Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

30 December 2016

One week left in giveaway

There is just one more week to enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

The giveaway promotion is being run by Goodreads.com and is open to U.S. residents only. Three signed paperback copies of the book will be randomly awarded on Jan. 5, 2017 - the anniversary of Charles Sberna's execution in Sing Sing Prison. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries.

For more information or to enter, visit Goodreads.

To learn more about the Sberna case, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

15 December 2016

Chance to win a copy of 'Wrongly Executed?'

Three author-signed trade paperback copies of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution will be awarded through a promotional drawing on Goodreads.com. No purchase is necessary to enter. Entries will be accepted until Jan. 5, 2017, the anniversary of Charles Sberna's meeting with the Sing Sing Prison electric chair. Details are available on the Goodreads.com website.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sbe... by Thomas Hunt
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01 November 2016

Organized crime's 'strategic logic'

I recently received a complimentary review copy of James Cockayne's book, Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime (Oxford University Press). 

It is a fairly imposing book, weighing in at 324 pages of tight type, plus another 151 pages of source notes, bibliography and index. I have so far done little more than acquaint myself with the book's approach and read some random passages. So this is closer to a preview than a review.

Cockayne looks at organized crime in general - the American and Sicilian Mafia incarnations of organized crime in particular - in terms of strategic criminal exploitation of opportunities. He examines historic interactions between underworld and overworld, organized crime and government authority - conflict, corruption, cooperation. I cannot yet speak to how well he does all of this, but he seems to have done his homework and has a solid knowledge of the subject matter.

One of my random reading selections was disappointing. Looking over a discussion of prosecutor Thomas Dewey's mid-1930s assault on New York-based organized crime leaders, I immediately stumbled upon material pulled from the pages of The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, a book widely known to be unreliable. The passages, consisting of fraudulent quotes attributed by Last Testament to Luciano, define and rationalize U.S. Mafia policy against attacking government officials.

Cockayne actually discusses Last Testament in another location in his book, criticizing the work but also giving it more credit than it deserves. (He says the book was based upon notes taken during Last Testament coauthor Martin Gosch's interviews with Luciano, but there is no evidence that any Gosch-Luciano interviews actually occurred and no notes are known to exist.)

Recognizing his peril, Cockayne claims to have avoided using the source for "any point of analytical significance." Despite the author's insistence, the Mafia policy he draws from Last Testament seems to be not only a "point of analytical significance" but also important to his theme of strategic underworld-overworld relationships.

To be fair, Cockayne used a great many sources in his research. Most of those are very highly regarded. (I noticed that he even made use of some material by that eminent underworld historian Thomas Hunt.)

- James Cockayne website.
- James Cockayne on Twitter.
- Hidden Power on Amazon.com.

22 October 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' You decide


I have been finishing up a manuscript relating to the 1939 electric-chair execution of convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna. Sberna's name is frequently mentioned by opponents of capital punishment as an example of a wrongful execution. 

I first wrote an article on the subject years back for the On the Spot Journal published by the late Rick "Mad Dog" Mattix, and I have been accumulating additional information since that time. 

My original article (a version can be found on my American Mafia history website) touched on the trial evidence and Sberna's criminal background. It argued that the evidence of Sberna's involvement with two other men in the killing of Officer John H.A. Wilson appeared inconclusive but that it would be a misuse of the word "innocent" ever to apply it to Sberna, who was a habitual wrongdoer. 

The data acquired since then - trial testimony and evidence, legal appeals, witness statements and tons of background material - has done little to clear up the questions. But it has produced an exciting story, involving domestic terrorism, organized crime, corrupt politicians and crusading prosecutors.

Sberna and codefendant Salvatore Gati were brought to trial before authorities arrested a third suspect in the killing. At trial, Gati took the witness stand to admit his own guilt and to insist that Sberna was not present at the time and place of the crime. He refused to provide identifications for his two accomplices, but stated that Sberna was not one of them. When Sberna testified on his own behalf, he provided names of known criminals Gati reportedly revealed as his accomplices. 

A jury decided that Sberna and Gati were both guilty and that neither should not be shown mercy. An appeals court upheld the verdict. A generally liberal-minded governor refused to commute or even to delay Sberna's trip to the electric chair. The warden and chaplain of Sing Sing Prison grew convinced that Sberna had no part in the killing of Officer Wilson, but they had no authority to interfere with the execution. 

Over time, prosecutors spoke of their suspicion that one or both of the men named by Sberna were, in fact, involved in the killing of officer Wilson, but neither man was ever charged. With Sberna and Gati already dead, it appears it did not suit the interests of justice to reveal that there still remained two suspects for a three-man crime. 

There are many reasons to be concerned about the Sberna case. And it is tempting, from our perspective almost eight decades later, to condemn involved groups or individuals. But each was a product of his era and his environment. And each deserves to be judged within his unique context. 

I have called the book, Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution. After completing the great fun of researching and writing the book, I will soon begin the laborious chore of trying to find a publisher for it.

- Thomas Hunt