The Last Massachusetts Execution, Of Phillip Bellino & Edward Gertson, Took Place Nearly 70 Years Ago
Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has officially been found guilty of all 30 counts against him. Seventeen of those counts carry a possible death penalty sentence. Though the state of Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984, Tsarnaev's case is federal, meaning he is still eligible for death row. Massachusetts has a complicated history with execution, and it's a lengthy one. It was the first state to allow capital punishment throughout the original colonies and, oddly, has executed over two dozen witches. The first execution ever in the state, a hanging, occurred all the way back in 1630. The most recent death penalty executions in Massachusetts, however, occurred long after that.
Flash forward some 317 years and 343 executions later and you have the last case of capital punishment being used in Massachusetts. Phillip Bellino and Edward Gertson were electrocuted in 1947 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Bellino and Gertson had been convicted of killing Tex Williams after a joint effort to rob a dice game yielded well under the expected amount of profit. Fearing he'd snitch, Bellino and Gertson murdered Williams. Though Bellino and Gertson were eventually found guilty of first-degree murder, the men appealed their death sentence due to the fact that 14 jurors instead of 12 had overseen their case. The appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court failed, as did their appeal to the Supreme Court. Bellino and Gertson were executed just two years after committing their crime, a relatively short time compared to today's average wait of over 16 years.
Bellino and Gertson weren't the last inmates to face execution in the state but stand as the last to be successfully executed. After the duo's electrocutions, subsequent politicians like Governor Paul Dever and Governor Joseph Ely advocated heavily for abolishing the death penalty altogether, which the state eventually did following the landmark case Furman vs. Georgia, which put a four-year ban on capital punishment across the country in 1972. It was a voter-enacted constitutional amendment banning the death penalty in Massachusetts in 1982 that sealed the deal.
Regarding the last federal prisoner to be executed, it was Louis Jones Jr., who was executed by lethal injection in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 2003. Jones had been convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering former Army Private Tracie Joy McBride in Texas in 1995. Although his lawyer had pointed to brain damage caused by a government-acknowledged exposure to dangerous chemicals while Jones served during the Gulf War, the argument that Jones was impaired was not enough to prevent his execution nor apparently was it compelling enough of a reason to commute his sentence to simply life in prison.
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