Pushing Up Lilies

The History of Executions for the Accomplice

Episode Summary

Join me as we journey through the macabre annals of history in this episode of Pushing Up Lilies. On today's episode, we unravel the dark tapestry of executions, exposing the haunting tales of those sentenced to death not for the act of killing, but for their involvement in crimes that led to a life being extinguished. We navigate through the grisly details of executions where individuals paid the ultimate price for their role as accomplices. From infamous cases of botched executions to the chilling stories of criminals condemned for their participation in heinous acts. Listener discretion is strongly advised.

Episode Notes


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Episode Transcription

0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.

0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.

0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly True Crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

0:24 Do I have some stories for you?

0:26 Are you ready y'all?

0:31 It is almost February and it's supposed to be 72 degrees in Texas today.

0:37 Now, this time two or three years ago is when we had the really bad ice storm Texas weather is definitely bipolar.

0:46 I know that growing up, I lived a little bit further north, like almost near the Oklahoma border.

0:51 It seems like we got snow more than anyone else.

0:55 It was just a little bit colder, and I was honestly only about 20 miles north of where I'm at now.

1:01 It's kind of crazy.

1:02 You never know how it's going to be around here.

1:04 It can be 70 during the day and 30 at night, but today is going to be a perfect day.

1:12 I'm going into the EMS office hoping for a great day, hoping that everyone behaves.

1:19 We did have a lot, a lot of hospice deaths yesterday and those, you just never know.

1:25 They seem to come in threes for some reason.

1:28 And I was told that when he first started this career.

1:30 But it's true.

1:31 We do get a lot of death calls in threes, hope that it is not busy this morning.

1:38 Y'all remember last week?

1:40 Hopefully you listened to last week.

1:42 I did an episode on Kenneth Smith.

1:45 He was the man who was hired by Charles Sinnett, who was a reverend to kill his wife.

1:53 And we talked about how he was going to be the first in the nation nitrogen hypoxia execution.

2:01 They had never really tried that before.

2:03 And so I think everyone was a little bit curious about how it was going to go down.

2:08 But Kenneth Smith was put to death by nitrogen hypoxia.

2:13 And again, it was the nation's first known execution using that method.

2:20 The Alabama Attorney General is wanting to help other states who are interested in this form of punishment.

2:28 Now, advocates did voice their concern that this method could cause excessive pain and seemed a little bit torturous.

2:41 Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi have all approved this method.

2:47 Now, Alabama is the only state that has carried it out and they have a protocol written out on exactly how to do it.

2:56 In Alabama, 43 inmates have requested this new execution method, which is a little bit interesting because I don't know.

3:07 I mean, it just seems scary.

3:09 I can't imagine being on death row anyway.

3:12 But actually, I don't know what's the best lethal injection, nitrogen, hypoxia, shoot firing squad.

3:21 Who knows?

3:22 But 43 inmates y'all have requested this new method.

3:27 Smith was fitted with a mask and this procedure started at about 7:53 p.m. and he was pronounced at 825.

3:40 It took him roughly 32 minutes to die during the procedure.

3:49 Smith shook and writhed for about two minutes and then he dried for several minutes.

3:57 I think it's human nature.

3:59 Tell me if I'm wrong to kind of hold your breath when something like this is happening.

4:04 I mean, you know what's going to happen when you breathe that in?

4:08 I don't know, I mean, I just can't imagine, but he did appear to have been holding his breath.

4:15 I think I would do that too.

4:17 And he may have struggled against his restraints, which again, I think would just kind of be a reflex.

4:25 I mean, you know, when you breathe that in what's going to happen, but it's going to happen.

4:30 He had some involuntary movement, then some agonal breathing.

4:36 Let's talk a little bit about agonal breathing.

4:38 That word has come up a lot at work this week.

4:41 And so this is an abnormal pattern of breathing characterized by gasping, labored breathing, and then just strange vocalizations.

4:52 One of the possible causes they said was just like inadequate oxygen supply to your brain or total depletion of oxygen.

