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 1934
“. . . The thought never occurred to anyone during the trial to show the circumstances of John Scheck as a mere boy who was lured and tempted into the life of crime because of his intense devotion to his parents and to his home that they were about to be deprived of as victims of a nationwide economic depression . . .”
— John Scheck, convicted of murder, electric chair, Illinois.
Executed April 20, 1934
Bank robber Scheck, twenty-one, held on a murder charge, killed policeman John G. Sevick in an escape attempt from a courtroom. The shocking crime led to “the court’s war on crime, and he was among the first hit by the reaction,” wrote the Chicago Daily Tribune.
This week in 1995
“Governor Tucker, look over your shoulder; justice is coming. I wouldn’t trade places with you or any of your
cronies. Hell has victories; I am at peace.”
— Richard Snell, convicted of murder, lethal injection, Arkansas.
Executed April 19, 1995
A white supremacist, Snell expressed no regret for killing a Jewish businessman during a robbery and a black police officer during a traffic stop. Snell quoted Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess and told the clemency board that he would “probably” shoot the officer again “under the same circumstances.”
This week in 1858
“I wish to speak a few words to my German countrymen…Keep away from bad company, and let liquor alone. Do not
covet the money of others, and do not let your wish for money lead you into crime. I implore you to get religion, to go to church, and to pray to God, for there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine that need no repentance. Be warned by me, and do not commit sin. Amen.”
— Albert Staub, convicted of murder, hanging, Illinois.
Executed April 20, 1858
Originally from Switzerland, twenty- two-year-old Staub immigrated to the United States ten months before his execution for the murder of Peter Lauermann. According to a Chicago Tribune article, Staub killed Lauermann either for his horse and team or because of a political argument that turned physical. On the gallows, he spoke for five minutes in German. The above quotation is a translation “in substance” by a reporter at the scene.