2017-07-30 18:17:53 UTC
Book details history of hangings in Texas -- Brazos County included
Before lethal injections and electric chairs, the preferred method of
death-penalty execution in Texas was hanging, conducted by local sheriffs at
their county jails, not at prison facilities.
Such is the subject of a new book, Death on the Gallows: The Encyclopedia of
Legal Hangings in Texas, by West Gilbreath, captain of the criminal
investigation division at the University of North Texas Police Department.
Gilbreath, who published a similar book in 2002 about New Mexico's legal
hangings, said he decided to compile the executions for a book so future
historians could have a more reliable source of information than the internet.
"I was trying to come up with a better resource for researchers and
historians," Gilbreath, adding that the book is for anyone who is interested in
true crime or Old West or Texas histories and wants to read eyewitness accounts
of the men and women who stood on the gallows or their last words spoken to the
crowd before they were hanged.
Gilbreath's book details 467 legal executions conducted between 1834 and 1923,
the year Texas authorized the use of the electric chair for executions
conducted by the state in Huntsville; of those, he found 2 in Brazos County.
Authorities executed the `st man, Ezekiel Bradley, on May 2, 1879. In
Gilbreath's recounting, Bradley had been drinking and gambling on Christmas Day
in 1878 before going with his friend Shep Wilson to a Steele's store, about 15
miles west of Bryan, to buy more whiskey. At the shop, Wilson began arguing
with a man named Buck Pollock, who eventually struck Wilson in the face. Drunk,
Bradley rushed to help his friend, pulling out a concealed pistol and shooting
Pollock in the mouth, killing him.
According to a story published in the Galveston Daily News on May 3, 1879,
Bradley told the paper on the day before his execution that he had "been a
drinking and quarrelsome boy all my life," and that he greatly regretted having
"I have lain down and wept at the thought of having killed a man who never done
me harm or injury, and whom I had not known," Bradley told the reporter.
Gilbreath said that between 4,000 and 6,000 people came to Bryan -- far more
than lived there at the time -- to see Bradley's execution on May 2.
"The entertainment value of an execution was a big deal," said Bill Page,
library associate II at Texas A&M University's Evans Library.
The same Galveston Daily News story notes that a doctor offered up prayers
before Bradley's execution. After praying, "the sheriff pulled the drop and the
prisoner was launched into eternity." The 6-foot fall dislocated his neck, and
he struggled for 5 minutes before the doctor pronounced him dead almost 12
minutes after his hanging began.
Gilbreath said the 2nd man executed in Brazos County, Bob Ballard, died in a
more private setting on Nov. 22, 1901, a year after the law changed, requiring
sheriffs' to take precautions to make executions as private as possible.
Public sentiment, Gilbreath said, had changed to thinking that executions
"shouldn't be a carnival or public spectacle."
Gilbreath said Ballard shot two men Nov. 7, 1900, a little more than a year
before he would be executed.
An article in The Eagle published on Nov. 8, 1900, states that Ballard shot "2
Bohemians at Smetana yesterday." One man, Jacob Shramek, a postmaster, survived
after being shot in the chest, but Joe Blazek, shot "in the lower part of his
"The tragedy," The Eagle reported the next day, "caused bitter feelings among
the Bohemians and there were some indications that violence might possibly be
The sheriff at the time, fearing a violent mob, took Ballard to another jail in
Houston, according to the a story published on Nov. 16, 1900, in the Houston
Page said Ballard had been "denied due process" and received an unjust death
"Officials didn't want a lynching on their hands, so they arranged to have him
found guilty and sentenced to death," Page said of the jury's verdict, which
originally was for life imprisonment but changed after the judge and district
attorney indicated the ruling had to be the death penalty.
Page sent a document to The Eagle in which he wrote Ballard had been
"essentially lynched under a veneer of law."
Page said that some immigrant whites new to the U.S. participated in lynchings
to "establish their own whiteness," and that Ballard's stepfather had been a
county commissioner, so it's possible the whites who lived in his precinct
resented him for being a successful, powerful black man.
Gilbreath said he's still finding new hangings he'd missed before publishing
his book. Currently, he's reviewing around 20, which he may publish in a second
volume or a revised edition of his book.
