1979 · Starke, FL
1: Execution scene as Venetian Blind went up.
2: Witnesses including prisoner's lawyer and minister.
3: Last view of prisoner while alive.
4: Prisoner's headpiece adjusted while masked executioners look on
5: 'Filipino' doctor pronounces prisoner dead
6: Spenkelink minutes from death.
Original art from a well known courtroom illustrator of Florida's first execution after reinstatement of the death penalty. While Robe worked for a Tampa paper, these were done for television (WFLA/NBC).
"John Arthur Spenkelink (19491979) was a convicted American murderer. He was executed under controversial circumstances in 1979, the first convict to be executed in Florida after capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, and the second (after Gary Gilmore) in the country.
Spenkelink's case became a national cause célèbre, encompassing both the broader debate over the morality of the death penalty and the narrower question of whether the punishment fitted Spenkelink's crime. His cause was taken up by former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, actor Alan Alda, and singer Joan Baez, among many others. Also at issue was the assertion that capital punishment discriminated against the poor and underprivileged. (Spenkelink often signed his prison correspondence with the epigram, Capital punishment means those without capital get the punishment.)
The execution was finally carried out on May 25, 1979, in Old Sparky, the Florida State Prison electric chair.
The controversy did not end with Spenkelink's execution: When the blinds covering the windows of the execution chamber were opened to the witnesses, Spenkelink had already been strapped into the chair, gagged, and blindfolded. Since the witnesses had not seen the prisoner brought into the chamber, rumors later spread that he had fought the guards, that his neck had been broken in the altercation, and that he was dead before the execution took place. Spenkelink's corpse was eventually exhumed by a Los Angeles coroner, who determined that the cause of his death was in fact electrocution. To prevent similar future controversies, prison officials removed the window blinds to allow witnesses to view the entire execution procedure from beginning to end."
"On May 25, 1979, Spenkelink, 30, was given two shots of whiskey, then executed in front of 32 witnesses, including 10 reporters. It took three jolts to kill him. But because the venetian blinds separating the witness section from the death chamber were closed until Spenkelink was strapped in, witnesses did not get a good look. Spenkelink had straps drawn tightly across his mouth and was denied a final statement by prison officials."
Spenkelink's last words were, "Capital punishment -- Them without the capital get the punishment."
Spinkellink v. State, 313 So.2d 666 (Fla.1975) (Direct Appeal).
Spinkellink v. Florida, 428 U.S. 911, 96 S.Ct. 3227 (1976) (Cert. Denied).
Spenkelink v. State, 350 So.2d 85 (1977) (State Habeas).
Spinkellink v. Florida, 434 U.S. 960 (1977) (Cert. Denied).
Spinkellink v. Wainwright, 578 F.2d 582 (5th Cir. 1978) (Habeas).
Spinkellink v. Wainwright, 442 U.S. 1301 (1979) (Stay).
James T. Robe: American 1928-2000
Born in Michigan, studied design at the University of Cincinnati. Acclaimed Florida artist who painted Impressionist and Modernist views of rural genre, cityscapes and beach panoramas in the Post WWII era beginning at the same time as the Florida Highwaymen and continuing throughout the 20th century both at his Meadowbrook Studio and en plein air on the Gold Coast, Treasure Coast and Gulf Coast. For many years he was retained as a staff artist for the Tampa Tribune and he illustrated a 1997 book on Florida history in conjunction with his wife Jackie, an award winning landscape photographer. These images appear to have been created for WFLA TV & NBC News (per notation). (Inventory #: 9397)