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.
Each day, we are posting excerpts from the book, plus outtakes, by date of execution. See below:
This week in 1902
“Boys, let me kneel and pray. I want to pray for all of you and send a message to my blessed little wife. I love her dearly and want you to tell her that I pray that you will have the papers print it. I pray for you, Charles Ricker, and for all of you. I never had a grudge against Sheriff Ricker; never in God’s world. I never meant to shoot him. For God’s sake don’t choke me to death.”
— Charles Francis Woodward, convicted of murder, hanging, Wyoming.
Executed March 28, 1902
Imprisoned for the shooting death of Sheriff Charles Ricker, Woodward was taken from jail by “twenty-four masked men” and lynched from the scaffold that had been erected for his legal execution. He had been granted a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court, but an angry mob seized him, demanding immediate justice. Before his captors could spring the trap themselves, Woodward jumped from the gallows, hanging himself.
This week in 1733
“. . . And now I have forsaken God, he has forsaken me,
and I acknowledge he has been just in leaving me, for
that I have gone from bad to worse, till for my sins I am
now to die. . . . whereas I have been charged with and
tried for burning my master’s barn, I now declare as a
dying man that I did not do it. . . . I acknowledge I deserve
to die, and would confess especially my drunkenness
and Sabbath- breaking, which have led me to this
great Sin for which I now die.”
—Julian, convicted of murder, hanging, Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Executed March 22, 1733
Julian, slave of John Rogers of Pembroke, confessed to killing his
master but denied accusations of burning his master’s barn. When
Julian fled authorities, a reward was posted, and a bounty hunter
captured him. On the way to returning Julian, his captor stopped to
eat, leaving the runaway slave standing outside the diner. He again
fled, and when the chase led into a neighboring cornfield, Julian
stabbed the bounty hunter. Shortly thereafter he was captured and
Julian may have been John Julian, pilot of the pirate ship Whydah.
This week in 1938
“I wish to see you all in heaven some day. I’m going to glory. Good-bye.”
Orville Adkins, convicted of kidnapping, hanging, West Virginia.
Executed March 21, 1938
Adkins plummeted to the concrete through the trapdoor before a
noose could be put around his neck. According to an Associated
Press account, “He was put on a stretcher and handed back through
the trap.” Adkins was hanged with two accomplices in “West Virginia’s
first execution for kidnapping.” Their victim was Dr. James I.
Seder, described as an “anti-saloon crusader.” Seder died four days
after his eleven-day-long captivity with the men.