On Thursday, March 28, 1861, in Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, Judge Kirby Benedict sentenced Sapello resident Paula Angel to hang for murdering her lover Juan Miguel Martin after he broke off the relationship. Inexplicably, Judge Benedict granted Angel’s lawyer, Spruce M. Baird, permission to appeal the verdict, but then ordered that the appeal could not be used as to delay her execution. In addition, Benedict ordered Angel to pay the cost for her trial and hanging.
While this sounds unfair, territorial law called for cost to be “recovered” from a convicted defendant. It was common for the property of convicted defendants to be auctioned off and the proceeds used to pay court costs. The Territory paid a convicted defendants prosecution costs only if the Sheriff certified that they weren’t able to pay and had no salable property.
Paula Angel was hanged on April 26, 1861. She is believed to be the only woman hanged in New Mexico Territory. But she hasn’t been forgotten partly because popular poet, and her cousin, Juan Angel wrote a long folk ballad about her crime and death. Here are a few of the lines.
To Las Vegas I was taken
by the judge in his sternness;
in the jail. I was placed,
surrounded by a thousand fears,
like a disgraced woman
in the town of Sorrows.
The jurors judged me
according to my crime;
to death. They sentenced me
because I killed Miguelitio. . .
Goodbye, pious women,
those of you who know how to feel;
look closely, do not become entangled,
do not allow yourself to be seduced.
Open your eyes, do not desire
a death like mine.
Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Clear Light Publishers, Santa Fe, 1991; Aurelio M. Espinosa, The Folklore of Spain in the American Southwest, U of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1985; Robert J. Torrez, Myth of the Hanging Tree, U of NM Press, Albuquerque, 2008.