Wednesday, October 24, 2018


It was the first public execution on Guam under the Americans.

Pablo M. Corpus, just 20 years old, was a servant of an American Naval officer stationed on Guam. On December 13, 1915, Corpus fatally shot Dolores Cárdenas de la Cruz, the wife of a Japanese immigrant on Guam, Antonio Takichi Ooka. Corpus then turned the gun on himself, but he survived his self-inflicted wound. He was arrested, brought to court and sentenced to death. This death sentence was appealed, but the appeal was denied. Corpus was hanged on February 4, 1916 - the first execution of a criminal carried out on Guam by the American government.


On December 13, 1915, Corpus entered the Ooka home in Sumay. It was night, so perhaps Corpus thought he could enter the home undetected, maybe when everyone was asleep. Ooka was a merchant, and Corpus was eventually charged with the crime of theft after this incident, so, conceivably, the impetus for all this tragedy was theft. Without the court records, I do not know if Corpus was after Ooka's merchandise, cash or both.

I can only surmise that Dolores, Ooka's wife, surprised Corpus in the act. Perhaps in a moment of desperation at being caught by surprise, Corpus fired a shot from his gun at Dolores. Realizing that he had shot, and possibly killed, a woman, and would more than likely suffer the worst punishment possible, Corpus turned the gun on himself and fired.

Someone found the two wounded people and called for help. Dolores lingered for a day but then died of her wounds on the 14th. Corpus survived and recuperated from his wounds.

He was arrested and charged with theft and murder.



There was no trial, per se, since Corpus pleaded guilty. The court records covering the court proceedings would have been most helpful, but they are not included in the 1915 and 1916 court records available.

All we can say is that Corpus was arraigned on January 6, 1916 and plead guilty to both charges. The court sentenced him to death.


But an appeal was filed against this sentence on the following grounds :

1. It was claimed that Corpus did not have legal counsel when he entered his guilty plea on January 6. Lacking legal counsel, Corpus may not have known that a guilty plea could have cost him his life.

2. It was claimed that Corpus did not deserve the death penalty due to the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Dolores. No further details are given, but I assume that what is meant is that Corpus did not shoot Dolores with malice of intent. Corpus had entered Ooka's house to steal, not to murder, and that he shot Dolores in a moment of surprise.

3. It was claimed that the court erred in placing the site of execution at Sumay and not in Hagåtña. I am not sure why this was considered a judicial error. Perhaps there was some statute in place (or assumed to still be on the books at the time) mandating all executions be done in the capital city.

There seems to have also been some doubt as to Corpus' age. His defenders thought that he was only 17, and thus not subject to the death penalty.

The appeal was turned down by the court on January 31. I don't know how, but Corpus' age was determined to be 20. The day of execution was set for February 4 at Sumay.


Still, Corpus had his supporters. These were lead by Cándido Agbay Sánchez, a Filipino resident of Guam who occupied various government posts during his lifetime. On February 2, he wrote a petition to the Naval Governor, William Maxwell, asking for the cancellation of the death sentence and instead to sentence Corpus to life imprisonment. Around fifty island residents signed the petition.

The petition reminded Governor Maxwell that five persons, all Chamorro, had been sentenced to death by Guam's courts since the US Navy took control of the island. Not a single one of those five Chamorros were in fact executed. Almost all of the five were not even serving time in jail anymore! Was it fair, so the implied question seemed to ask, for the Filipino Corpus to die, when five Chamorros were similarly sentenced to die but were never in fact executed?

One has to wonder if the issue of race enters in, as the Filipino Sánchez fought to save the life of the Filipino Corpus, who, being young and apparently unmarried, had no familial connections to the local population that may have saved his life. Yet, among those fifty persons who signed the petition asking to save Corpus' life were undoubtedly a good number of Chamorros.

Maxwell turned down the petition. The execution of Pablo Corpus proceeded.

Guam's Governor William J. Maxwell, USN


The night before the execution, on February 3, Corpus was taken to a tent set up for him at the execution site in Sumay. With him was his spiritual counselor, Påle' Román de Vera, a Spanish Capuchin missionary, who was fluent in Tagalog (among many other languages). Someone had cooked dinner for Corpus, and Påle' Román served it to Corpus. Then, Corpus slept soundly in his tent.

At six o'clock on the morning of February 4, almost the whole town of Sumay followed Påle' Román from the church to the execution site. Påle' Román was bringing with him the Blessed Sacrament to give Corpus his last holy communion. I am almost sure, then, that the people had gone to the church earlier that morning for Mass and then followed Påle' Román afterwards.

After receiving his last holy communion, Corpus and Påle' Román spent several hours in prayer. Corpus asked forgiveness of the Governor, from the family of Dolores, the woman he killed, and asked Påle' Román to write to his mother in the Philippines, assuring her that he died in the best spiritual state possible.

At nine o'clock, Corpus ascended the scaffold, accompanied by Påle' Román. He asked to be allowed to speak, and he began in attempted Chamorro but continued in Tagalog.

"Cha'-miyo pinite ako. Ito ang suwerte ng Diyos sa akin. Ipanalangin ninyo ako. Paalam na sa inyong lahat."

"Don't be sorry for me. This is God's will for me. Pray for me. Farewell to all of you."

Then his hands were bound and his head covered with a hood. The noose was fitted around his neck. All the while, he was praying along with Påle' Román. Moments before he died, Påle' Román told him, "Pablo, now you know that within a few moments you will be in heaven." Pablo replied, "Yes, Father." "Farewell," said Påle' Román. "Farewell," said Corpus, and the trap was opened and Corpus fell to his death.

His body hung for a little over ten minutes, but it was assumed he has dead, since there was no movement at all of his body, except for the natural swinging of the body as it hung suspended over the ground. At 9:22 AM, the medical officer pronounced him dead and at 9:27 AM the rope was cut and the lifeless body of Pablo Corpus was placed in the casket and turned over to his friends for burial.


Påle' Román

Why did Påle' Román tell Corpus that he would be in heaven within a few moments?

Catholics believe that everyone who dies in the state of grace is assured of heaven. Purgatory is a state of final cleansing before one enters the perfect holiness of heaven. But by dying for his crime and sin, and doing so after having confessed his sin and accepting Christ's mercy, Corpus was making atonement for his crime and sin. The innocent life he unjustly took away was being paid for by his own death.

What Påle' Román said cannot be taken as a matter of fact. Only God knows what became of Corpus' soul once he died. But Corpus' repentance, his turning to Christ for mercy and his resignation towards his earthly punishment all point to a firm hope that he was on his way to heaven.

Source : Army and Navy Register, Washington, DC, May 6, 1916, 583-584

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