12 July 2014

Death Sentence Commuted

I am currently doing genealogy research 
for a cousin. 
 He wanted to find out two things:

Was his grandfather murdered in 1922 
as he'd always been told?

Where is his grandfather buried?

I found out very quickly that 
the murder really happened. 
 I also found out that the cemetery records 
were destroyed in a fire.

I  have uncovered information that tells a story the family lore never fully appreciated.  
There is betrayal, intrigue, immorality, murder, sorrow, outrage and mercy.

 I haven't come to the end of the story yet, 
but the facts have given me pause when I didn't expect them to do so.

There were two young men, 
(boys, as they were called)
 who committed a brutal murder in the mountains of Kentucky in the early spring of 1922.  

Those two men were convicted of their crimes.  One of them, who claimed to be only 17 years of age, was sentenced to die by electrocution.
 It was a big story, in  its day,
 because of his age and the type of sentencing.

After the sentencing, 
his lawyers fought for a new trial. 
They lost.
  They filed an appeal. 
 They lost that as well.  
His sentence stood. 

A public outcry arose, 
demanding and pleading for the 
governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to commute the boy's sentence to life in prison.  

According to newspaper reports at the time, the boy learned to read and write in prison and, 
most importantly,
 gave his life to the Lord.

Whatever your views and beliefs 
about the death penalty, 
the facts of this case will not change. 

 My job was to track down the facts.

I was given five boxes of criminal court records to sort through in my search for the trial records.
It was sobering to realize that I was holding, 
in my white-gloved hands,
 the recorded sins of people 
who lived nearly 100 years ago... 
 that many of these people were convicted. 

 There is a permanent record
 of their sins and their punishment 
for anyone to see who wishes to do so.

That was the first sobering thought 
that I had......you know.....
God keeps records of the deeds of men 
by which He will judge those 
who die without Christ covering those sins.

The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
revelation 20:12

The records led me to the sentencing.....
punishment for willful murder.......

Then, they led me to the file of documents pleading for the life 
of the convicted and doomed man.

Finally, I was holding in my hands, 
the commutation of a death sentence
 to life imprisonment 
by the only man in the Commonwealth who had the power to do so, 
Governor Edwin P Morrow.

I did not have time to photograph and read all of the letters and petitions
 written on behalf of the convicted man.

But, that is not what arrested my attention.

It was this:  
A man is born, lives, and sentenced 
to death for his crimes.  

He sins, as it were...
.and then he is given a chance 
to live and not die.

The commutation of the death sentence is recorded and 
has a separate file.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life....If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

revelation 20:12,15

We are born sinners.  

We live. 

We sin. 

 We die.  

We are dead already in our sins.

...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God... 
romans 3:23 niv

Jesus was born without sin.  
He lived. 
 He did NOT sin.  
He died for OUR.....
for MY
He was raised from the dead.  
He is living today!

My sentence of death for my sins is commuted.

...and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
romans3:24 niv

I have been given life.

I did not deserve it.  
There is no doubt of my guilt.
Yet, the ONLY ONE who has the power and authority to commute my sentence, 
Christ Jesus, 
did so.

He not only did so,
 but He satisfied the requirement of death in payment for sin by dying Himself.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 niv

photographs by deborah richardson

court records and newspaper clippings held at the Kentucky Library and Archives in Frankfort, KY, photographed and used with permission


  1. What love, that even while we were (and are) still sinners, God sent His only Son to die for us. This is a very interesting post, both from a spiritual and genealogical perspective. Both my dad and father-in-law are big into genealogy and learning about stories like this, interwoven into your own family is so interesting. I'm sorry to hear he was murdered though. That must have been such a tumultuous time for your family. We don't often stop to think that there is a record of our wrongs "on the books" but what a relief that we have received the gift of a new life in Him. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow! :) Have a blessed night.

    1. I'm sure it was a difficult time for them....but nobody remembers it now, or even knew it in the immediate generations....thanks

  2. How well you tied everyday living with the living Word! It is truly an amazing gift that our sins have been commuted and we are free to live and love. Thanks for sharing such a cool take on the Word.

  3. I love this post. You have tied your research and the facts you discovered about the case, into our case with Lord. Our sins. His forgiveness. His death. His grace. Our salvation through Him. Thanks for a beautiful post.