The Naked City May 2 2017
PLAYING CHESSMAN
Did the legal system use him as a pawn, or was it the other way around?

Caryl Chessman and a detective named E.M. Goossen appear in the above photo made shortly after Chessman's arrest in January of 1948. Chessman had robbed several victims in the Los Angeles area, two of whom were women that he sexually assaulted. He forced one woman to perform oral sex on him, and did the same to the other in addition to anally raping her. Chessman was convicted under California's Little Lindbergh Law, named after Charles Lindbergh's infamously kidnapped and murdered son. The law specifically covered intrastate acts of abduction in which victims were physically harmed, two conditions that made the crime a potentially capital offense.

The law was intended to prevent deliberate acts of kidnapping and ransom, as had occurred in the Lindbergh case, but Chessman's prosecutors—demonstrating typical prosecutorial zeal—argued that Chessman had abducted one victim by dragging her approximately twenty-two feet, and had abducted the other woman when he placed her in his car, then drove in pursuit of the victim's boyfriend, who had fled the scene in his own vehicle. Chessman was indeed sentenced to death. The Little Lindbergh Law was revised while he was in prison so that it no longer applied to his crimes, but his execution was not stayed.

During his nearly twelve years on death row he authored four bestselling books—Trial by OrdealThe Face of JusticeThe Kid Was a Killer, and Cell 2455: Death Row, the latter of which was made into a 1955 movie. The books, many interviews, and a steady stream of articles fueled public debate about his looming execution. Among those who appealed for clemency were Aldous Huxley, the Rev. Billy Graham, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Frost. Their interest was not wholly about Chessman so much as it was about the issue of the cruelty of the death penalty, which had already been abandoned in other advanced nations.
 
In the end the campaigning was ineffective, and Chessman was finally gassed in San Quentin Prison. But even dying, he further catalyzed the death penalty debate. The question of whether a capital punishment is cruel and unusual hinges on whether it causes pain. Gas was held by its proponents to be painless. Chessman had been asked by reporters who would be observing his execution to nod his head if he was in pain. As he was gassed, he nodded his head vigorously and kept at it for several minutes. It took him nine minutes to die. That happened today in 1960.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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