On May 6, 1904, the State of Washington carries out its first execution. Zenon "James" Champoux is hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla for the murder of Lottie Brace in Seattle on November 5, 1902. Executions prior to this were held in public in the counties where the defendant was convicted.
The Washington Territorial Legislature first enacted a death penalty statute in 1854. In 1901, the state legislature amended the statute to require that executions take place at the state penitentiary.
Zenon Champoux was a 26-year-old French Canadian prospecting in Alaska when he met entertainer Lottie Brace, age 18. Brace promised to marry Champoux, then she left for Spokane and Seattle. She found employment "working as a dance hall girl below the line [south of Yesler Way]" (Star). Champoux found Brace at the Arcade variety theater with her sister Ella. When Brace rejected his advances, he stabbed her in the temple with his knife in front of witnesses. She died later that day.
A King County jury did not accept his plea of insanity and convicted him of her murder. The judge sentenced him to death. Press reports of the day describe Champoux as speaking only broken English and exhibiting strange behaviors such as insisting on eating only raw meat and vegetables. Champoux said to fellow inmates that if Brace would not love him in this world, he would force her to love him in the next.
According to press reports, Champoux was awakened at 4:00 a.m. when he exchanged his prison stripes for a new black suit. After praying with a Catholic priest, he was taken to the scaffold and he mounted the steps unassisted and positioned himself over the drop. He made no statement and his only expression of emotion was a tear (or crying, depending on the report) while reading scripture on the platform. Although Champoux was described as dying instantly from the drop, his heart did not stop beating for 17 minutes.
Washington abolished the death penalty in 1913 and enacted it again in 1919.