Key events in the history of capital punishment in the State of Nebraska. Prepared in conjuction with the NET News documentary "...until he is dead: A History of Nebraska's Death Penalty."
Created by KellyOmaha on Jan 20, 2013
Last updated: 05/19/15 at 02:14 PM
Tags: death penalty murder capital punishment executions justice gallows hanging electric chair homocide prison Nebraska Omaha jail law enforcement
The law making lethal injection the sole method of capital punishment in Nebraska goes into effect.
The Nebraska Supreme Court rules that death by electrocution violates the state's constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Death row inmate Raymond Mata filed the appeal.
Robert Williams murdered Patricia McGarry and Catherine Brooks in Lincoln, Nebraska. Brooks was shot as she attempted to come to McGarry's aid. The next day Williams raped another woman in Lincoln and later killed Virginia Rowe in Sioux Rapids, Iowa. WIlliams was the last person executed in the electric chair. Legal appeals stalled the executions of others on death row until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the electric chair unconstitutional in 2009.
A serial killer of young boys, John Joubert was convicted of killing two boys in Sarpy County, Nebraska and of another in Maine. He was an airman stationed at Offutt Air Force Base at the time of his arrest. Joubert stopped appealing his death sentence and was executed sooner than others who had been on death row years earlier.
There was a 35 year gap between Nebraska's executions. Harold "Walkin' WIllie" Otey, a race track worker, had raped and murdered Jane McManus of Omaha. The execution was notable for the large, unruly crowd that gathered outside celebrating Otey's imminent death. Corrections officials reviewed and changed procedures on the time and crowd control at executions.
By issuing opinions in four separate death penalty cases in one day, the Nebraska Supreme Court provides support for the state's post-Fuhrman death penalty laws and clarifies what constitutes a crime worth of capital punishment in Nebraska.
Nebraska and all other states allowing capitol punishment halt planned executions. The United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in the case of Furman v. Georgia, ruled methods used by courts to determine who should receive the death penalty were unconstitutional. Its inconsistent application violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The most notorious mass murder in Nebraska history. Nineteen year old Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Fugate murdered 11 people during a murder spree that earned international news coverage. Starkweather was executed. Fugate was given a life sentence and later paroled.
Roland Sundahl raped and murdered Bonnie Lou Merrill, a 16-year-old waitress he met at the Y-Knot Cafe in Columbus. Psychiatrists by the prosecution and defense brought in at the time of trial in Platte County Court differed as to whether Sundahl was insane. All appeals failed and he was executed just 16 months after his arrest.
The first and only Native American to be legally executed in Nebraska. Timothy Iron Bear, a Sioux Indian from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, used an ax to murder a Sheridan County ranch couple, Mr & Mrs. J.W. Stollar.
Josephy MacAvoy, a 23-year-old soldier stationed at Harvard (Neb.) Army Air Base raped and murdered 16-year-old Anna Milroy, a girl living nearby in Sutton. She had been beaten to death with the engine crank from MacAvoy's car. He was found guilty and sentenced to die in Clay County.
For 12 years not a single person was sentenced to death in a Nebraska court, the longest stretch without a capital murder case in the state's history.
Farm hand Henry Sherman hoped to marry his employer's daughter. Denied the opportunity he shot to death Roger and Hattie Pochon and Roger's mother, Eugenie. He then raped the daughter and left her to live. The triple murder shocked Sheridan County where he was sentenced to die in the electric chair.
Frank and Harriet Sharp had a difficult marriage for many years, according to testimony in Lancaster County Court. Frank murdered his wife with a hammer on the way to a dance. Sharp was found guilty in two separate trials.
"The Omaha Sniper" was a brief sensation in the newspapers nationally. Over a two week period two people had been murdered lat random and another injured by an man wandering the streets with a pistol. The city was in panic. A gang of railroad workers captured Frank Carter, who was convicted of those murders and later confessed to a third. His last words, while strapped in the electric chair, were "turn on the juice."
Henry Bartlett murdered Minden, Nebraska's Chief of Police, Asa Ranson. The police officer was shot by Bartlett while escaping from the Kearney County jail. Seven weeks prior to his execution Bartlett went silent. He had to be carried to the electric chair, still not uttering a word.
Walter Simmons was convicted in Boyd County of murdering Frank Pahl with a hammer while stealing his car and money. While Simmons insisted he was innocent until his death and his attorney vowed to vindicate his client after his death, no other evidence was ever produced.
A 26 year old inmate at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, James King had only been in the state for two weeks before he'd been charged with a burglary. While serving his time he stabbed a prison guard. King was the first black man in Nebraska to die in the electric chair.
After decades of complaints about the power given Nebraska governors to reduce the sentences of inmates... including in death penalty cases... the state legislature enacts a law giving that authority to a three person Pardons Board.
A double execution began the era of the electric chair in Nebraska. Vincent Grammar paid Alson Cole $500 to kill Grammer's mother-in-law, Lulu Vogt, to get her inheritance. A Howard County court found them guilty. After years of appeals, the pair were electrocuted within minutes of each other at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
While the exact origin is unclear, Nebraska's electric chair is reported to have been built out of oak by a local carpenter. The same chair, with only changes to some of the electrical equipment, would be used for all of the state's electrocutions.
Already an in prison for armed robbery, Albert Prince, 24, stabbed a prison guard to death as the last hymn was being sung at a church service. Executed on Good Friday, Prince was the last man to be legally hung in the State of Nebraska. The state legislature was debating ending the death penalty as preparations for execution were underway.
The Nebraska State Legislature, after rejecting a proposal to eliminate capital punishment, votes to replace hanging with the electric chair. It will be another seven years before the first execution by electrocution is carried out in the state.
A waiter living in Omaha, Thomas Johnson, 39, was convicted of killing a drinking companion and stealing his watch and less than ten dollars.