One such case is Frank Hammond, executed on May 21, 1875. An article published
in the Galveston Daily News on May 22 of that year reports that Hammond prayed
for a few minutes at a local Catholic church with a priest, then "made quite a
lengthy speech from the scaffold" about religion. He never confessed or alluded
to his crime, seeming "perfectly indifferent and composed." A doctor pronounced
him dead 20 minutes after his hanging began, as "several thousand people
witnessed" his death.
All 3 men executed by hanging in Brazos County were African Americans, as were
60 % of those whose deaths were reported in Gilbreath's book.
Gilbreath said his research focused on death penalty executions, not lynchings,
because "lynchings are just another form of murder."
But Page said lynchings were significantly more common than legal executions in
Brazos County, and that it's difficult to consider one without the other.
"To me, you can't separate those," Page said of lynchings and legal executions.
"There was a lot of overlap."
Page said he "hopes there's a distinction" between lynchings and legal
executions and the processes that led to each, and that not all local figures
were in favor of lynchings, but there were "notorious cases" and institutional
flaws in the criminal justice system at the time that left African Americans
inadequately represented in the eyes of the law.
John H. Johnson, Bryan's first African-American attorney, didn't start
practicing until 1882, Page said, and the criminal justice system was
overwhelmingly white and not representative of the county's
population."Everybody was white, and many of the people had formerly owned
slaves," he said of the flawed criminal justice system.
"If the legal system is corrupt," Page said, "then every verdict is suspect."
Page said there was "also a question about whether people got fair trials,"
since "typically African Americans would not have served on a jury."
Stressing that not every lynching was a white crowd and a black victim --
though the vast majority of those lynched were African Americans -- Page said
that there were lynchings where victims could have gotten the death penalty "if
justice were allowed to take its course, but they were summarily executed."
As someone who works in the modern-day criminal justice and a historian of the
past's system, Gilbreath said people took testimony more seriously then, but
"they didn't have the evidence back then that we had today. Society expects
"Back then they did what they could with what they had," Gilbreath said of the
lack of DNA analyses in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but "I believe there
were people who were caught and executed who very possibly did not commit that
But because of a faster appellate system, Gilbreath said those who were in
favor of the death penalty and saw it as a form of punishment for society's
worst crimes were able to see the punishment much faster than today's
executions, which take place years after the dates of the crimes.
"Justice was a lot quicker," he said.
Denton author West Gilbreath has compiled a fascinating book on execution by
hanging in Texas.
(source: The Eagle)
Inmate wants off death row for killing West Palm Beach woman in 1995
With an IQ hovering around 75, Leroy Pooler should be released from his
decades-long home on Florida's death row and be allowed to spend the rest of
his life in prison for the 1995 slaying of his ex-girlfriend in West Palm
Beach, his attorney told a Palm Beach County judge on Friday.
The issue of Pooler???s mental capacity is among several that Circuit Judge
Jeffrey Colbath will have to weigh as he decides whether the 69-year-old
Vietnam veteran deserves a chance for a life sentence for fatally shooting
24-year-old Kim Wright Brown as she begged him not to kill her 22 years ago.
Like scores of other condemned inmates in Florida, Pooler is trying to take
advantage of a series of recent U.S. and Florida Supreme Court decisions that
have forced the state to change the way the death penalty is meted out. In the
last 4 months, 2 other men who are on death row for committing vicious murders
in Palm Beach County have sought similar relief. At least 2 others will be back
in court in the next 6 months.
However, just as the brutality of the murders vary, so do their claims for
Under current law, it doesn't appear Pooler would be entitled to a new
sentencing hearing. When the Florida Supreme Court last year struck down the
state's death penalty as unconstitutional because it didn't require unanimous
jury verdicts, it decided that only some of the 361 inmates awaiting execution
could take advantage of its ruling.
Drawing a line that death penalty opponents call arbitrary, the high court
ruled that June 24, 2002 is the magic date. Those who were sentenced to death
after that date can ask for a new sentencing hearing if their juries didn't
vote unanimously that they should be executed. Anyone who was sentenced to
death before that date can't seek a life sentence based on the lack of an
Pooler's death sentence became final on Oct. 5, 1998. So, even though a jury
voted 9-3 for his execution, he is not entitled to a new sentencing hearing,
said Florida Assistant Attorney General Leslie Campbell.
