History In Focus: ‘What God wills, He wills’ | CraigDailyPress.com

History In Focus: ‘What God wills, He wills’

The execution by hanging of EJ Farmer for the murder of Joe Jones (former Routt County sheriff and long time cattle rancher) and his employee Earl Hopkins in early 1931 was one of the last scenes of a fading form of frontier justice. Yet, his trial, appeals and death in just 15 short months offers us a picture of a system of justice that was fair, yet strangely efficient.

On June 4, 1931, just days after his conviction, Farmer faced sentencing before Judge C E Herrick of the Moffat County Court. The Craig Empire Courier reported on the scene as Farmer was allowed to address the courtroom. Fumbling for words about a new trial and belief in God he burst into tears and exclaimed: “As God as my witness, I didn’t know I did it!” Once the condemned man was quieted Judge Herrick pronounced that, “…you be hanged by the neck until dead — may God have mercy on your soul.”

At the Canon City Penitentiary questions about Farmer’s sanity quickly surfaced. His chaplain, L A Crittenton, stated in the Empire Courier of Sept. 2, “I think he is crazy.” Even the prison warden hoped Farmer would be found insane. “I would be glad to know Farmer to be crazy; it would relieve me of an evil situation; for I do not believe in capital punishment.” Insanity was Farmer’s last hope to keep his life.

In August, John Farmer (EJ’s son) and prison officials requested Colorado Gov. Billy Adams to grant another sanity test. Again, Farmer was declared sane. By Sept. 9, just a week before the scheduled execution, Farmer’s attorney, J F Meador, filed a supersedes (a stay of execution) which required a review of the case by the Colorado Supreme Court.

In early February of 1932, Justice Butler wrote the court determined Farmer’s rights had been protected, was ably defended, evidence properly submitted, and the trial conducted fairly, “…and we have been unable to find any error in the proceeding… The judgment is affirmed.” Farmer’s only chance was a pardon from Adams, but it was not forthcoming. Death had finally found EJ Farmer.

On Friday morning, March 18 Farmer received a haircut, shave, and a new dark suit. At 5 p.m. he ate his requested last meal: chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, ice cream, cake and coffee. After that, “he smoked a cigar with evident relish,” reported the Empire Courier on March 23.

Back in the death cell, authorities read his death warrant. According to the Empire Courier, Farmer verged on breakdown, and his final words came in choking breaths: “What God wills, He wills.” He recovered and was ushered into the death chamber while his minister read aloud from the Episcopalian Book of Prayer. Farmers’ hands and feet were bound. While the prayers continued, the noose was placed tightly around his neck and, finally, a hood placed over his head.

At 8:18 p.m., with a grinding metallic sound, the trap door released Farmer from this life. He fell downward with a swinging motion, and after a few convulsions his body hung lifeless. The prayers stopped, and for 14 silent minutes Farmer dangled from the rope. Finally, he was lowered to a few inches off the ground. Two doctors opened his shirt, placed stethoscopes on his chest, and confirmed the execution. Farmer’s neck did not snap; instead death was by strangulation.

Over 40 people attended the execution including Alva Jones, Joe Jones’s brother. Alva was presented with the noose after it was cut off of Farmer’s neck.

No family member claimed Farmer’s body, and he was buried on Woodpecker Hill, the prison cemetery. Farmer was the fourth to last man to be hanged in Colorado, and by 1934, the state switched to the more humane gas chamber for capital punishment.

James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School.
James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School.

James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School.

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