Executions · Newspaper clippings · Texas

The first five people to be executed in Texas’ electric chair

February 8, 1924
Huntsville, Texas
The first five inmates are executed by the electric chair in Texas

The execution occurred in rapid succession described by the Albany Daily Herald as an “orgy of death,” resulting in a noxious fumes. A short interlude was given to witnesses who were “sickened at the odor of burning flesh that filled the room” before the final execution.

The condemned men were:
Charles Reynolds, 27
Ewell Morris, 21
George Washington, 38
Mack Matthews, 58
Melvin Johnson, 19

Reynolds was the first to be executed, electrocuted for the murder of Horace Reed in 1923 during a fight. Reynolds used a knife kill Reed, cutting deeply enough to not only sever the jugular vein but nearly behead Reed as well.

Morris was executed for the murder of farmer Oliver Marshall on August 10, 1922, killed following a dispute over farmland. Marshall was shot in the back of the head at “the base of the brain” according to The Victoria Daily Advocate (August 11, 1922), with a double barreled shotgun. Morris signed a full confession detailing the motives and events of the crime, leading to being quickly convicted and sentenced to death.

Washington’s crime is difficult to find; as his name is shared by the nation’s first president, the exploits of his life are overshadowed. The only information I could find indicated he had murdered a man in Newton County.

Matthews was convicted of killing his wife in 1923, nearly decapitating her with an axe as she slept.

Johnson was the last to die, his execution delayed by an hour while his appeals were exhausted. He had been sentenced to “hang from the neck until dead” for the 1922 murder of Lucinda Daniels. (Daniels, who had been killed in an unspecified manner, was the aunt of Johnson’s wife.) Because his original sentence was to be carried out by hanging, Johnson argued he should be executed by hanging and not in the electric chair. He lost his argument.

Sources:
“Death Row Information.” Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Accessed: February 8, 2019. https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/death_row/dr_facts.html
“Five Men Die In Electric Chair.” Shiner Gazette. February 14, 1924
“Electrocution of Convicted Blacks in State Prison.” McKinney Daily Courier-Gazette. February 8, 1924
“Ewell Morris Executed.” The Victoria Advocate. February 8, 1924
“Each Man Makes A Short Talk.” Taylor Press. February 8, 1924
“5 Negros Executed At Texas Pen.” Albany Evening Herald. February 8, 1924 (image source, via newspapers.com)
“Oldest Prisoner to Go First.” The Austin American. February 8, 1924
“Man “To Be Hanged” Says Electrocution Was Not His Penalty.” Bryan Daily Eagle. November 9, 1923
“Clarksville Man Killed By Negro.” The Marshall Morning News. October 11, 1923
“Death Penalty is Affirmed Against Melvin Johnson.” Corsicana Daily Sun. June 30, 1923
“News Briefs.” The Victoria Daily Advocate. March 23, 1923
“White Man Slain By A Negro Youth Thursday Evening.” The Victoria Daily Advocate. August 11, 1922

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