April 17, 2014 Leave a comment
By DEBBIE JACKSON and HILARY PITTMAN
With two jolts of electricity, Oklahoma in 1915 executed its first man condemned to die by electrocution.
Oklahoma’s method of execution has been in the headlines again recently. State officials say they have obtained from a manufacturer the drugs necessary for two executions scheduled for this month.
State law allows electrocution if lethal injection is found unconstitutional, and the use of a firing squad if the electric chair is banned.
Also known as “Old Sparky,” the electric chair was used to execute 82 condemned inmates from 1915 to 1966. The relic remains at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
The last inmate to die in Oklahoma’s electric chair was killer James D. French, but do you know who was first?
He was Henry Bookman, a 28-year-old black man who was convicted of killing a white McIntosh County farmer on April 2, 1915. Bookman said he acted in self-defense but there was scant evidence of his motive for the brutal crime.
Justice was swift in 1915. Within two months of his arrest, Bookman was convicted and sentenced to death by electrocution. After two delays, he was executed on Dec. 10, 1915.
In the days before the sentence was to be carried out, the World reported that McAlester prison officials thought Bookman was pretending to be insane.
“ … He heeds no remarks addressed to him but keeps in a continuous death chant which in its weird execution grates on the nerves.” However, “prison officials are loath to admit that (Bookman) is crazy,” the newspaper reported.
Bookman asked the prison orchestra to play “Mama Don’t Know Where I’m At” two days before the execution, the World reported on Dec. 9. One of his final requests was for his body to be sent to his mother in Chico, Texas.
Following the execution, the World reported that prison officials waited four days for word from Bookman’s family. Receiving none, they buried him in a pauper’s grave at the penitentiary. The story said no funeral was held, but black convicts were planning a memorial service the following Sunday.
The story reported that Bookman was the seventh person legally executed since statehood (and six of the seven were black). Also, 22 others had been hanged by mobs.
The account of his execution, as reported in the Tulsa World, is both grotesque and poignant. And some of the language wouldn’t be used today.
Here’s the story:
Read more at the Tulsa World.
This is such an incredibly nice piece of historical research and writing that I simply had to share it. This is good stuff.