5:03 But it's really a sign requiring immediate medical attention unless you're on hospice, which you're going to expect that right before death or you're on death row and you've just been given nitrogen.

5:18 This is completely normal.

5:19 This is something that we expect to see the duration of these agonal respirations can be as brief as two breaths or can last up to hours.

5:31 It just depends, everybody's going to be different.

5:34 His spiritual advisor felt that it was the most horrible thing he'd ever seen to watch this, but it can't be pleasant to watch any form of execution.

5:46 I mean, imagine watching a firing squad.

5:49 That's not something that you expect to be calming and relaxing.

5:54 I don't know what the spiritual advisor expected when he was going to watch this go down.

6:02 I would think that they should kind of expect that there was going to be some gasping and maybe a little bit of struggling just because it's human nature.

6:12 Now, this tight-fitting mask covered his entire face, and he convulsed when the gas was turned on and he popped up on the gurney repeatedly and gasped and heaved.

6:25 And I guess they said spat, I don't know his mouth was covered, I'm not really sure. He made a love you sign with his hands to his family.

6:38 Now, during lethal injections, it takes a different amount of time for inmates to die based on the drugs that are given and the number of injections and just how the individual reacts.

6:50 Like we all know, people just respond differently to diseases, to medications.

6:57 Nobody is the same.

6:59 People actually, you know, do this to themselves.

7:02 We see people die by suicide with hypoxia putting plastic bags over their heads.

7:09 The United Nations High Commissioner believes that this is cruel and inhumane.

7:16 Sennett's family is glad this is over.

7:19 You can only imagine.

7:20 I mean, their dad committed suicide after hiring this guy to kill their mom who is now gone.

7:27 But her family believes that their mom's death was overlooked due to the focus on the execution method which I completely understand.

7:38 In this case, it seems that all the attention was put on the method of execution and not actually what he did.

7:47 That could be a little disheartening to the family.

7:49 I can only imagine.

7:51 Sennet’s Children were only in their twenties when she was killed.

7:55 I was looking back at botched executions and 3% of executions between 1890 2010 were actually botched.

8:09 That is something went wrong, didn't work like it was supposed to.

8:12 And it's kind of crazy reading through the things that can happen of a total of 2721 hangings.

8:21 85 were botched out of electrocutions.

8:26 There were a total of 4374 84 of those were botched lethal gas.

8:34 There were 593 and there were 32 of those botched lethal injection.

8:42 1054 75 of those were botched.

8:47 Now firing squad.

8:50 It's hard to botch that because there's usually more than one gun involved.

8:55 And you can't really miss if you miss, you suck, there were a total 34 firing squad executions and of course, none of those were botched.

9:05 Of all the methods, there were 8776 executions.

9:12 That's a lot of executions.

9:14 You know, I really didn't think, I guess that happened that much.

9:17 But of course, we're talking about a time span of, you know, years.

9:21 I mean, I guess it makes sense, but there were 276 botched out of 8776.

9:31 I looked into some different hypoxia deaths because they did, used to do the gas chamber.

9:40 I guess the last time it happened was maybe 92 September 2nd of 1983 Jimmy Lee Gray was executed by lethal gas.

9:54 The room had to be cleared eight minutes after the gas was released room where people watch from after the gas was released and he started gasping for air.

10:06 About eight minutes after they started April 6th, 1992, Donald Eugene Harding, his death was pronounced 10.5 minutes after cyanide tablets were dropped, which is what they used to use for the gas chamber.

10:25 And Harding thrashed and struggled pretty violently.

10:28 His body turned red and then purple.

10:31 The story is that witnesses were quote unquote walking vegetables for days.

10:38 It was horrifying, I guess for them to watch again.

10:42 I don't know what they were expecting.

10:45 This is not a baptism.

10:47 I mean, it's not going to be pleasant.

10:50 Anybody that's watching anyone die is not pleasant, regardless of whether it's lethal injection, whether it's lethal gas, whether it's firing.

11:02 I mean, it is not going to be pleasant.

