David Cooper Nelson was the first individual to
die in the New Mexico gas chamber, and the last person executed as of
the web publication of this article (2007).
Warden Harold Cox advised Nelson to take a deep
breath of the fumes, and asked whether Nelson had anything to say.
Nelson responded, "OK Warden. God be with you." Cooper then remarked to
the prison chaplain that he was going home, and, in a scene reminiscent
of the execution of Louis Young, was told to "keep praying."
The door was subsequently screwed shut, and
cyanide fumes rose about his face at 12:12 AM. Gasping, Nelson expired
at 12:20 on August 11, 1960. Upon the witnesses leaving the prison, a
prisoner was heard to shout "Are you happy now?" Warden Cox subsequently
told reporters that he was proud of the efficiency of the execution.
Nelson was convicted of murdering Ralph Henderson
Rainey, a 46 year-old butcher from Santa Monica, CA, who had picked up
the hitchhiking Nelson. Rainey’s body was found near Budville, on
January 10th, 1956, and had apparently died within the
previous two days by two gunshot wounds to the head.
Nelson’s fingerprints were found in Rainey’s
vehicle. Upon being located in Las Vegas, Nevada, Nelson subsequently
confessed twice to the killing but later repudiated his confessions. He
also confessed to killing two other individuals, John Valente and
Kenneth Short, although he also later recanted the Valente confession.
At his first trial, Nelson maintained an insanity
defense, but was found sane and guilty. At the second trial, his
confessions were disallowed, but with the same end result. Nelson
subsequently tried to escape from prison.
Prior to his execution he maintained that he had
witnessed a third party kill Rainey. At the last, he requested that the
two prisoners in the cells next to his former cell receive special meals
after his death, a wish with which Warden Cox said he would comply.