On This Day in 1959 – The curious case of Ralph Dawkins.

When Ralph Dawkins and Jackson Turner became the 602nd and 603rd prisoners executed at Sing Sing it was probably to Dawkins’ immense surprise. Condemned by Judge McGrattan at the Queens County Court of robbery-murder on December 27 1957, Dawkins at least had some small shred of hope. Or so he thought.

Convicted beside Dawkins were Turner (who would die with him), William Wynn (who didn’t die) and the appropriately-named Thomas Frye (who also didn’t). Frye and Wynn had been spared execution while Turner and Dawkins had not. While Turner had nothing to bank on but the Governor commuting his sentence Dawkins thought he still had an ace left to play, an apeal tot eh US Supreme Court. As it turned out Dawkins’ was really a busted flush.

The four defendants had been fighting execution with stay after stay and failed appeal after failed appeal. Dawkins had filed another with the US Supreme Court asking that they reconsider a previous appeal. Had he been a lawyer himself he would have known to specifically request a stay of execution until the Court could rule on his petition.

Unfortunately for 22-year-old Dawkins wasn’t a lawyer, his petition didn’t request a stay and the Court didn’t even know he had died. They ruled on his case on 19 October 1959. Dawkins had gone to he electric chair on 16 July of that year. Faced with its usual a huge number of writs and a lack of communication between the Court and Sing Sing Prison, the Court heard and denied a petition from a petitioner who was already dead. As the next day’s New York Herald Tribune put it:

“Ralph Dawkins, already executed, was the loser today in a Supreme Court order that didn’t matter to him. Convicted of killing a South Ozone Park, Queens, N.Y., grocer in a 1957 holdup, Dawkins appoealed tot eh high court and was turned down last April. He asked reconsideration but failed to request a stay of execution and was put to death July 16. There was no official notification to the Supreme COurt that the case had been disposed of with such finality when today it denied his request for a rehearing.”

It must have been news to Dawkins as well. He probably thought merely requesting a rehearing in a capital case automatically secured more time to actually do that and it didn’t. Having already lost his one madatory appeal in New York State’s courts no other court was obliged to issue a stay he hadn’t asked for, nor did some branches of the judiciary have any authority to do so.

Dawkins and Jackson were also notable for being SIng SIng’s penultimate double execution, the last double being Henry Flakes and Walter Green on 19 May 1960. When once singles and doubles had been the norm, triples frequent, quadruple and quintuples occasional, now New York’s fifth and final State Electrician found himself in decreasing demand.In August 1912 there had even been seven men executed in the same day. Deputy Sheriff Dow Hover made only rare visits to the death chamber, executing fewer men in the average year than some of his predeceessors had in a single day.

Just as time had run out for so many residents of SIng Sing’s purpose-built ‘Death House’ capital punishment was facing the end in New York State as well. After Flakes and Green only six more would walk the last mile, the last being Eddie Lee Mays on 15 August 1963. Mays would be Old Sparky’s 695th and final victim. .

I ran across Dawkins’ case while researching my first book ‘Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in New York.‘ My second volume ‘Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Northern California,’ is out on August 28 and can be pre-ordered now.

One response to “On This Day in 1959 – The curious case of Ralph Dawkins.”

  1. So, they did the crime, just the judicial roadblocks didn’t save the condemned, right? I fail to see the downside.


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