before a gaping multitude of fools, and especially Bee county fools. I am compelled to lose my life, mother dear; there is no other alternative, and you will pardon me, I’m sure, for this act, for it is only shortening my existence a few hours at most.

As for the justice of my conviction, I will not speak or write falsely to you at this time, and I reckon the verdict of the jury was a just one. I did the murder, but not with malice aforethought, as every one thinks, nor was I actuated by any hope of gain. It was for a quarrel about a trifle, and the provocation was not sufficient to warrant the killing; therefore, I don’t feel justified.

It’s hard, mother dear, for me to calmly contemplate death, and a great deal harder, when I think of your long suffering toll and privations for me. I know you are suffering and will suffer after my death. I would to God I could avert it from you, but I can not; but I think it’s better to take my life, than to be executed by the minions of the law in this place. I will not ask you not to grieve for me, mother, for I know that would be useless; but try and bear up the best you can. I trust that we may meet again in that better world beyond the grave. I do not feel capable of saying anything that will strengthen or comfort you at this time, when I know how much you need comfort and strength. But one thing, mother, please for my sake, and for the sake of Lee and Mamie, do not despair nor give up, if you can help it. Think how you, and none but you, can instruct them how to be great and good men. Some would think that my career was a contradiction of what I say, but God knows that the fact of my now being under sentence of death, and my name forever disgraced, is not the consequence of my home training. I was taught things that were right, but I was too weak and sinful to profit by your good teachings, but I do hope to God it will be different with the two younger ones. Teach them always to do right at all times, and for my sake teach them to think with pity and never with scorn of the disgraced and outcast murderer. For with all my faults, I always loved them; but I am not much afraid on that score, if they continue as they are now, as I do not in the least doubt their love for me. I saw Mamie this evening. I am thankful that I was permitted to see him once more. I regret not having seen Lee very much, but as I did not, you must convey my loving farewell to him. I must close this, mother, for writing here, solitary and alone as I am, of our loved ones causes such a rush of old half-forgotten memories that I am almost overpowered. I am not as near cast-iron as I thought. Well, dear, dear mother, farewell, and may God, in His infinite mercy, bless, comfort and console you is the prayer of your loving but unhappy son.

JAMES EDWARD SINGLETON

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Texas,USA

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1985: Doyle Skillern, under the law of parties

Add comment January 16th, 2019 Headsman

A philosophical Doyle Skillern was executed in Texas on this date in 1985, one of the more galling victims of Texas’s controversial “Law of Parties” — in which all parties involved in a lesser felony (such as armed robbery) may be held liable for a greater felony (such as murder) committed by any of their number.

Skillern and a buddy named Charles Sanne were drug dealers being set up for arrest by a narcotics agent.

In the course of a buy, the suspicious Sanne got the officer, Patrick Randel, into his vehicle on the pretext of doing business elsewhere — intending in fact to rob Randel. While Skillern trailed in a different vehicle, Sanne shot Randel to death (and robbed him). By the accounts of both men the shooting wasn’t premeditated; Sanne said that Randel tried to pull a gun on him and a spontaneous fight ensued.

Textbook law of parties case, made more perverse by the fact that the actual shooter, Sanne, received a prison term and was approaching parole eligibility by the time his non-triggerman accomplice, Skillern, went to the gurney.

(In fairness to the great state of Texas we must observe that Skillern’s jury when considering factors to aggravate the crime found out that he had a previous murder on his record, that of his brother. Sanne’s previous record consisted only of petty crimes.)

Prison officials said that an emotionless Skillern mused upon learning of the rejection of his last appeals, “A lot of people will still have their troubles tomorrow and mine will be over.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Texas,Theft,USA

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