But Pooler's attorney Linda McDermott countered that Pooler raised many of the
same issues that eventually led the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 to throw out the
state's death penalty as unconstitutional. "Mr. Pooler specifically challenged
the Florida statute ... so he should get the benefit from it," she told
Campbell, however, argued that the Florida Supreme Court had a good reason for
selecting the cut-off date. It was the date the nation's high court in a
landmark case struck down Arizona's death penalty as unconstitutional. After
Ring vs. Arizona was decided, Florida judges and lawmakers were on notice that
its death penalty was flawed and changes should have been made.
But McDermott said there is evidence that the state supreme court may be
reconsidering the cut-off date. She suggested that Colbath wait until Florida
justices decide another case, which could extend relief to every inmate on
Further, she reminded Colbath that it has been illegal to execute mentally
disabled people since a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Tests done of Pooler,
who struggled in school before dropping out, showed he had an I.Q. of 75, which
signals he is mentally disabled, she said.
Campbell countered that Pooler's right to argue that he shouldn't be executed
because of a mental disability expired in November 2004.
Calling the various constitutional issues "interesting," Colbath promised to
make a decision within 30 days.
(source: Palm Beach Post)
Ohio commits another state-sanctioned murder
I killed a man last week.
So did you.
At 10:43 a.m. Wednesday at the state penitentiary near Lucasville, Ronald
Phillips, 43, was pronounced dead after an agent of the state injected him with
a fatal drug cocktail containing the sedative midazolam, the paralytic drug
rocuronium bromide, and the heart-stopping drug potassium chloride.
The state did this in your name and paid for it with money it took from you.
The rationale for this state-sanctioned murder is that when Phillips was a
teenager he beat his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter to death.
It was certainly a brutal and heinous crime and I shed no tears for Phillip's
death. However, I do weep because every time we murder someone in the name of
"justice" a little bit dies in each of us.
Most civilized nations have abolished this abhorrent practice. Of the 195
recognized nations on Earth, only 58 still kill people as a form of judicial
punishment, with the United States being the most developed country that still
Only 3 other industrialized nations retain capital punishment: Japan, Singapore
and Taiwan. Even the Russians have not executed anyone in nearly 2 decades.
When it comes to capital punishment, we are in the same group with Saudi
Arabia, North Korea and Iran.
Still, executions in the United States have been on the decline. There were
only 20 last year and, with Phillips' death, 15 so far this year. There were 98
in 1999 and 52 in 2009.
Nearly 1/2 the states have either banned executions or have a moratorium in
place. In practice, however, the death penalty is only used in a few states: 30
states have not had an execution in more than a decade and 35 states haven't
had an execution in the last 5 years.
The death penalty in the United States is carried out by only 2 % of the
nation's counties. According to a report from the Death Penalty Information
Center, 85 % of U.S. counties have not had a single case resulting in an
execution in 45 years.
The death penalty is on the way out in this country, yet Ohio seems to be
ramping up the killing machine and is clearly on the wrong side of history.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, "Ohio has executed 53
prisoners since the turn of the century - the most of any northern state and
more than the combined total of every other northern state east of the
Mississippi. Ohio ranked with Texas and Oklahoma as the only states to have
executed at least 1 prisoner each year from 2001 to 2014."
Ohio has three more scheduled this year and 26 scheduled through 2020. There
are 138 people on Ohio's death row.
Aside from the pure barbarity of state-sanctioned murder, executions make
The death penalty has no deterrence value, at least not as it is practiced in
the United States. We conduct our state-sanctioned murders behind closed doors
and we try to do it with as little pain as possible.
And we take our time doing it.
Ronald Phillips was a teenager when he killed that little girl. He was 43 years
old when we killed him Wednesday, 24 years later.
Nor does it make fiscal sense.
It costs the state significantly more money to execute someone than to keep
them locked up for the rest of their lives.
States waste hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty with no
discernible result. Imagine how that money could better be used in actually
reducing crime, such as hiring more police officers, increasing community
policing, more programs to help drug addicts.
If we stopped wasting so much money killing a few people, we might actually be
able to end the opioid crisis plaguing this nation.
Finally, there is the risk we will, if we haven't already, execute an innocent
person. Since 1973, 159 people have been exonerated from death row. That is 159
innocent people sentenced to death. Some of them spent decades on death row
before being exonerated. There have been 3 exonerations this year alone.
