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Ten People who were Sentenced to Death and Executed - But Still Lived

Updated on May 30, 2017
Mikal Christine profile image

Mikal is a Kenyan law student. She enjoys researching about the most fascinating and the most intriguing bits of the criminal justice system

The Death Penalty: Whether Justified or not Justified, imposes a very great punishment on whomever is proved guilty by the courts. However, there are certain individuals who were found guilty, sentenced to death and executed - but they still lived amidst the death condemnation. Whether it is a combination of fate, luck, destiny or God's will is a puzzle for you my readers to solve. Here are the survivors of the death penalty:

Elizabeth Proctor after being arrested during the Salem Witch Hunt
Elizabeth Proctor after being arrested during the Salem Witch Hunt

10. Elizabeth Proctor

In 1692, in the infamous Salem Witch Hunt, Elizabeth Proctor together with her husband John were among those caught. In the trial, they were found guilty and all of them were sentenced to die. However, Elizabeth, being pregnant, was granted an order for stay of execution until she gave birth. Her husband John tried to postpone his execution but failed. He was executed on 19th August, 1692. On January 1693, Elizabeth gave birth while in prison but for some unknown reason, she was never executed. Later, The Governor, illegalizing the Salem Witch Trials, had about 153 people released, one of them being Elizabeth.

Did you Know?

Over 150 people were arrested during the Salem Witch Hunt. Out of them, 29 were convicted of witchcraft: 19(14 women and 5 men) were hanged to death. 5 of them died in prison and one was stoned to death because he failed to enter a plea.

Photo of John Henry George Lee
Photo of John Henry George Lee

9. John Henry George Lee

John Lee worked as a servant at Miss Emma Keyse's home in England. In 1884, something tragic happened at Miss Emma's home. She was bludgeoned with an axe, her throat slashed with a knife and her house set on fire. John Lee was subsequently arrested by the state for the murder of Miss Emma Keyse. The prosecution adduced enough evidence to prove its case and Lee was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. As a result, he was sentenced to death. On the 23rd day of February 1986, Lee stood at the gallows waiting for his death. However, the hanging gallows malfunctioned - not once, but for three times! In that confusion, Lee walked back to his cell and later, the Home Secretary reduced his punishment to life imprisonment.

Did you Know?

John Lee spent only 23 years in prison and was released at age 41 in December 1907. However, he was released not because of the merits of the case, but due to public pressure to have him released owing to the abnormal malfunctioning of the hanging gallows at the time of his execution.

An extract from an old magazine reporting how William Duell survived the death penalty.
An extract from an old magazine reporting how William Duell survived the death penalty.

8. William Duell

At 16 years old, young William was arrested, charged with and convicted of murder and rape of a young girl who lived in the village of Tyburn, London. He was sentenced to death. In those days, it was a practice for bodies of prisoners to be availed for medical uses i.e medical teaching and research. However, after being stripped and laid on the dressing table, the doctor noticed that William was still breathing though at a slower rate. However, the breathing rate normalized and within 2 hours, he was able to sit on a chair. Prison authorities were shocked to find out that William was not yet dead and as a result, his sentence was remitted and he was released.

Did you Know?

The name 'Tyburn' was commonly used in an English saying : Take a ride to Tyburn meaning being sentenced to death.

Zaleykhah being stoned to death
Zaleykhah being stoned to death

7. Zaleykhah Kadkhoda

In 1997, Zaleykhah, at 20 years old in Iran, was already married. However, she was found guilty of adultery and her punishment was death by stoning. Her stoning was done in the most brutal way. She was buried deep in the ground up to her waist(see picture above) and stoned by the mob. Later, the Iranian authorities, assuming that she had died, took her to the mortuary. However, it was discovered that she was still breathing and was taken to a hospital where her health condition improved. Meanwhile, Amnesty International had appealed to the court on her behalf. The appeal was successful and on 26th November 1997, Zaleykhah was released, her death sentence lifted.

Did you Know?

It is actually a crime in Iran to have sexual relations outside marriage.

Moguel pointing at his scar.
Moguel pointing at his scar.

6. Wenseslao Moguel

Around 1915, Moguel was a soldier for the Mexican Revolution Army. Due to that, he was arrested, charged and sentenced to death by firing squad. He was shot at 9 times, with the final bullet being shot at close range through the head to ensure that he dies. However, Moguel somehow survived - God knows how. He even lived for long after the failed execution and he recovered completely. The above photo shows Moguel pointing at his scar left behind by the final bullet that passed through his head.

Did you Know?

A popular song has been written about Wenseslao Moguel. Find about it if you are interested.

A photo depicting public execution in Medieval Europe
A photo depicting public execution in Medieval Europe

5. John Smith

Smith was arrested, charged and convicted of robbery. He was sentenced to death. While being hanged, the crowd pardoned him by shouting that he be released. The prison authorities heeded to the crowd's demands and he was released from the hanging gallows after dangling there for 15 minutes. When Smith was later interviewed of his experience in the hanging gallows, he remarked, "When I was turned off I was, for sometime, sensible of very great pain occasioned by the weight of my body and felt my spirits in strange commotion, violently pressing upwards. After I was cut down, I had begun to come to myself and blood forcing its way to its former channels put me into such intolerable pain."

