This week in 1927

“Viva l’anarchia!” [Italian: Long live anarchy!]

A moment later, in English:
 “Farewell, my wife and child and all my friends.”

After the death mask had been fitted:
 “Farewell, mia madre!” [Farewell, my mother!]

— Ferdinando Nicola Sacco, convicted of murder, electric chair, Massachusetts.
Executed August 23, 1927

Sacco and friend Bartolomeo Vanzetti, both Italian immigrants, stood trial for killing Alessandro Berardelli, a security guard, and Frederick Parmenter, a pay clerk, during an armed robbery in 1920. The controversial case gripped the nation, as both men were Galleanists, members of an Italian anarchist group suspected in a string of bombings. Numerous books have since been written questioning the guilt or innocence of the men. Their case was included in the 1992 book “In Spite of Innocence” among almost two dozen cases in which the editors believed “an innocent person was executed.”


This week in 1927

“I wish to say to you that I am innocent. I have never done a crime, some sins, but never any crime. I thank you for everything you have done for me. I am innocent of all crime, not only this one, but of all, all. I am an innocent man.”

Just before execution:
“I wish to forgive some people for what they are doing to me.”

— Bartolomeo Vanzetti, convicted of murder, electric chair, Massachusetts.
Executed August 23, 1927

Vanzetti immigrated to the United States when he was twenty years old. He sold fish and washed dishes before becoming involved in leftwing politics and protesting World War I. He had been in America for a decade before meeting Nicola Sacco at an anarchists’ meeting. In 1977, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis stopped short of exonerating the pair but declared: “Any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say that the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti.”

An interesting postscript: A letter from famed novelist and muckraker Upton Sinclair (“The Jungle”) surfaced in 2005. While doing research for Boston, his two-volume “documentary novel” of the Sacco and Vanzetti case, he consulted with Fred Moore, one of their attorneys. “Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth,” Lewis wrote. “He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them.”


This week in 2000

“Mr. Bryant, I have wronged you and your family and for that I am truly sorry. I forgive and I have been forgiven. Death is but a brief moment’s slumber and a short journey home. I’ll see you when you get there. I am done, warden.”

— David Gibbs, convicted of murder, lethal injection,Texas.
Executed August 23, 2000

Gibbs, a self-described country gentleman, confessed to the rape and murders of two mentally handicapped women. In the end, he expressed regret, apologizing to Mickey Bryant, brother of one of the victims. “I don’t believe in hitting women,” Gibbs insisted before he was executed.


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