Sunday, July 19, 2015

More details about the executions of John Salter and Robert Watkins

From the July 14, 1915 edition of The Evergreen Courant newspaper:

Conecuh Citizens Complimented

Notwithstanding the horrible nature of the crime committed by the two ex-convicts in Conecuh County, when Mrs. Martha Lassiter was killed and Mr. Wiley House shot and the house burned, the Negroes were given a fair trial at Evergreen and both have been sentenced to die August 6 next. The respect shown for law by the people of Conecuh is deserving of mention. – Mobile Register.

Elsewhere in that week’s paper:

Sheriff Williams is making ready for the execution of the two Negroes condemned to die on August 6th. He is having the rope stretched which is to be used on this occasion. The two condemned men were seen in their cell yesterday. Salter was laying on his couch reading a Bible while Watkins sat on a stool trying to write. The former showed little signs of worry while the latter was visibly troubled over his approaching doom. Their cells are directly opposite the gallows, where at some time during the day of August 6th they will be executed. Members of their race have been to the jail to sing and pray with them and this will probably be continued from day to day until the day of their execution.

From the Aug. 4, 1915 edition of The Evergreen Courant:

Negroes to Be Hanged Friday

About noon on Friday morning the two condemned Negroes, John Salter and Robert Watkins, will pay the penalty of their awful crime on the gallows in the county jail. All details for the execution have been arranged.

The crime for which these Negroes are to pay the death penalty, the brutal murder of Mrs. Martha Lassiter, was committed on the night of June 23rd. They were apprehended the following day and 14 days later were tried at a special term of circuit court, convicted and sentenced to be hanged on Fri., Aug. 6. Just 44 days, lacking a few hours, after the commission of the crime.

The condemned men have been given spiritual advice almost daily since their conviction by the pastor of the local colored Methodist church and others of their race, and they have been studiously reading their Bibles. The Salter negro shows little concern over his approaching doom while Watkins has all along been visibly troubled.

It is to be sincerely hoped that the fearful execution to occur here day after tomorrow will serve as a warning to the criminally inclined and that another such chapter in our county’s history will never again be written.

From the Aug. 11, 1915 edition of The Evergreen Courant:

Two Negroes Pay the Death Penalty

John Salter and Robert Watkins were hanged in the county jail on Friday morning about 11 o’clock.

The crime for which the two men were convicted and sentenced to pay the death penalty was the murder of Mrs. Martha Lassiter on the night of June 23. At the same time they made a brutal assault on Wiley House, left him for dead, set fire to the house and fled. Shortly after their capture, which was the day following the foul crime, they made a full confession to their crime.

The two condemned men showed the most remarkable nerve from the time of their conviction until they each stepped upon the gallows; not seeming to fear death. The writer visited them in their cell on Thursday morning at their request, they having expressed a desire to make a statement for publication. They declined, however, to do this, saying that they had decided not to make a statement. They talked freely and laughed frequently when recounting the various robberies that they had committed. They said they had no thought of committing murder when they went to the House home on that June night, but that when the woman began screaming and they could not stop her, the first impulse came to them to make a complete job of it. They were fearful that the loud cries of the woman would attract neighbors before they could secure the money which they were after. Asked what disposition they made of the money they said they only secured $28 and that all the talk of their having secured a large amount and losing it was not true.

Watkins was the first to mount the scaffold and this he did with steady step. The noose and cap were adjusted, Sheriff Williams pulled the lever and his body shot through space and he was pronounced dead in a few minutes. Salter watched the process without an apparent quiver. He was placed on the scaffold and the same process carried out.

The bodies were prepared for burial and turned over to relatives and in the afternoon were buried side by side in the same grave.

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