Did you Know?

In Medieval Europe, people being hanged to death provided some sort of entertainment to the citizens of Britain. Those prisoners destined to hang would travel in carts together with their coffins to the village of Tyburn where there was the infamous 'Triple Tree' hanging gallows. There were grand stands nicknamed 'Mother Procter's Pews' which were erected for thousands of spectators coming to be entertained by a public hanging.

An image depicting how Anne Green was executed
An image depicting how Anne Green was executed

4. Anne Green

At a tender age of 22 years, Anne was seduced by the grandson of her employer. She became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy who unfortunately, died immediately after birth. In an attempt to conceal the child's body, Anne was caught red handed and obviously, she was charged for the murder of her baby. She was later sentenced to death. In her execution, she was to climb the ladder up to the hanging gallows, then a rope was to be tied around her neck and then she was supposed to be pushed off the ladder. She stayed in the hanging gallows for 30 minutes and after being pronounced dead by the medical doctor in charge, her body was neatly packed to be used for medical and scientific research. While a local lecturer and his students assembled to dissect Anne's body, they heard Anne breathing. They also heard sounds from the throat. She was given a cup of hot coffee and she later opened her eyes. After a treatment of 12 hours, Anne healed completely. The prison authorities decided to remit her sentence and she was subsequently released. This time, lady luck smiled at her. She got married, had 3 children and died at a mature age of 50.

The 'Maggie Dickson'  Pub in Edinbourgh, Scotland.
The 'Maggie Dickson' Pub in Edinbourgh, Scotland.

3. Maggie Dickson

Maggie's story is somewhat similar to Anne's - number 4. She and her husband stayed in Scotland in the early 18th century. When her husband left her for another woman in 1723, Maggie traveled to the border town of Scotland in pursuit of making a living. Subsequently, she got an innkeeper's job for very minimal wages. However, the innkeeper's son impregnated her and because she feared being dismissed, she hid the pregnancy. She gave birth to a baby girl and hid it but subsequently, the baby died. Maggie also attempted to conceal the death - she placed the baby's body on the bank of the River Tweed. When the baby was found, it was traced to her and obviously, she was charged with murder and sentenced to die in a public execution. After being pronounced dead, her body was placed inside a coffin and the journey to transport her body to a burial ground started. However, the journey was interrupted by knocks and bangs emanating from inside the coffin. Maggie was alive!

Did you Know?

Maggie Dickson later lived for 40 years and she became a well known celebrity in Scotland up to date. Currently, there is a well established pub in Edinburgh, Scotland called the 'Maggie Dickson' Pub.

A photo depicting public execution in Medieval Europe
A photo depicting public execution in Medieval Europe

2. Willie Francis

In 1945, at 16 years old, Francis was charged with the murder of a drugstore owner in Louisiana. However, the murder was unsolved for 9 months and he was detained in prison for a very different crime - theft of the drugstore owner's leather purse. However, after being questioned by the police, he confessed to the murder twice. Event though he pleaded not guilty , the court put very heavy weight on his confessions and subsequently, he was sentenced to death by electrocution. On 3rd May 1946, the lethal surge of electricity was ran through Francis' body, but it failed to kill him. Francis escaped death. It was later discovered that the electric chair was improperly set up by an intoxicated police guard.

Joseph Samuel in his teenage years
Joseph Samuel in his teenage years

1. Joseph Samuel

By all means, Joseph Samuel was a crook. In his early teenage years, he was deported to Australia by the British Government for robbery in 1801. However, Joseph Samuel did not change. He joined a gang of robbers in Sydney and participated in a robbery exercusion of a home of a wealthy woman. A police officer was killed in the hullabaloo. Samuel and members of his gang were arrested and charged with robbery and theft. Samuel confessed to the theft, but denied murder. He was sentenced to die anyway. In a public execution, a rope was tied around Samuel's neck but it snapped. For the second time the rope was tied around his neck, it slipped and the crowd was now in an uproar. For the third time, the rope snapped again. By this time, the executioner and other prison authorities had feared to kill him thinking it was God's will for him not to die and his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.

Did you Know?

Samuel was one of Australia's earliest Jewish settlers and he became known to them as 'The man they could not hang.'

Well, what would you do if you were in an executioner's shoes, trying to hang someone not destined to die at the said moment?


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    • profile image


      5 months ago

      Thanks for such a great read and such a well written piece!

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      great to be here. I have finally known few things I have never known and the most interesting is that sexual relations outside marriage is illegal in Iran. Wow

    • profile image

      Etindi jo 

      21 months ago

      Quite interesting this must be God intervention of wrong human judgment

    • Mikal Christine profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Christine 

      21 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya.

      Thanks Jackie for your feedback

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      21 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Very interesting. I had read about the stoning of the woman half buried but did not know that she lived.

      Great writing!

    • Mikal Christine profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Christine 

      22 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya.

      Thanks Paula.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      22 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Mikal....A truly fascinating tale. Apparently these individuals were simply & strangely saved from death for unusual reasons, most of which defied logic. Great research and well-written. Paula


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