Governor Harold Hughes Phone Call to President John F. Kennedy

Governors of Iowa | Clip
Sep 26, 2022 | 2 min

In 1962, Iowa Governor Harold Hughes called President John F. Kennedy to plead for clemency for federal death row inmate Victor Feguer, who was in prison in Iowa for murder.


In the first months of Hughes' governorship, a controversial execution was set to take place at the state's legendary Fort Madison prison. Victor Feguer was sentenced to the federal crime of murder after kidnapping then killing a young Dubuque doctor across state lines in Illinois. Hughes was morally opposed to capital punishment and called the President of the United States, John Kennedy, seeking a commutation.

Governor Hughes: The only basis I could appeal for at all would be I am personally opposed to capital punishment, and I really feel that the majority of people in Iowa are.

President Kennedy: Right, right.

Governor Hughes: And I don't know on what basis you were advised on this, but just on the chance that you might possibly review the case again, I felt an obligation to personally talk to you about it.

President Kennedy: Well, I went through it, Governor, I read the story and then I got a letter from the man, and I've never really, I'm not -- the crime was so brutal is what finally made me decide not to go for clemency, and was so deliberate.

Governor Hughes: There's really some question in my mind, though the man is legally sane, apparently he is a schizophrenic-paranoid, which is a vicious combination according to the reports I've had here, that he is probably not responsible for a lot of the things he does, although he does know the difference between right and wrong as far as legal sanity is concerned.

President Kennedy: The fellow that he killed came from Iowa, did he?

Governor Hughes: Yes, he was a Dubuque doctor.

President Kennedy: When is this sentence supposed to be carried out?

Governor Hughes: Supposed to be carried out the morning of the 15th, early in the morning.

President Kennedy: Let's see, that's Friday. Well, Governor, why don't I take a look at the matter Monday and then I will call you back.

Governor Hughes: If you would, I would certainly appreciate it, Mr. President.

President Kennedy: Oh, fine. Now is our, your call to me, is that known? Or is that --

Governor Hughes: No, this call is strictly unknown.

President Kennedy: But it's your feeling that we ought to commute him to life.

Governor Hughes: It's my personal feeling that you ought to commute his sentence to life. It would be greatly appreciated if it could be done. It's your judgment to make that call.

President Kennedy: Okay Governor, I'll call you.