Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hangings in the Old West town of Prescott, Arizona

Capital punishment was the law in Arizona since Arizona became a federal territory in 1863.  In 1790 the US Congress passed a law declaring hanging to be the method for all federal executions.  Even when Arizona became a state, capital punishment remained in effect and hanging was the method employed.

In Prescott, Arizona Territory the hangings took place on the east side of the plaza or in the vicinity of Honor Island Park on West Gurley Street.

The Hanging of James Fleming Parker
James Fleming Parker was hung in the Courthouse Square in Prescott, AZ on June 3, 1898.  A known robber/murderer, escaped from jail along with one of this fellow prisoners.  In the process, Parker shot and killed the Assistant District Attorney in the courthouse square.  When captured Parker was sentenced to death and hanged in the square.  He was buried in the Potter's Field of the Citizen's Cemetery in Prescott, AZ.

From the book, Outlaw Tales of Arizona, 2nd: True Stories of the Grand Canyon State's Most Infamous Crooks, Culprits, and Cutthroats by Jan Cleere, it is written:  "As the black hood was placed over his head, he asked it be removed so he could shake hands with everyone on the scaffold.  When he got to the jailer, he gave him a message for the other prisoners. 'Tell the boys that I died game and like a man', he said.  He requested his old friend, Sheriff George Ruffner replace the hood.  As he did so, Ruffner sprang the trap that sent Parker to his death."

Hidalgo and Rentezia hanging
Elijo Hidalgo and Francisco Rentezia were hung on July 23, 1904, for the murders at Goddard Station. This was the first hanging to take place in Prescott since the 1898 hanging of James Fleming Parker. After a prayer, the two prisoners rose, and at this time their hands and feet were bound, and black caps were pulled over their heads.  Sheriff Roberts pulled the lever and just before the trap door dropped, they heard Hidalgo say, "Adios amigos! Adios everybody!"  This photograph was taken from one of the courthouse windows.

The last hanging in Arizona was July 13, 1936, and was near Coolidge Dam with makeshift gallows and the preparation was so poorly planned that the victim hung by his neck and strangled for nearly 30 minutes before he died. Though the execution was considered "private", the horror of the event was widely discussed.  About that time the US Congress took action and stated that the method of execution should be that of the state in which the crime was committed.  The gas chamber replaced the gallows.  (Excerpts from The Prescott Courier, March 1988 by Budge Ruffner, Columnist.)

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