Thursday, December 07, 2006

December 7

Michel Ney, a marshall in the Napoleonic army, was shot by a firing squad of his own countrymen on this date in 1815, just hours after the sentence was delivered by the overwhelming assent of the Chamber of Peers. Ney, one of Napoleon's most trusted and revered subordinates, was convicted of treason for abandoning the regime of Louis XVIII for the usurper Napoleon, who had returned from his exile in Elba to regain the imperial throne he had abdicated the year before. Nicknamed le brave des braves by the Emperor during happier times, Ney was widely (and somewhat unjustly) blamed for the Belgian catastrophe at Waterloo in June 1815. The defeat of Napoleon bode poorly Ney's fate, which the Parisian royalists were determined to seal with an execution. In a letter written shortly after the battle, the marshall explained to a friend that:
[t]he most false and defamatory reports have been publicly circulated for some days, respecting the conduct which I have pursued during this short and unfortunate campaign. The journals have repeated these odious calumnies, and appear to lend them credit. After having fought during twenty-five years for my country, and having shed my blood for its glory and independence, an attempt is made to accuse me of treason; and maliciously to mark me out to the people, and the army itself, as the author of the disaster it has just experienced.
Ney would repeat those sentiments to an unmoved Chamber during his trial. Only one Peer voted for Ney's acquittal.

At an isolated spot in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Ney was offered a blindfold -- which he refused -- and was given the privilege of ordering his own death. According to some witnesses, Ney's final words underscored his reputation for bravery. "Soldiers," he instructed, "when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her . . . Soldiers Fire!"


texas7At 12:07 a.m. on 7 December 1982, the state of Texas executed Charles Brooks, Jr., for the crime of killing a used car mechanic six years previous. For no discernible reason, David Gregory was abducted by Brooks and Woody Loudres and taken to a motel, where he was bound to a chair and shot by by either Brooks or his accomplice, neither of whom ever explained who actually fired the shot. Loudres pled guilty to a lesser crime and received 40 years in prison; Brooks, who protested his innocence and fought the capital charge, was sentenced to death by lethal injection. He would be the first American to die by this newer, more palatable means of execution; he would also be the first African-American executed in the US since 1967.

After exhausting his appeals, Brooks was strapped to a gurney at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas. With eighteen witnesses viewing the scene behind plexiglass, Warden Jack Pursley permitted Brooks to speak some final words, which he spent on a prayer to Allah and a brief word of encouragement to his girlfriend Vanessa Sapp, whom he urged to "stay strong." When Warden Pursley gave the signal, a stream of poisons were released into Brooks' arm. He yawned, raised his arm, then wheezed as a dose of sodium thiopentol slipped him into unconsciousness. By all appearances asleep, Brooks was then administered roughly 100 milligrams of pancurinium bromide, which would have caused total muscular paralysis, masking what was quite likely excruciating pain as his diaphragm collapsed and he began to asphyxiate. Finally, the execution was completed with a dose of potassium chloride, which brought on a massive heart attack.