The newspaper article from last year:
Hanging made history in Lincoln County
By: Bob Jones July 01, 2003
At the February 1902 meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors, the following order was passed:
"It is ordered by the Board of Supervisors of Lincoln County, in the State of Mississippi, in accordance with and by order of the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi, as described in the mandate of said Court of date of January 23, A.D. 1902, that John Sasser, for his crime of the murder of
Thomas Lard, be kept in close confinement in the jail of Lincoln County, Mississippi, by the Sheriff of said county until Tuesday, the 11th day of March, A.D. 1902, on which day, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. he, the said John Sasser, shall be by the sheriff of said county, within the
enclosure of the said court house yard of said county, in the city of Brookhaven, Mississippi, hanged publicly by the neck until he be dead."
No white man had ever before been hanged in Lincoln County, nor has any other since.
John Sasser at 39 years of age had earned a reputation of a flamboyant, violent man. He was already under indictment for one murder when he was sentenced to be hanged for another.
Numerous other murders had been committed by white residents, and capital convictions obtained, but invariably the governors would honor the petitions for mercy signed by hundreds of citizens (and voters) and would issue a pardon or commute the death sentence to life imprisonment.
In Sasser's case, petitions for commutation signed by over a thousand residents were sent to Governor Longino, but four days before the execution date, the governor expressed sympathy for the family, "but, as governor, with the grave responsibility on me, I feel I must let the law take its
The murder for which Sasser was to pay the highest penalty was of Thomas Lard, a saw filer at the Pearl River Lumber Company and a peaceable, mild man, but a heavy drinker. Apparently, Sasser killed Lard with Lard's own pistol with one shot in the forehead. He was found dying on North First
Street on a small bridge, and two men were seen running away.
Sasser disappeared the day after the murder but was soon nabbed after Governor Longino offered a $150 reward.
The other party, Tom Pritchard, from Jefferson County had returned to work the next day and was arrested on the job. Pritchard was kept confined in the Hazlehurst jail until the day of the trial. He was the prosecution's prime witness. Newspaper accounts do not give details of Pritchard's testimony at the trial, but apparently it was damning. The jury returned a guilty verdict after a short deliberation, and the death sentence was handed down by Judge Powell. The trial and sentence withstood the scrutiny of the Mississippi
Supreme Court, and March 11th was ordered as the execution date.
Incidentally, two other condemned murderers in the state had their sentences upheld at the same time-one in Jones County and one in Monroe County-and were given the same date for their rendezvous with destiny.
Sheriff Applewhite tried to persuade the Board of Supervisors to rescind the "public" aspect of their order and allow the hanging to take place inside the jail yard before a restricted audience. However, the supervisors felt public exposure of the event might have a deterrent effect on the more frisky members of the county's population, and furthermore, it wouldn't hurt the popularity of the supervisors at the next election.
The sheriff hurriedly constructed the scaffold in the center of the courthouse lawn where it would afford a clear view from most directions. On the night before the execution, the Methodist pastor, Rev. C. W. Crisler, met with the prisoner in his cell and reported that Sasser had been converted and that he had baptized him in his cell. Sasser had been held in
the Hinds County jail and was transported to Brookhaven on the day before the execution arriving at 6 a.m., heavily guarded. When the fateful day arrived, some 7,000 public spirited folks came to view the free, grisly entertainment.
The scaffold was surrounded by a barbed wire fence some 60 feet square. Inside the enclosure were admitted the supervisors, Dr. Butler, county health doctor, several other physicians, ministers and members of the press while a huge throng surged against the enclosure. Sasser appeared just
before two o'clock p.m. manacled, but neat and freshly shaved except for his mustache and wearing a new blue suit.
The Rev. Crisler and Rev. R. Z. Germany united in singing a stanza, "Oh, How I Love Jesus," then Sheriff Applewhite announced that the condemned man desired to make a statement. No introduction was necessary. The crown hushed
and moved closer to hear every word.
Sasser spoke and rambled on for nearly an hour, praising his friends and the sheriff and others who had been kind to him. He raved against his enemies, especially the star witness, Prichard, and the editor of the paper who had lambasted him repeatedly in the paper. He seemed to soften for a moment with assurance of forgiveness and hoped he would meet the editor in "The Sweet Bye and Bye."
He expressed a strong regard for his family and boasted that he had never mistreated his wife nor struck one of his children and had never ridden his horse into the house and hitched him to the bed post, like some people do.
In the crowd was Frank H. Hartman Sr., who had a running feud with Sasser, the cause of which no one seemed to know. According to an account by Oscar Hartman Jr., a grandson, as published in Gil Hoffman's "Dummy Lines Through the Longleaf" book, Sasser spotted Hartman in the mob and called out to him,"You better go and look after your mill, Hartman, I believe it's burning from all four corners about now." A thin plume of black smoke could be seen rising over the southwest horizon at the time. Undaunted, Hartman shouted back,"Let the damn mill burn, I'm going to stay here and watch you take your last jerk!" Which he did, and his mill was destroyed by fire, undoubtedly by Sasser's last vicious conspiracy.
Then Sasser began to taper off in his remarks, magnanimously forgiving everyone in the audience. Then, as most good speakers do, he asked if there were any questions. He wasn't prepared for the straight forward query that shot back at him loud and clear, "Did you kill Tom Lard?"
Sasser appeared rattled and stammered, "I've already stated that. I believe that is all I want to say."
The ministers sang another hymn, "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," and Sheriff Applewhite adjusted the noose around Sasser's neck. Sasser then shook hands with everyone in the enclosure and bade them farewell. Applewhite adjusted
the black cap over Sasser's face, and all was ready.
Sheriff Applewhite sprung the trap, and the condemned man's body dropped suddenly seven feet through the opening. There was no visible twitch nor movement from the body. It was instant death, and he was promptly pronounced dead. His neck was broken.
The crowd, subdued, slowly and silently filtered away.
You may contact Bob Jones, a local attorney and Brookhaven resident, at 833-7075.
--The Daily Leader 2004