It's time for Ohio and the United States to leave the 12th century behind and
put an end to the wasteful behavior - in blood and treasure - of killing people
and put that money toward actually solving problems.
(source: Commentary; Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney and night editor of
The Lima News)
Costello, Emile could face death penalty in death of 3-year-old
In 2nd District Court Thursday, Weber County attorney Christopher Shaw told a
judge that Miller Costello and Brenda Emile will require attorneys certified to
handle death penalty cases.
Ogden couple accused of killing 3-year-old may ask for leave to attend funeral
Police responded to a 911 call on July 6 and found 3-year-old Angelina Costello
dead. They observed that the girl appeared malnourished and had injuries
consistent with prolonged abuse, according to the probable cause statement
against her parents.
Costello, 25, and Emile, 22, are charged with aggravated murder in the death of
their daughter. Aggravated murder is the only crime subject to the penalty of
death under Utah law.
Costello and Emile appeared separately in court Thursday, and District Court
Judge Michael DiReda informed them that he had spoken by phone with the
attorneys who had expected to be retained to represent them individually.
Because the funds that could be used to retain the attorneys are still tied up
in the investigation, neither Costello nor Emile are presently represented.
Both Costello and Emile answered affirmatively when DiReda asked if they needed
a public defender appointed in the interim. Weber County attorney Shaw advised
the judge that a ???Rule 8 certified??? public defender would be necessary.
Rule 8 applies when the death penalty is a potential punishment for an indigent
defendant. It sets forth qualifications for the complicated and expensive
ordeal of defending a client in a death penalty case, requiring that the state
provide for at least 2 attorneys with at least 5 years' experience, who "can
dedicate those resources to the representation of the defendant ... with
Attorney Michael Bouwhuis is the coordinator of indigent defense services for
Weber County. He said that he spoke with the county prosecutors Thursday, and
they have not yet made a decision regarding the death penalty in Costello's and
Emile's cases. The state is not required to declare its intention until after a
"We have to assume they are pursuing the death penalty, for the purposes of
providing representation and protecting the rights of our clients," Bouwhuis
A report on the status of the couple's counsel is scheduled for Aug. 3. They
are currently being held in the Weber County Jail without bond.
udge allows Rector attorney to withdraw
A Superior Court judge on Friday allowed the attorney for a Bullhead City man
accused of killing an 8-year-old girl to withdraw from the case.
Justin James Rector, 29, is charged with 1st-degree murder, kidnapping, child
abuse and abandonment of a dead body in the Sept. 2, 2014 death of Isabella
Grogan-Cannella. He allegedly strangled Grogan-Cannella and left her body in a
shallow grave near her Bullhead City home. He faces the death penalty if
convicted of the murder charge.
Rector's primary defense attorney, Gerald Gavin, filed a motion July 19 to
withdraw from Rector's case after becoming aware on June 10 of an ethical
conflict of interest, which he said cannot be resolved or avoided.
Gavin said 3/4 of the defense team will remain and the county???s Indigent
Defense Service will start the process to look for another lead attorney to
handle the murder case. Co-counsel Julia Cassels will remain on the case as 2nd
counsel. 2 death penalty qualified attorneys are required in a capital murder
Cassels told the judge that if the prosecutor dropped the death penalty, she
and her team are prepared to go to trial next year without needing to hire
She also suggested to sit down with the prosecutor and go over the 1,000-plus
pages of documents and evidence.
Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen said much of the work on the murder case
doesn't need to be redone with the hiring of a new lead counsel. The judge
allowed Gavin to withdraw and set a status hearing on the murder case for Sept.
Cassels will also be the attorney on Rector's latest case. He was indicted
Thursday on three counts of aggravated assault after allegedly assaulting a
detention officer July 17 in his cell. He was arraigned Friday and pleaded not
guilty to the new charges. The judge said Rector faces from 6 months to 2 1/2
years in prison if convicted of any of the aggravated assault charges. His next
hearing on those charges was also set for Sept. 22.
Rector's murder trial has not been set. He is being held in county jail without
bond on the murder charge. Gavin was assigned Rector's case in March 2015. The
county has paid Gavin $248,020 for the 2 years and 5 months he has been the
lead attorney on Rector's case.
(source: Mohave Valley Daily News)
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