10 Last-minute Stays of Execution

They Flipped a Coin to See Who Would Hang First
Scott Wilson and Robert Blake (R) in a scene from the 1967 film "In Cold Blood." Latham and York were mentioned in Truman Capote's book which inspired the film. Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

In June 1963, James Douglas Latham and George Ronald York (who are mentioned in the Truman Capote true crime book "In Cold Blood") were scheduled to hang at midnight at a prison in Lansing, Kansas, for the 1961 murder of Otto Ziegler. He was one of seven they reportedly killed on what the Associated Press characterized as "a cross-country crime orgy."

The two killers were allowed to order their last meal and then were given a bizarre fringe benefit: They could let the warden flip a coin to determine what would be the order of hanging (Kansas only had a single-trap gallows). Latham called the toss and lost, which meant he would go first. But before their sentence could be carried out, a federal appeals court had granted a 30-day stay, after their lawyer argued that their rights had been violated because they hadn't had counsel at a preliminary hearing [source: Associated Press]. All in all, Latham's and York's legal maneuvers won them five postponements of their execution [source: United Press International].

But on June 22, 1965, after four years on death row, their luck ran out. Shortly before their necks were placed in the noose, the two dropped the guise of angry defiance. "I know it won't do much good to say I'm sorry, but I know God has forgiven me, and I hope you people see fit to do the same," York said. This time, the wire service account didn't mention a coin toss or the order in which they were hanged [source: Associated Press].