2008 non-fiction book by Gilbert King< read all 2 reviews
On May 3, 1946, in picturesque St. Martinville, Louisiana, a seventeen year-old black boy was scheduled for execution by electric chair inside of a tiny redbrick jail. Charged with the murder of a local Cajun pharmacist, Willie Francis’s trial had been brief and a guilty verdict was never in doubt. Willie’s appointed lawyers called no witnesses, presented no evidence and had not filed a single appeal once he was sentenced to die by electrocution.
As the noontide church bells began to toll, a crowd of townspeople gathered in the streets surrounding the jailhouse. Inside, the executioners – still smelling of liquor after spending a late night in the local taverns -- strapped Willie into the electric chair. Three hundred pounds of oak and metal, the chair had been dubbed “Gruesome Gertie.” At 12:08 PM, the executioners flipped the switch. Willie screamed and writhed under his restraints. The chair shuddered and slid across the floor. But Willie Francis did not die.
Having miraculously survived, Willie was soon informed that the State would try to kill him again in six days. Letters and telegrams began pouring into St. Martinville from across the country—spurred on by editorials and radio commentaries. Americans of all colors and classes were transfixed by the fate of this young man. Had he been saved from death by the hand of the Almighty? Could Louisiana really electrocute someone twice? Was the...