Saturday, March 11, 2017


Vicente Camacho Reyes being sworn in as judge by Governor RADM Pownall in 1947
The US Navy still ran the show

Looking back, I must say that I could ask rather bold questions when I was young. But, the elders in my family usually humored me with a response.

Uncle Ben was married to my grandmother's sister and we all lived in three houses in one cluster. Grandma's house, my mom and dad's house and Uncle Ben's house. Uncle Ben and Auntie Ana never had grown children (she lost them all in infancy or in miscarriage) so I was partly raised by them.

By the time I was old enough to understand anything, I knew that Uncle Ben was a judge. I'd even hang out at his judge's chambers and watch him preside over hearings and trials in court when I was 8 years old. But it was only much later, when I was a teen, that I learned that Uncle Ben had been a judge once before, right after the war. That's when he was first made a judge, in 1947 by Governor Pownall.

Once, when I was already a teen, I asked Uncle Ben a bold question.

"Uncle, what is your one regret in life?"

I was not prepared for the answer. Uncle Ben always answered honestly, and, even though I was just a kid, he treated me with the kind of respect one gives an adult.

He replied, "My one regret in life is that I sent a man to his death."

The only information I got from him was that he was a judge at the time. A man, a Filipino, had been found guilty of murder and off he went to the gallows.

I do not know if Uncle Ben had any choice in the matter. At times, the law mandates the death sentence for certain crimes. Certain kinds of murders, for example. But what I do know is that despite the man's guilt proven in court, and despite the legality of capital punishment and the Church's teaching about its moral permissibility, Uncle Ben wished he had never sent the man to his death.

I pondered over Uncle Ben's answer. I imagined myself being in Uncle Ben's shoes. A man no longer lived, and I made that happen. His family could write to him, speak to him, see him. All the potentially good things the man could have done, were now all gone. I sent a man to see his Creator. Wow. I could start to feel Uncle Ben's regret. I know the Church's teaching on capital punishment, and recent Pope's statements that modern circumstances negate the need for it. But I am still sorting out my feelings over the issue. One thing's for sure, no matter how guilty a person is, I could never inject the poison or let swing the trap door. Not even for Hitler. To have that kind of control over life and death, I just cannot take that on myself. If my life were threatened, my mind says to find a way to save my life without taking one, but in the moment, with human instincts and reflexes more in charge, God knows what I would do.


Now that so much is available on the internet, I dug into this case of the hanged murderer.

His name was Mariano Genetano. All we know about him so far is that he was Filipino, one of hundreds of workers brought over to Guam after the war to work on the military build-up of the island.

In a tavern fight, according to one newspaper, Genetano killed a Marine, Hubert Oliver, on November 8, 1947. He was arrested and locked up. Then he escaped on May 24, 1948 and that's when he killed again. He met up with a Chamorro, Santiago Santos, asking him for clothing. Santos, probably sensing or even knowing that this was an escaped prisoner, refused. Genetano killed Santos and fled into the jungle but was captured.

In those days, since the island government was run by the US Navy, the Secretary of the Navy in Washington, DC had to confirm the death sentence. He did, and Genetano was hanged on January4, 1949.

Great Falls Tribune, January 5, 1949

Rest in peace, Uncle Ben, Mariano Genetano, Hubert Oliver and Santiago Santos.

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