Rep. Birmingham said former Attorney General Arthur K. Reading was motivated by political ambition when he pushed for the death penalty for the men found guilty of the car barn murder case, the Boston Herald reported (May 21, 1929, p. 29, via Geneaology Bank).
John J. Devereaux, John J. McLaughlin, and Edward J. Heinlein were convicted in the murder of James H. Ferneau, a watchman on duty at the Boston and Middlesex Street Railway office in Waltham, during a 1925 robbery.
According to Reading and the prosecutorial team, Devereaux killed Ferneau during a struggle in which the watchman was shot and beaten. At the time, McLaughlin and Heinlein were robbing the railway cashier on the second floor. The jury found that all three men were guilty of first degree murder and given the death penalty.
Despite appeals by Birmingham and others for clemency, they were put to death by electrocution on Jan. 6, 1927, at the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown.
In an impassioned speech, Birmingham accused Reading of furthering his own political career by advocating for the death penalty. Subsequently, Reading was forced to resign as attorney general because impeachment proceedings were under way.
Birmingham was addressing a May 20, 1929, meeting of the City Club of the Massachusetts Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty. Rev. Raymond L. Calkins presided at the meeting, which included other speakers who favored abolishing capital punishment.