11:04 I mean, imagine when they used to watch people being hung, it's not something that you expect to be peaceful and serene and relaxing.

11:16 Nobody is going there for a relaxing experience.

11:21 Anyway, I was looking back at, you know, when lethal gas was used, and it was introduced in 1924 they use cyanide.

11:34 It started in Nevada, and it was started because they sought a more humane way of executing inmates.

11:42 G John was the first person ever to be executed by lethal gas.

11:48 They pumped gas into his cell while he slept, which you know, I mean, that seems peaceful, right?

11:55 You are sleeping, you breathe it in, you die in your sleep.

12:00 Less of a struggle doesn't seem super inhumane but the gas leaked from his sail.

12:08 And so, you know, there were other people affected.

12:11 Obviously, this was how the gas chamber was created.

12:16 It was decided, hey, we need a room to do this so that no one else is affected, which makes sense.

12:22 The Federal court found the method to be cruel and unusual punishment in 1994.

12:29 We're talking about 70 years later.

12:33 Now, it was last used in March of 1999 March 3rd to be exact when Walter LaGrande was executed in Arizona, 11 states.

12:47 Now authorize lethal gas as an execution method.

12:51 But they all use lethal injection as their primary method.

12:55 We've seen this botched a little bit recently though in Alabama, as we talked about last week, three of those 11 authorize execution by nitrogen hypoxia.

13:09 But this time in Alabama was the first time that it was ever used in so many ways.

13:17 We are all experiencing history recently with COVID and nitrogen hypoxia execution.

13:25 When they use cyanide gas, they would strap the inmate to a chair in an airtight chamber and the room was sealed.

13:37 The executioner flips a lever which releases crystals of sodium cyanide into a pail.

13:45 Now those crystals cause a chemical reaction that releases hydrogen cyanide gas.

13:53 The idea was that the prisoner was to breathe deeply, but most of course, tried to hold their breath.

14:00 Like I said, I think that's just human instinct.

14:04 There was always evidence that they were in pain and struggling.

14:10 They said the eyes pop, the skin turns purple, and most people actually drooled during this procedure after death.

14:20 An exhaust fan sucks the poison air out of the chamber.

14:24 And I thought this was interesting.

14:26 The person is sprayed with ammonia to neutralize the remaining traces of cyanide employees would enter after all this took place wearing rubber gloves and gas masks.

14:40 In 2015, Oklahoma was the first to adopt nitrogen gas in executions.

14:48 And that is if and only if lethal injections could not be performed nitrogen itself.

14:56 And this is important to note nitrogen itself is not poisonous.

15:00 But what it does is it deprives them of oxygen, which is what essentially causes death.

15:10 You're not really giving them poisonous gas back like they did in the gas chamber with cyanide.

15:16 It's more like basically just cutting off their oxygen supply.

15:21 Kind of interesting now that nitrogen has taken the place of cyanide.

15:28 Yeah, it's kind of interesting how now, you know, we're thinking about bringing this back.

15:33 We talked about Kenneth Smith last week.

15:37 He did kill Mrs. Sennett for someone else in cases like that.

15:46 Obviously, it's punishable by the death sentence.

15:49 But everyone who's been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 participated in some form of crime that caused the death of at least one person.

16:03 In most cases, the person executed directly killed the victim.

16:08 But in a very small amount of cases, the person executed actually ordered or contracted with another person to carry out the murder.

16:18 In another group of cases, the person executed participated in a felony during which a victim died at the hands of another person.

16:27 The defendant, in those cases, is typically found guilty of felony murder.

16:34 Sennet had hired somebody who in turn hired two other people because the man he originally hired was involved but didn't participate in the killing.

16:47 He would have been accused of felony murder in some states.

16:51 Though these people can still receive the death penalty, even though they didn't take part in the murder.

16:58 Despite they didn't actually kill, they still somehow directed the killing.

17:05 I found some cases where the defendant was found guilty of felony murder and they were executed because they actually contracted to have someone killed.

17:18 It's kind of interesting because even if you don't directly kill the person, of course, you were involved and that is what a felony murder can consist of Doyle Skillern.

