Tag Archives: capital punishment

- Kaine Email Project @ LVA – Human Touch Edition



Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall, Governor Tim Kaine, and Chief of Staff Bill Leighty, 9/11 Fifth Anniversary Ceremony, Bell Tower, Capitol Square, 11 September 2006, Press Office, Office of Governor Tim Kaine.

This is the third in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration.  These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).

Much of the Kaine email deals with public policy, legislation, and governing.  Issues such as the state budget, transportation legislation, and the governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address garner wide media attention.  But there other messages that focus on less publicized aspects of a governor’s administration:  life and death decisions, grief, and remembrance.    This week’s post focuses on, for me, some of the most powerful and moving email in the Kaine collection.

Tim Kaine opposes capital punishment.  But when he ran for governor in 2005, he promised, if elected, he would uphold the law.  Eleven executions took place during Kaine’s administration.  The decision to proceed with an execution was not easy for Kaine.  John Yancey Schmitt was executed on 9 November 2006.  This brief exchange that night between Sherrie Harrington, Kaine’s confidential assistant, and Larry Roberts, Counselor to the Governor, that evening conveys this. 


Voice Mail, 2006-06-05 22:58, LRoberts3.pst, Email Records from the Office of the Governor (Kaine: 2006-2010), Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

Capital cases also took a toll on Larry Roberts.  A few days before the 10 June 2006 scheduled execution of Percy Lavar Walton, Marilyn Tavenner, Secretary of Health and Human Resources, reached out to Roberts.  There was some question … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Floyd and Claude Allen


Photograph of Floyd Allen, #47, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 184, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the final post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

In March 1913, Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed for the 14 March 1912  murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster.  The Allens’ case had gone through many twists and turns since the shootout in the Carroll County courthouse the previous March.  The trials of Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Sidna Allen, Wesley Edwards, and Sidna Edwards took place in Wytheville from April to December 1912.  The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the courthouse shooting was a premeditated conspiracy in order to make each defendant equally liable for the murders.  On 18 May 1912, Floyd Allen was found guilty of the first degree murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster.  The prosecution’s strategy failed in the trial of Claude Allen.  He was convicted of the second degree murder of Judge Thornton Massie because the prosecution failed to prove a conspiracy.  Claude Allen then was tried twice for the murder of Foster.  The first trial resulted in a hung jury.  In the second trial, Allen was convicted of first degree murder.  Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 22 November 1912.

The execution did not happen in November.  In order to … read more »

- Johnny 99: The Records of the Virginia Penitentiary Now Available


Aerial view of Virginia Penitentiary, 24 January 1954, Adolph B. Rice Studio, Rice Collection 257B, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the records of the Virginia Penitentiary (Accession 41558) are now available to researchers.  The collection contains 289 bound volumes and 698 boxes of paper records spanning nearly 200 years (1796-1991; bulk 1906-1970). Included are administrative records such as annual reports, correspondence, office and subject files, minute books, photographs, and blueprints, as well as specific records related to the State Convict Road Force and State Convict Lime Grinding Board. Also included are financial records such as account books, cash books, ledgers, payrolls, and receipt books. The prisoner-related records include: prisoner registers, 1865-1980; photographs and negatives, 1906-1914, 1934-1961 and 1965-1966; medical records; commitment orders; punishment records; escape reports; index cards; and execution files. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary document the institution’s operational history, prisoners, and the evolution of corrections in Virginia.

The Virginia Penitentiary collection came to the Library in multiple accessions over several decades. In many cases, the original order of the material had been disturbed or was unidentifiable.  The bulk of this collection has never been accessible.  Researchers are strongly urged to read the Virginia Penitentiary finding aid.  The guide describes the contents of the collection in detail.  It also notes the significant gaps in the collection as well as cross-references to other collections at the Library of Virginia containing Penitentiary material.

I found … read more »

- “I shall die by my hands” – The Death Row Suicide of Joseph “Cocky Joe” Robinson

Mug shot of Joseph Robinson, 12 April 1951,  Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries E. Execution Files, Box 384, Folders 3-4, Accession 38103. Joseph Robinson, alias “Cocky Joe”, was convicted on 9 April 1951 in the Portsmouth City Hustings Court for the 1943 murder of Marc A. Terrell and sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia State Penitentiary on 11 May 1951. Court appeals delayed Robinson’s execution several times until the court set a new date – 4 May 1954. However, Robinson had no intention of letting the state kill him. At 5:30 a.m, ninety minutes before his scheduled execution, Robinson hung himself with a bed sheet in his cell. He was the first death row inmate to commit suicide in Virginia.

The circumstances surrounding Robinson’s suicide are documented in an investigative report dated 5 May 1954 written by W. F. Smyth, Jr., Penitentiary Superintendent, to R. M. Youell, Director, Division of Corrections, Department of Welfare. The report can be found in the Virginia Penitentiary Execution Files (Accession 38103), which also contain court records, Robinson’s mug shot, criminal record, death certificate, and suicide notes, as well as the razor blade he used to cut his wrist in his first suicide attempt.

Joseph Robinson’s saga began nine years earlier. In the spring of 1943, Robinson and his girlfriend Margaret Fowler Barnes went on a crime spree in Portsmouth, committing several robberies and assaults culminating in the armed robbery of the Capital Theater. On 11 May 1943 … read more »

- Virginia Christian: The Last Woman Executed by Virginia?


Photograph of Virginia Christian probably taken on 3 June 1912 when she was transferred from Hampton to the Virginia Penitentiary Death House in Richmond.   Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B Photographs, Box 19, Accession 41558.

On 16 August 1912, 17-year-old Virginia Christian was electrocuted at the Virginia Penitentiary for the 18 March 1912 murder of Ida Belote, her white employer. Today, she remains the only woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since the General Assembly centralized executions at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908. That historic distinction may be about to change. Barring any intervention by the judicial system or Governor Robert McDonnell, Teresa Lewis will be executed on 23 September 2010 at the Greensville Correctional Center for her role in the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis. Lewis’s pending execution has sparked renewed interest in the Christian case.

The Library of Virginia has a variety of documents concerning Virginia Christian’s execution. Rather than summarizing the case, I will let a representative sample of 51 documents tell the story from all sides: Christian’s family and her attorneys, Belote’s family, the prosecutor, and Governor William Hodges Mann. These documents were drawn from various State Records collections including:  Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary; Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers; and Records of Governor William Mann. Each image caption includes the citation of the document. The records of the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection, 1796-1991 (Accession 41558) are now open to researchers.

Readers interested in exploring how the Christian case was covered in the media should consult the Library … read more »

- Keys of Death

These records are part of the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection, 1796-1991 (Accession 41558).  Access to the execution files and four audio cassettes is restricted for 50 years from date of execution.  This collection is currently closed for processing.  [Update:  this collection is now open to researchers. ]

–Roger Christman, LVA Senior State Records Archivist… read more »