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Hidden History: Willie Francis, the St. Martinville teen who was executed twice

Hidden History

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (KLFY) — In the mid-1940s, a 15-year old boy from St. Martinville made headlines across the nation.

“It’s only something that’s happened once in the history of the country that somebody survived an electrocution,” Allan Durand, a Lafayette lawyer, said.

His name was Willie Francis.

“The assistant coroner who was at the execution said there was no question that the electricity was getting to him. I mean, his neck puffed up, and he was jerking against the chair,” Durand added.

Some call it a miracle that Willie survived. They thought maybe God was sending a sign that this boy was innocent.

“I don’t really really think there’s anybody in St. Martinville who thought Willie Francis did it,” Durand told News 10.

What was Willie Francis accused of that sent him to the electric chair?

In 1944, a St. Martinville man named Andrew Thomas, a pharmacist and the police chief’s brother, was found shot to death.

Durand’s great uncle, a local lawyer named Bertrand DeBlanc, worked on Willie Francis’s case.

DeBlanc says Willie was framed.

The evidence the police had against Willie, however, was a written confession.

“Was he impressed by the fact that he got him to sign a confession?” Durand questioned. “He said no. Back then, if they wanted you to confess, they went and got the rubber hoses, and you were going to sign whatever they want you to sign.”

After Willie survived his first execution in the electric chair, Willie’s father came knocking at DeBlanc’s door.

“He just sat there and started crying, and my uncle said, ‘okay, I’ll do it,” Durand said.

DeBlanc appealed Willie’s case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As he got to know Willie throughout the case, he just was firmly under the opinion that Willie couldn’t have done it,” Durand added.

DeBlanc argued that sending Willie to the electric chair for a second time was cruel and unusual punishment, but his efforts did not pay off.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the second execution.

On May 9, 1947, at the age of 18, Willie Francis returned to the electric chair.

He was pronounced dead at 12:10 in the afternoon.

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