Recalling Last Federal Execution
F O R T M A D I S O N, Iowa -- No one paid much attention to Victor Feguer when he was executed in Iowa on March 15, 1963 — 38 years ago. And there has been little reason to recall his case since — except that he was the last man ever executed by the federal government.
That is expected to change next week, when Timothy McVeigh is scheduled to die by lethal injection in Terre Haute, Ind., for bombing the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 people.
Feguer killed one person: an Iowa doctor who refused to give him drugs. It was a federal case because he kidnapped the doctor in Iowa, and then took him to Illinois, crossing state lines.
Feguer's appeals were exhausted in two years — a much shorter time than most death penalty cases today.
President John F. Kennedy rejected Feguer's plea for commutation, writing in a Feb. 20, 1963, memo to his brother Robert, then attorney general: "The petition should be and is hereby denied."
Last 10 Days
On March 5 — 10 days before his execution — Feguer was transferred to death row at the Iowa State Penitentiary.
At the federal government's expense, two suits — $33.50 apiece — were purchased for him: one to wear before the execution and one to be hanged in — and a hangman's rope, costing $28.75.
Feguer was an unexceptional inmate to the last moment, as the log from the Iowa penitentiary shows. On his last night, he was "calm, cooperative and resigned," one guard wrote.
For his last meal, he reportedly requested an olive with the pit still in it. When the guards arrived in the morning to take him to the scaffold, he was "very calm."
Death by Hanging
Former Iowa lawmaker John Ely was a witness at Feguer's execution.
"The priest was reciting the Lord's Prayer at the top of his lungs — and fast. I never hear the Lord's Prayer now that I don't think of that horrible execution," Ely recalls.
At the appointed time, Ely remembers, "The trap door sprung open and down dropped the man. And snap! On the end of the rope."