Welcome!

…to the official page for Last Words of the Executed, a book by Robert K. Elder, with a foreword by Studs Terkel.

Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, has praised the project and called it, “A dangerous book…” This is a nonpolitical work, simply asking, “If these are the most reviled, outcast members of society—why does it remain a cultural value to record what they say?”

This is the history of capital punishment in America, told from the gallows, the chair, and the gurney.

Last Words of the Executed author Robert K. Elder was on NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly” recently. Fast forward to 2:02 to see the exact segment.

Each day, we are posting excerpts from the book, plus outtakes, by date of execution. See below:




 

This week in 1920

Sitting down in the chair:
“Give her the gas, kid. I’m taking it with a smile.”

— James Cassidy, convicted of murder, electric chair, New York.
Executed December 9, 1920

Cassidy, too, was part of Milano and Usefof’s gang. Though a doctor said he had “the mind of a nine-year-old child,” the diagnosis didn’t keep Cassidy from facing the electric chair. Just before his execution, he presented Warden Lewis E. Lawes with a brief from his appeal and asked him to keep it as a “remembrance.” Cassidy was illiterate but had been learning to read. He pointed to the word “remembrance,” which he’d written on his cell wall. He said, “Isn’t it hell, warden, when you get so you can write words like that to have to be bumped off?”




 

This week in 1920

“Usefof did not take part in this crime.”

— Joseph Milano, convicted of murder, electric chair, New York.
Executed December 9, 1920

As Milano walked to the death chamber, condemned accomplice James Cassidy began to sing, “Oh, What a Pal Was Mary.”




 

This week in 1920

“You see an innocent man dying tonight. Thank you, warden. You have been a kind man.”

— Joseph Usefof, convicted of murder, electric chair, New York.
Executed December 9, 1920

Usefof was executed along with three other men for the 1918 murder of subway ticket agent Otto Fialo in the Bronx. Joseph Milano, one of Usefof’s co-defendants, exonerated Usefof in a written confession, which he later retracted. Usefof maintained his innocence; he was the first of his group to be executed because he was considered the most likely to suffer a breakdown.




 

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