17:33 Again, a lot of these are in the state of Texas.

17:36 He was an accomplice in the murder of an undercover narcotics agent.

17:39 He was waiting in a car when the murder happened.

17:43 Now the shooter is serving a life sentence but is eligible for parole.

17:49 This happened in 1985 but he was in the car when it happened.

17:54 He was basically driving the getaway vehicle.

17:57 This is an instance where he was actually convicted of felony murder.

18:04 Buford White, this happened in Florida back in 87 he was executed.

18:10 He stood guard while two men went into a house looking for drugs and killed six of the house's occupants.

18:17 The two shooters were also executed but Mr. White was found guilty of felony murder because he stood guard outside.

18:25 He was a part of it even though he didn't directly kill anyone.

18:29 GW Green again in Texas in 1991 was executed because he participated in a robbery where one of his accomplices shot the probation officer who owned the home.

18:42 Now, the actual shooter was executed in 87.

18:46 And another one of the accomplices is serving a life sentence, William Anders in Utah.

18:52 Back in 1992 participated in robbery and torture.

18:57 His accomplice murdered the victims after he left.

19:01 But he was still convicted of felony murder because he took part in it.

19:05 Carlos Santana back in 93 again in Texas participated in a robbery and during the robbery, his accomplice murdered a security guard.

19:15 The accomplice was executed back in 98.

19:18 Again, these are all felony murder convictions.

19:22 Jesse Gutierrez in 1994 was executed because he participated in a robbery with his brother Jose Gutierrez who killed the victim.

19:34 Jesse was present during the murder and even brandished a gun while continuing with the robbery.

19:40 Jose was executed in 1999 and Jesse in 1994 Gregory Rezanov and this was in Indiana in 1994.

19:52 A police officer was killed when trying to arrest Rezanov and Tommy Smith.

19:58 Tommy Smith and Rezanov both fired shots.

20:01 Smith was convicted as the one who fired the fatal shot who killed the officer.

20:07 But again, res nova felony murder, you didn't pull the trigger, but you were there and you had something to do with the incident.

20:16 Stephen Hatch in Oklahoma participated in a home invasion, abused the family in this home for several hours and then Hatch went out to his car while his co-defendant killed the parents.

20:31 Co-defendant serving a life sentence.

20:34 Stephen hack was executed in 96 for his involvement.

20:40 You know, a lot of people think that they're not going to get in trouble, or they can get in less trouble just because they didn't pull the trigger or stab the victim.

20:49 But if they were there and they had any part of it, this felony murder conviction can definitely come into play.

20:57 And this has happened a lot, a lot of these are in Texas, even if you plan the murder, there's just a lot of different ways that you can be involved and end up on death row even though you did not directly kill anybody and there was no blood on your hands.

21:16 David Fisher in Virginia back in 99 was executed because he was contracted for murder to collect a life insurance policy.

21:25 Again, here's a case where the shooter received a life sentence, but Fisher who was involved and didn't perform, the killing was still executed because of this.

21:39 And, you know, I noticed a lot of people and of course, we've always known this because we watch TV.

21:44 Right?



21:45 A lot of people will have their husband and wife killed and it still blows my mind how they could think that they're not going to be a person of suspicion when they've just taken out a life insurance policy, they're in debt, they're having an affair and people think that the police aren't going to figure this out.

22:06 I mean, it just blows my mind still how, every day.

22:09 I mean, we see these cases on TV.

22:11 And it's like, come on guy, like you had to have known that you were eventually going to get caught Gregory Summers.

22:18 This is in 2006 was executed.

22:23 He was contracted for the murder of three family members.

22:25 The shooter was given a death sentence as well in this case which we don't always see Theresa Lewis in Virginia in 2010, contracted someone for the murder of her husband and her stepson and the two shooters received life without parole.

22:40 However, she was executed in 2010 in Virginia.

22:46 I started looking into all these different executions and all these different methods.

22:50 And next week we're going to talk about botched executions, which I think is really, it's different.

