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 1997
“Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I am going your way.”
— Kenneth Gentry, convicted of murder, lethal injection, Texas.
Executed April 16, 1997
Gentry, an escapee from a Georgia prison, shot hitchhiker Jimmy Don Ham in an attempt to steal and assume his identity. During his stay in Denton County Jail, he made another escape attempt, having convinced his mother to smuggle him a pistol.
A year later, Gentry tried yet again to escape, this time combining his efforts with those of another death row inmate. They were restrained and recaptured at the front gate.
This week in 1886
“Hurry up, old man, or Clark will want another drink of whisky. If you don’t look out, I may fall through and sue the city for damages.”
— Allen J. Adams, convicted of murder, hanging, Massachusetts.
Executed April 16, 1886
Adams spent time as a whaler, moonshiner, and a prisoner of the Connecticut State Prison before he murdered his boss, Moses B. Dickenson, in 1875 and then disappeared for ten years. He turned up again in Tennessee, where he was convicted for forgery. To avoid the chain gang, he confessed to the murder and returned to Massachusetts for his March 16 hanging. Two days before his sentence, Adams tried to cut his own throat. His execution was postponed for a month while he healed.
The man named Clark was the sheriff.
This week in 1965
“I think it’s a hell of a thing that a life has to be taken in this manner. I think capital punishment is legally and morally wrong.”
— Perry Edward Smith, convicted of murder, hanging, Kansas.
Executed April 14, 1965
The product of a broken home, Smith spent most of his life in and out of detention homes and prisons. In November 1959, he and Richard Hickcock broke into the home of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Their purpose was to rob the family, whom they had heard possessed a safe containing ten thousand dollars. The pair found no such safe and murdered of all four members of the family.
In his book “In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote records Perry’s last words as the above plus “Maybe I had something to contribute—It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize.”