Females forced to pay the highest price for committing murder make for fascinating subjects, because generally it requires a particularly reprehensible act to knock a woman from the proverbial pedestal and through the hangman's trap door. Generally. Based on the prospect that others might find this an interesting subject, I plan to write of these women as time permits, and exploring them by state seems a tidy way to do it.
Massachusetts I've addressed. Next up: Oklahoma, a border West state neighboring two others that are just as liberal in applying the death penalty--Texas and Missouri. Though Oklahoma has put to death dozens of killers over the years, only two have been women. Both were black. Was race a factor, as some have claimed?
The two met in prison (where Wanda Allen was serving time for manslaughter for killing another friend), and upon release they moved in together. Their relationship was marked by violence and frequent calls for police intervention. On the last day they were together, they got in a bitter fight over money at a grocery store, and Gloria decided she'd had enough. She brought the police and her mother to their apartment, collected her things, and perhaps got in another fistfight with Wanda Allen. After more ugly exchanges between them, Gloria went to the police department to file a complaint against Wanda, who followed her there, and outside the building she shot her in the head and killed her. Wanda was convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
Some who examine this case claim that it is unusual to mete out the death penalty for a "domestic violence case." Her advocates, who included Rev. Jesse Jackson, saw racism and an anti-gay double standard and pointed to her low IQ as a mitigating factor.
Well, maybe. It certainly does seem to be the case that murders born of domestic violence are generally classified as cases of second-degree murder, but under egregious circumstances, these types of murders will earn even a white male the death penalty. In fact, next week, Missouri will execute a man named Timothy Johnston for the beating death of his wife.
Johnston killed his wife Nancy in 1989 in a particularly savage manner. After the couple got in a dispute at a bar, he came home alone. He shot up the house while he waited for her. By the time she returned, he was in a boil. He jumped on the car as she tried to flee; he managed to smash out the windshield and drag her through it. Then he stomped on her in the street, threw her in the car, and continued the beating on their front lawn and inside the home. She died of multiple internal injuries, but he kept beating her dead body.
Like Wanda Allen's defenders, Timothy Johnston's attorneys claimed that there was no premeditation and Johnston was in a blind rage, which should have merited a conviction for second-degree murder only. But prosecutors pointed to a history of violent acts in securing the conviction and death penalty.
The case certainly sounds a lot like Wanda Allen's. Both killed their partners in a public place. Both had histories of extreme violence. Both got the same punishment.
That said, the newspaper articles and even the CNN coverage of Wanda Allen's case made much of the fact that only one other woman was ever executed in (territorial) Oklahoma. Though none of these articles ever bothered to provide any details at all regarding the older case, they point out that the first woman executed there was also black, as though two dots make a pattern. Let's see.
It was 1903, near South McAlister, Indian Territory; a 7-year-old girl named Annie Williams was whipped so severely that she died. The woman who whipped her, Dora Wright, 31, was put on trial for the girl's death. The evidence included testimony that when the child's body was examined, it showed that she had been beaten severely for many months. Her skin carried old scars showing the girl had been struck and tortured with a red hot poker.
On May 30, 1903, the jury decided in twenty minutes that Dora Wright was guilty of little Annie's murder. Given the obvious, sustained, and severe abuse the poor child had suffered at Dora's hands, the jury declined to recommend life imprisonment, and thus the "negress" was sentenced to the extreme penalty. She was hanged on July 17, 1903, along with a white man named Charles Barrett, who was convicted of robbery and murder. The executions were carried out in a carnival atmosphere. The press accounts remarked that Dora Wright "mounted the scaffold without a tremor."
So was racism or anti-gay sentiment a factor for Wanda Allen? Was racism a factor for Dora Wright?
I don't see it. I see two juries looking past gender to the hearts of extremely violent women and giving them their just rewards for cruelly ending the lives of others.
"Savage Wife Beater and Murderer To Be Executed," by Jana Shortt, St. Louis Metro Evening Whirl, August 16, 2005.
"Woman Guilty," Newark Daily Advocate, May 30, 1903.
"Gala Day in the Territory," Lima Times Democrat, July 17, 1903.
"Whipped Girl to Death," Ottumwa Daily Courier, July 17, 1903.
1900 Census, Choctaw Nation, I.T.