22:57 It's different to see what goes down.

23:00 I personally have never worked in a prison.

23:02 I can only imagine what goes on in a prison.

23:05 I talked to someone the other day back when they did electrocution, like some of the inmates actually caught fire.

23:12 It's really neat to read through all the different things that have gone wrong.

23:17 I say neat.

23:18 You know, that's how my brain works.

23:19 I'm sure that y'all kind of have a sick sense of humor a little bit.

23:23 Like I do.

23:24 You have to, to like this stuff and you know what?

23:27 You have to have a little bit of a sense of humor because, you know, we deal with death every day.

23:33It's never a good thing.

23:34 I know that people all view it in different ways.

23:39 I'm writing a paper for my capstone.

23:42 I'm taking my last class to get my bachelor's in nursing after 30 years.

23:47 It's never too late working towards my nurse practitioner lessons.

23:51 I think I told you all that my capstone project is on the importance of forensic nursing and I really want to get it out there that it is a career field that nurses can actually be involved in.

24:03 It's very, very rewarding, of course, much different than taking care of live patients in the emergency room or, you know, working in hospice or home health or it's so different because you're not actually responsible for saving lives anymore.

24:19 But you do still help the family.

24:21 We do still deal with live people.

24:23 We do have to talk with the family and you do have to have, you know, quote unquote a bedside manner because you do still deal with live people who are grieving probably the worst day of their life.

24:37 You're a part of it.

24:39 And so it's either for you or it's not for you.

24:42 But I definitely want nurses to know that this career field is an option.

24:48 I think that colleges should start teaching forensic nursing.

24:52 And that's kind of what I'm advocating for in my paper, I guess, education more than anything educating nurses in the emergency rooms on ways to preserve evidence.

25:05 I know in a lot of cases we have hospital staff who might throw clothing away from a homicide victim.

25:11 Well, that clothing needs to go with the patient.

25:14 Of course, the most important thing at the hospital is to try to save their lives.

25:17 But kind of still also in the back of your mind have to be thinking about ways to preserve evidence, even if they do survive.

25:26 It is still a shooting and there will still be some sort of court proceedings.

25:32 You just always have to be thinking about that evidence factor in the back of your head, not cutting through bullet holes on clothing, just little things like that, that I find obvious that some people may not because their brain just doesn't work like mine anyway, this paper or it's actually going to be a PowerPoint is going to focus on the importance of forensic nursing and how important it is to let other nurses know that it is a career option.

25:59 And also the importance of letting law enforcement know that we need to be part of a team that we are good at making the victim feel safe and that we are an important part of the investigation.

26:17 If you're interested in forensic nursing or you have questions, I will supply you.

26:23 If you want to email me Julie at pushing up lilies.com, I'd be happy to supply you with ways to get the education that you need to possibly enter this field.

26:34 Be sure if you email me, need to let me know what state you're in because that way I can direct you towards education in your particular state.

26:43 I'm in Texas.

26:44 I'm more knowledgeable about how to get you the resources you need in Texas, but I will definitely find the resources for you in any state.

26:53 Again, Julie @ PushingUpLilies.com, shoot me a quick email if you're interested in forensic nursing because I would love to help you get started.

27:02 I would love to help you get the education that you need to be in this field because it is very rewarding.

27:09 I hope that y'all had gotten a chance to look on my website.

27:13 The Murder Merch Store is now open.

27:15 You can order, and it will allow online payments.

27:18 All those things are in stock and will ship out rather quickly.

27:22 And also remember that there is now an option that if you want me to cover a specific story, you can request that but also to be a guest host.

27:30 I would love to talk to you if you were involved or have a family member or friend that was involved in a case that you want to discuss.

27:38 Reach out.

27:39 Don't hesitate.

27:40 I look forward to hearing from you and to talking to you next week.

27:45 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.

27:48 If you like this podcast and would like to share with others, please do me a quick favor and leave a review on Apple podcast.

27:56 This helps to make the podcast more visible to the public.

27:59 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.