The Execution of Willie Francis
Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South
By Gilbert King
(Basic Civitas Books, Hardcover, 9780465002658, 384pp.)
Publication Date: April 1, 2008
List Price: $26.00*
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On May 3, 1946, a seventeen-year-old boy was scheduled to die by the electric chair inside of a tiny red brick jail in picturesque St. Martinsville, Louisiana. Young Willie Francis had been charged with the murder of a local pharmacist. The electric chair-three hundred pounds of oak and metal- had been dubbed Gruesome Gertie” and was moved from one jailhouse to another throughout the state of Louisiana. The switch would be thrown at 12:08 P.M., but Willie Francis did not die. Miraculously, having survived this less than cordial encounter with death, Willie was soon informed that the state would try to kill him again in six days. Letters began pouring into St. Martinsville from across the country-Americans of all colors and classes were transfixed by the fate of this young man. A Cajun lawyer just returned from WWII, Bertrand DeBlanc would take on Willie’s case-in the face of overwhelming local resistance. DeBlanc would argue the case all the way from the Bayou to the U.S. Supreme Court. In deciding Willie’s fate the courts and the country would be forced to ask questions about capital punishment that remain unresolved today.
Gilbert King is the author of Woman, Child For Sale: The New Slave Trade in the 21st Century, which was selected by the Detroit Free Press as one of its ten notable books of 2004. In the award-winning documentary Willie Francis Must Die Again, narrated by Danny Glover, King is interviewed on camera. In addition, King has contributed articles to numerous newspapers and magazines, including Ring Magazine, Playboy, and the San Diego Union. King lives in New York City.