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Execution of Josiah Terrell

Columbue Dispatch
Friday, September 2, 1887
Transcribed by

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ADDED NOTE: Fornshell, Marvin E, The Historical and Illustrated Ohio Penitentiary (1907-1908, rpt. 1997 by Arthur W. McGraw) page 150

Joseph [Josiah] Terrell (Prisoner 18872) convicted of murder; he beat and stabbed Charles Phelps, "an aged and decrepit man" during the commission of a robbery on 6 January,1887 in Meigs County.


Josiah Terrell


He Protests His Innocence Upon the Scaffold, and Exhibits Extraordinary Coolness--Solemn Scenes in the Execution Department.

Josiah Terrell was executed at the Penitentiary at half past twelve o'clock this morning. From a mechanical standpoint the execution was a perfect success. The neck of the victim was dislocated by the fall, and there was no bungling work to horrify the select gathering of spectators. The doomed man continued to manifest the remarkable coolness which has characterized his demeanor from the beginning. Early in the evening he at a hearty supper, and about nine o'clock retired to his cell and went to sleep, having previously taken leave of his fellow prisoner, Ebenezer Stanyard, who remarked with characteristic flippancy, "Good-bye, Joe, look out for me." Stanyard was then locked in his cell, and slept soundly during the enactment of the horrible drama in the adjoining apartment.

About 11 o'clock a DISPATCH representative entered the prison, and meeting Warden Coffin as he returned from a visit to the apartment of the doomed man, asked, "Well, Warden, how is Terrell by this time?" "Snoring for all that is out," was the Warden's reply. The entire administration building was lit up, and every one about the institution seemed to be affected by the sad event about to take place. From 11 to 11:30 P. M. the invited guests continued to arrive, and at the latter hour the following persons had assembled to witness the execution: Messrs. R. M. Rowand and J. D. Smead, of the board of Managers, Clerk Rarey and Assistant Clerk Clement; Guards Biddle, Elliott, Tyler, Riggin, McDaniel and Law; Captains Koehne, McHenry and Confoy, of the Guard Room; Senator Zimmerman of Sandusky county, author of the amended law making the Warden the executioner in place of the Sheriff; Colonel J. Smiley, of Missouri; Deputy Sheriff Baker and C. Steitz, of Clarke [Sic.] county; Sheriff Barbee, of Franklin county; T. T. Thompson, of Cleveland; Sheriff Schott and Execution Deputy Cormany, of Hamilton county; E. J. McKahan, William Burns, Dr. McClellan, W. M. Newton, T. J. Ferrell, E. Hooper, John Wagenhals and Allen Patton, of Columbus; John Malloy of the Enquirer; D. L. Bowersmith, of the Associated Press; W. E. Prine and George Gordon, of the Journal; George Smart, of the Times; F. B. Gessner, of the Times-Star; C. A. Hartley, of the Pomeroy Telegram, and H. H. Davis, of the Republican; W. E. Russell, of the Middletown Herald, and a representative of THE DISPATCH.

Soon after 11 o'clock Terrell was awakened in accordance with a request made before retiring, and asked for something to eat. A lunch was prepared consisting of coffee, tomatoes, beefsteak and pie, which Terrell ate with apparent relish. Warden Coffin had announced his intention of having the execution take place as soon after midnight as possible, and about 11:40 the Warden and invited guests took up the line of march for the execution department, passing through the east cell building, the stone floor of which had been covered with sawdust to deaden the sound of the many footsteps. The entire company halted in the reception room, where they were joined by Deputy Warden Cherrington, Assistant Deputy Patton, and Drs. Clemmer and Norris of the prison medical corps. Rev. P. L. Hinton was at this time in conference with the prisoner, and some time was consumed in waiting for the conference to end. In the meantime the speakers busied themselves in inspecting the execution room and the scaffold located therein, which had been tested and placed in readiness earlier in the evening.

Presently the Rev. Mr. Hinton emerged from the cell department and was immediately surrounded by the newspaper men and plied with questions as to Terrell's demeanor and conversation. The good man wiped the moisture from his eyes as he stated that he had been reading the Scripture and praying with the condemned, and that Terrell had given every evidence of being "a saved man."

"Did you ask him as to his guilt or innocence?" queried one of the reporters.

"Yes. I reminded him in the most solemn manner that it was but a few minutes until he would be in the presence of God, to whom all secrets are known, and to whom he must answer for any lie he might utter, and asked him to tell me once for all the solemn truth, whether he had any guilty knowledge of the crime. He said that before God he was innocent."

"Do you regard him as sincere?"

"I certainly think he is," said the clergyman. "He gives every evidence of being a saved man."

Senator Zimmerman, who had been an interested listener to this conversation, remarked: "There are but two conclusions tobe reached: either Terrell is lying, and is therefore one of the most depraved of men, or his is telling the truth and is innocent, and his execution is a judicial murder."

