What People Are Commenting
An Eye-witness to Robillard's Execution
In Favor of the Death Penalty
In San Mateo County, California, at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, August 5, 1959, Alexander Robillard XIV was stopped in a stolen car by Hillsborough police officer Eugene Doran. Alex was 19 at the time and a professional criminal. He shot Doran six times, the last bullet fired into the neck to insure death.
I went to work at San Quentin as a prison guard after my hitch in the Marine Corps, and was assigned to Alex's execution. He was strapped into one of the two iron chairs (for double executions), and a cardiac monitor attached to his chest. Almost everything inside the death chamber was green, from whence comes its infamous name, the green room. The execution compartment itself is an octagonal vacuum-chamber, about seven-and-a-half feet in diameter, with an oval entrance at the rear like on a ship. The anteroom has three telephones for last minute calls, one for the Governor, one for the State Supreme Court and one for the Warden.
The way the gas chamber worked was quite simple. A pound of cyanide eggs was tied into a gauze bundle and hung onto a lever under one of the chairs, then lowered into a pan of sulfuric acid. The resulting chemical reaction produced colorless, deadly, hydrogen-cyanide gas, which quickly filled the air in the chamber. Alex didn't struggle, just sat down and was harnessed, and they dropped the pills. After he sniffed the gas, he seemed to be conscious for only a few seconds and then his head flopped back and he convulsed for a moment, then his head went forward, and the speaker hanging on the wall gave the exact time of his death.
There is room for around fifty witnesses, and most of them were cops, the exception being two Jesuits. One of them held Robillard's eyes during the entire thing. An article about the affair appeared shortly after in the San Mateo Times, written by none-other than the captain in charge of the slain officer:
"There was an interchange of thoughts and expressions throughout the execution between the priest and the man in the chair. I cannot describe it. I can only say that on the face of that priest was the greatest expression of peace I have ever known. Robillard was sitting in the chair near the priest, and I was directly across from them. The priest's face was pressed against the glass in intense communication with the boy. Robillard was watching him. It really began when they made the vacuum check after the chamber door was closed and he was alone in there. It was probably only a half minute, but it seemed much longer. It was then that Robillard's face went ashen and his lip began to quiver. The priest's face became alive with this indescribable expression - a look I have never seen before. It gave strength to the boy. He and the priest were as one. And he died like a man, at peace with his God.
"After the execution I was anxious to speak with the Jesuits. One of them had obviously heard Robillard's confession. Fr. John Enright, SJ, with whom I spoke, was from St. Ignatius High in San Francisco and I asked him if Robillard was prepared to die. He smiled kindly and said that he was. This made me feel good. I had never thought about the death penalty, whether or not I believed in it. Since the Robillard execution, I am convinced it is right."
It is hard to resist speculation that Richard Speck went to Hell because he did not face execution, and that Robillard went to Heaven because of it.
In Chicago in 1966, Richard Speck raped, sodomized, and killed eight nurses. He was sentenced to death, but later the U.S. Supreme Court, believing that capital punishment was unconstitutional (except for babies in the womb), gave him a life of luxury. He spent the next 19 years as a prison 'queen,' grew female breasts, and was filmed within the walls with rolls of hundred dollar bills with his lover snorting coke, compliments of the state of Illinois.
To be given the Sacrament of Penance immediately before death is a gift from God. I told a post-conciliar priest about the incident and he was horrified, saying, "But the boy could have been rehabilitated!" He missed the point completely. Robillard was rehabilitated. When I worked at the prison there were seven or eight convicts awaiting execution, today there are 650.
Posted January 6, 2007
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