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Of Cruel And Unusual Death Sentences

July 2024
1min read

One hardly expects to find flights of slightly demented rhetoric in the words a judge uses to sentence a convicted felon. However, there are exceptions.

Take, for example, a diatribe said to have been delivered by Judge M. B. Gerry when sentencing Alferd E. Packer to death for having killed and eaten five companions while caught in a Colorado blizzard in 1873. (See “Postscripts” for the April, 1977, issue.) “Stand up, you man-eating son-of-a-bitch, and receive your sentence!” Judge Gerry reportedly began. “There were seven Democrats in Hinsdale County, but you, you voracious, maneating son-of-a-bitch, you ate five of them. I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you’re dead, dead, dead, as a warning against reducing the Democratic population of the state.”

Judge Gerry’s outburst was probably apocryphal, but we have found another death sentence from the same era that is equally bizarre but apparently authentic. It was delivered in 1881:

“José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, in a few short weeks, it will be spring. The snows of winter will flee away, the ice will vanish, and the air will become soft and balmy. In short, José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales,the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass, but you won’t be there.

“The rivulet will run its soaring course to the sea, the timid desert flowers will put forth their tender shoots, the glorious valleys of this imperial domain will blossom as the rose. Still, you won’t be here to see.

“From every tree top some wild woods songster will carol his mating song, butterflies will sport in the sunshine, the busy bee will hum happy as it pursues its accustomed vocation. The gentle breeze will tease the tassels of the wild grasses, and all nature, José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, will be glad but you. You won’t be here to enjoy it because I command the sheriff or some other officer of this country to lead you out to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a knotting bough of a sturdy oak, and let you hang until you are dead.

“And then, José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, I further command that such officer or officers retire quickly from your dangling corpse, that vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, coppercolored, blood-thirsty, throat-cutting, chili-eating, sheep-herding, murdering son-of-a-bitch.”

We have no information about the frustrated bard of a judge who composed this, or of the unfortunate José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales. We asked the editors of Antaeus magazine, in whose Autumn, 1976, issue we found the sentence, but they had no information other than that the case was United States of America v. Gonzales (1881), United States District Court, New Mexico Territory Sessions. We couldn’t find it, but perhaps some of our readers might know of it.

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