"That is true," said Mr. Hinton, sadly. At this moment a guard entered from the cell department and informed Warden Coffin that Terrell wished to see Billy Carroll, the life prisoner. The Warden, however, declined to grant this request for manifest reasons. Presently the Warden suggested to the minister that he go in and pray with the condemned man for the last time. Mr. Hinton proceeded to the cell department, followed by the entire company. The clergyman knelt near the center of the room and prayed earnestly, while Terrell knelt reverently at a chair and covered his face with his hands. A convict attendant, evidently deeply impressed, followed his example.

At the conclusion of the prayer, Terrell arose and seated himself in the chair, and the Warden proceeded to read the death warrant, during which the condemned exhibited a calmness that astonished everyone. At the conclusion of the warrant, the Warden said, "Terrell, the time has come at which the law makes it my duty to execute you."

Not a muscle of the prisoner moved, and the Warden, after a brief but somewhat embarrassing pause, said, "We may as well proceed."

"Let me smoke once more," ejaculated the prisoner, and suiting the action to the word he struck a match and re-ignited a cigar which he had already partly consumed, where at the Warden good-naturedly stepped back and allowed the prisoner to have his way. The next fifteen minutes was passed in an informal exchange of greetings between the condemned man and those present. After a while Terrell took Guard Biddle into a corner and dictated to him a note which he wished sent to Guard Montgomery, who had been invited but was not present. He also requested that two of his photographs be sent to his mother, one to his sister Parmelia, and one to Amanda Allman, whom he was engaged to marry at the time of the murder. Others then gathered about and Terrell talked to them, declaring himself innocent before God. "They can take me from this world," he said, "but they can't drop me out of the next," with a grim attempt at humor. He then shook hands with those about him, and the Warden prepared for the march to the scaffold, the spectators returning to the execution room. The scaffold is connected with the cell room by a carpeted stairway. Terrell and the Warden walked side by side, followed by Deputy Warden Cherrington and Assistant Deputy Patton. Terrell walked firmly as he ascended the steps. It was exactly 12:30 as the doomed man emerged upon the scaffold and took his place upon the trap in the center of the platform. Warden Coffin addressing the prisoner, said:

"Terrell, have you anything to say?"

"I ain't guilty," responded the prisoner, but his words were indistinct, and nearly all present thought he said, "I am guilty." Astonishment was depicted upon every face at the supposed confession, and the Warden, discrediting the evidence of his own senses, asked what he had said:

"I say I ain't guilty of this charge. God knows I ain't guilty. I suppose those people in Pomeroy think they have got it on me now. That's all I've got to say.

The earnestness and apparent sincerity of the man mad a deep impression upon all present, and when he solemnly declared in the presence of death that he was innocent, a shudder passed over the spectators at the thought that possibly an innocent man was being sacrificed. The sensation was such that several of those present wished thy had remained at home.

Deputy Warden Cherrington, who officiated at several executions when Sheriff of his own county and is adept at the business, proceeded to adjust the harness--a series of straps, by which the prisoner's legs are pinioned at the ankles and the knees and his hands tied behind him--assisted by Deputy Patton. The difficulty of standing thus hampered, coupled with the mental agony which the prisoner must have suffered, had no apparent effect upon him, as he stood there, straight as an arrow, calmly surveying the upturned faces below him, the spectators looked on with a feeling of awe, not unmixed with pity. It required just four minutes to complete the adjustment of the straps, and then the Warden, Deputy and assistant in turn stepped up to say farewell, followed by Rev. Mr. Hinton, who had accompanied the party to the platform. As the clergyman took leave of the prisoner he said, "Put your trust in God, and he will save you."

"I have," said Terrell.

These were the last words uttered by the prisoner. The black cap was immediately drawn over his head and face, the rope was adjusted about his neck, the Warden pulled the lever, and Josiah Terrell dropped from time into eternity.

Drs. Clemmer and Norris, who occupied seats on either side of the suspended body, immediately sprang toward the body; the former placed his ear against the chest of Terrell, while the latter loosened the right hand and took the pulse at the wrist. Thus the ebbing away of the life was noted. Dr. Clemmer announced the number of heart beats successively per minute, which were noted by Clerk Rarey and the reporters. At least a minute elapsed before the accurate observations began after the drop, so that it is certain that it required thirteen minutes for life to leave the body. The remains were taken down, placed in a coffin by undertaker Webb, and shipped to the relatives at Pomeroy.

After the execution Warden Coffin invited the guests to his residence and served up a bountiful lunch of coffee and other accessories, which were heartily enjoyed by all present. The Warden and his deputies were the recipients of universal commendation for the excellent arrangements and successful manner in which the execution and been conducted.

Ebenezer Stanyard will be executed November 18, unless the Governor interferes.

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