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An Execution At Florida State – A Catastrophe At O’Hare – May 25, 1979

American Airlines Flight 191
American Airlines Flight 191 – No warning – no survivors.

– Bulletins and news from CBS Radio – May 25, 1979 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

An execution in Florida started the day and a devastating air disaster in Chicago ended the day, this May 25th in 1979. Convicted murderer John Spenkelink became the first criminal to be executed in Florida after Capital Punishment was reinstated in Florida in 1976. Spenkelink appealed his sentence, but in 1977, Governor Reubin Askew of Florida signed Spenkelink’s first death by execution warrant. In 1979 Askew’s successor, Governor Bob Graham, signed a second death by execution warrant. Spenkelink continued to appeal, earning stays from both the U.S Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, but both stays were overturned, meaning that Spenkelink would be the first man put to death involuntarily since executions were resumed in the U.S. in 1976.

Spenkelink’s case became a national cause célèbre, encompassing both the broader debate over the morality of the death penalty by execution and the narrower question of whether capital punishment fit Spenkelink’s crime. His cause was taken up by former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, actor Alan Alda, and singer Joan Baez, among many others. Also at issue was whether capital punishment discriminated against the poor and underprivileged—Spenkelink often signed his prison correspondence with the epigram, “capital punishment means those without capital get the punishment.”

The execution was finally carried out on the morning of May 25th, in “Old Sparky”, the Florida State Prison electric chair. That morning, Doug Tracht, a popular Jacksonville disc jockey, aired a recording of sizzling bacon on his radio program and dedicated it to Spenkelink.

But by the end of the day, attention shifted from the execution in Florida to a disaster in Chicago. American Airlines Flight 191 was a regularly scheduled domestic passenger flight in the United States from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles International Airport in California. On the afternoon of May 25th the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 operating this flight was taking off from runway 32R at O’Hare when its left engine detached from the wing, causing a loss of control, and the aircraft crashed less than one mile (1.6 km) from the end of the runway. All 258 passengers and 13 crew on board were killed, along with two people on the ground. With 273 fatalities, it is the deadliest aviation accident to have occurred in the United States.

And despite the execution in Florida and the catastrophe in Chicago, a lot of other news happened on this May 25, 1979 as reported by CBS Radio.

John Spenkelink – recipient of a grim resumption.

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