12 April 1967 – Aaron Mitchell

Former actor Ronald Reagan held the power to save Aaron Mitchell from the gas chamber. But the then Governor of California could see no grounds upon which to reprieve him. As a result Mitchell was sent to his death on this day in 1967.

A Republican, Reagan hadn’t long been in the job when he was presented with Mitchell’s case – a convicted cop killer, this was the fourth time Mitchell had been inside. He’d previously done time a couple of times for stealing cars as well as assault with attempted robbery. So when his criminal career culminated in killing a policeman in Sacramento, the courts did not take too kindly to him.


But public support for Mitchell’s sentence to be overturned was growing, cue Reagan. However, he is said to have been uneasy to overturn a court’s decision and supported the fact that there were no grounds for clemency, despite the obvious pressures.

So Mitchell was marched off to be gassed along with spectators, including one journalist who wrote a poignant report based on Mitchell’s last minutes. As he entered the chamber, Mitchell was observed to have let his usually fastidious appearance slip, instead his hair was in disarray. As if clinging to the last seconds of life, he apparently resisted being placed in the chair, but once strapped in he went limp as if resigned to his fate.

According to a reporter for the ‘Oakland Tribune’, ‘We could hear the pellets drop — like a latch falling into place. He nodded. He turned twice. His eyes closed. His head bobbed … then fell back erect … and dropped forward not to move again.

‘It took 12 minutes.’

And meanwhile 200 anti-death penalty supporters had amassed outside in quiet mourning for the 37-year-old.

Of course this episode didn’t do Reagan any harm, he went on to be US President.

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4 Responses to “12 April 1967 – Aaron Mitchell”

  1. Expert Says:

    Governor Reagan and his assistant Ed Meese, spent the 10 am hour of execution at the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento openly praying on their knees about the Mitchell case. It was Reagan’s only execution under his term and it was a difficult thing for him to confront.

  2. Nathaniel Harris Says:

    Execution for certain crimes in California was a given when the crime was committed. There was no evidence presented that Mitchell was retarded or insane at the time he killed the policiman. There was no doubt presented of his innonence.Reagan could have gone either way. He could have been compassionate and commuted the sentence or he could do what he did: finding no legal grounds for sparing mitchell’s life, and having no compassion, he declined to do so even though that was within his power. Blacks in the U.S. have historically been victims of a biased execution system. Black mothers admonished their male offspring to not break the law, and to leave white women the hell alone as thios was the quickest way to become a victim of “Old Sparky” I guess what I am saying is: forewarned is forearmed. After all this, one must remember the men on death row in Illinois and some other states who were exonerted by DNA testing. Death is final. The death penalty should be abolished or if kept, applioed equially across the board regardless of race or gender.

    • Sierra Leone Says:

      Spare me the ********. Mitchell committed the murder, he got what he gave. There is no doubt he did it so why bring in ******** about other cases?

      • Peacemaker Says:

        It’s true, though. If you do the research, you’ll find that black males are much more likely to get the death penalty than white males, regardless of guilt, and all around the board, anyone of any race is more likely to get the death penalty if his or her crime is against a white person. The system is racist; you can’t pretend like it’s not. And if you look back, you’ll find plenty of cases, especially before 1972, where innocent black males were victims of the system and executed. It’s a trend, and studies prove it.

        He’s bringing in EVIDENCE from other cases because EVERY execution is related in some way or another when you look at the studies that conclude why: because the death penalty is biased against the poor and those of color, be they black, Latino, etc. Aaron Mitchell was poor and black; had he been rich and white, you know well that he probably wouldn’t have been executed.

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