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Subject: Arhive: John Spenkelink, May 25, 1979

Second person executed (after Gary Gilmore) in the US after capital punishment was reinstated in 1976
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Date Posted: Saturday, May 25, 04:05:35pm

Full Name: John Arthur Spenkelink
Date of birth: March 29, 1949
Conviction: 1st-degree murder
County: Leon
City: Tallahassee
Current Location: Executed by electric chairf
Date of crime: February 4, 1973
Date of execution: May 24, 1979
​Victim(s): Joseph Syzmankiewicz


A drifter who had served time in California for petty crimes, and had escaped from a prison work farm, John Arthur Spenkelink shot and killed a fellow small-time criminal named Joseph Szymankiewicz in Tallahassee, Florida. On February 4, 1973, the 24-year-old Spenkelink picked up Szymankiewicz, a hitchhiker, while traveling in the Midwest. Both men had criminal records and both were heavy drinkers.

The two checked into a hotel room in Tallahassee. After Spenkelink left to wash the car, he returned and shot Szymankiewicz while he was sleeping in bed; once in the head just behind the left ear and a second time in the back. He then told a cover story to the hotel proprietor, paid for an extra day, and left with Frank Bruum, another hitchhiker.

Spenkelink claimed that he shot Szymankiewicz in self-defense in that he forced sexual relations on him earlier, and forced him to play “Russian roulette.” He also claimed that the gun went off accidentally during a fight between the two.

Less than one week later, Spenkelink and Bruum were arrested for suspicion of armed robbery in Buena Park, California. The murder weapon was found in an apartment leased to Bruum and others. Upon their return to Florida, both were tried for 1st-degree murder. Spanklelink was found guilty and sentenced to death. Bruum was acquitted.

Spenkelink’s execution was carried out on May 25, 1979, in Old Sparky, the Florida State Prison electric chair. He was the first person in Florida (second person nationwide) to be executed after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. That morning, a popular Jacksonville DJ aired a recording of sizzling bacon on his radio program and dedicated it to Spenkelink. Spenkelink's alleged last words were "Capital punishment - Them without the capital get the punishment."

The controversy didn’t end with Spenkelink’s execution: When the blinds covering the windows of the execution chamber were opened to 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 and 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.

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Subject Author Date
And of course, Gilmore wanted to be executed (NT)Spenkelink didn'tSaturday, May 25, 04:06:22pm

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