Thirty-nine year old Bert Taylor of Minden was convicted strangling to death his 15-year-old sister-in-law, Pearl Taylor, during an attempted rape. He maintained his innocence even on the gallows. His last words: "Goodbye to everyone. I am going to a better country."
Sarah Martin was stabbed to death in her farm house east of Beatrice, Nebraska. The sheriff charged Robert Shumway, who had done work on the farm, claiming he'd killed Martin while stealing $175. After he was hung at the state penitentiary, an anonymous letter, never verified, claimed the real murdereer was Miller's husband.
After proposing marriage to Lizzie Rinkle, Webster County farmer Frank Barker claimed his brother and his wife had left town and left their home and farmland for the soon to be married pair. In fact Barker had murdered the couple and buried them on their own farm.
Harrison Clark, a 31 year old transient stone-cutter, shot and killed a street car conductor during an attempted robbery.
The youngest person sentenced to death by the State of Nebraska. Eighteen year old William Rhea and two other men attempted to rob a saloon in rural Dodge County. The bartender was shot to death when objected, purportedly by Rhea. he was the only one of the gang to receive a death sentence. A campaign to convince the Governor to reduce the teenager's sentence was unsuccessful. His headstone in Wyuka Cemetery does not bear his name and only reads "An Unfortunate."
Recently divorced and denied visitation to his infant daughter, Gottlieb Neigenfind shot his ex-wife and her father to death on their homestead farm outside of Pierce. He was sentenced to death under the new state law that made all executions the responsibility of the state. He was the first man hung at the state penitentiary.
The murder and rape of 11-year-old Ida Gaskill shocked Omaha like few crimes. George Morgan lived in the same rooming house as the girl. Her body was discovered in an abandoned building near by. Morgan had to be sent to the prison in Lincoln to avoid a lynch mob.
Hoover was hanged after murdering his brother-in-law, Samuel Dubois, a member of the Omaha city council. The pair had been quarelling over a debt of $11.00 and about the conduct of DuBois half sister. DuBois was shot twice with a revolver.
A Cass County court found Harry Hill guilty of murdering Matthew Akeson, a farmer in Weeping Water who had hired him to do chores for a couple days. Hill and another farm hand returned later at night entered the house with masks on the faces. A scuffle ensued, shots were fired, and Mr. Akeson was killed. His son and two other hired hands were wounded. The sheriff announced the hanging would occur at 1 o'clock, but the execution proceeded at 11AM to assure a crowd would not gather.
The execution of Clinton Dixon took place in Douglas County, but the murder he committed occurred at Fort Niobrara. Dixon, an army trumpeter, shot Corporal John Carter after the two quarreled about a prostitute Dixon had been involved with.
During a robbery gone wrong, Christian Furst and Charles Shepard, both 21 years old, shot grain dealer Carlos Pulsipher to death while trying to steal the days receipts. They were convicted during separate trials in Dodge County, but hung together. A special gallows constructed on the top floor of the courthouse kept rowdy crowds from witnessing the executions. It was Nebraska's only legal double hanging.
The hanging of Albert Haunstine became famous for two reasons. Pioneer photographer Solomon Butcher
Ed Neal, a livestock thief, was caught in the act by the husband and wife caretakers of a farm in southern Douglas County. Neal Allan and Dorothy Jones to death, hid the bodies in the barn and sold the livestock at auction. He was captured in Kansas City and hung for his crime.
New York becomes the first state to use the electric chair. States begin replacing what is considered the more barbaric practice of hanging. It will be another 23 years before Nebraska eliminates the use of the gallows.
One of the most unusual capital crimes in Nebraska history. David Hoffman was sentenced to death after he and another man derailed a train near Dunbar in an attempt to rob it. The engineer died in the accident. The day after Hoffman was legally hung a mob stormed the Otoe County jail and lynched another man awaiting trial for murder.
Jackson Marion is the only man in Nebraska history found to be innocent after his execution. Found guilty in Gage County for murdering his traveling companion, John Cameron, Marion maintained his innocence through two trials, a re-hearing by the Nebraska Supreme Court and on the gallows the day of his hanging. Eight years later Cameron, very much alive, was located and returned to Gage County. One hundred years later Marion was pardoned by the state. The identity of the murdered man was never discovered.
Jim Reynold's confessed to killing James and Johnnie Pinkston, a father and his grown son, after fighting over land they had hoped to settle and live on in Cheyenne County, Nebraska. He was hung in Sidney inside a private enclosure. Afterward Sheriff Eubank allowed nearly a thousand curious citizens to view Reynolds' body.
Milton W. Smith of Osceola, Nebraska was sentenced in Polk County to hang for murdering his wife. Mrs. Smith was shot while holding the youngest of their 13 children on her lap.
The court in Seward County convicted Caslar, a civil war veteran, of murdering a Kansan named George L. Monroe and stealing his team of horses. Up to 3000 people gathered in Seward to watch Caslar's hanging. (Caslar's record of Civil War service can be seen above)
Name: Samuel D. Richards Location: Kearney County The Story: Twenty-three year old Richards, a farm hand, was convicted for the murder of his boss Peter Anderson. He had been beat to death with a hammer and his body buried in the cellar under a pile of coal. The killer confessed to at leased four other murders. Johnson's History of Nebraska (1879) described Richards as "one of the most hardened criminals and fiendish humans of the age."
Baker worked at a wholesale grocery store in downtown Omaha. Woolsey D. Higgins, the businesses' bookkeeper and lived at the grocery. One night Baker stole $1500 from the safe, killed Higgins with an axe. When he bungled an attempt to set the building on fire, he shot himself in the arm in make it appear he was also a victim. Baker later confessed and was hung near the high school.
From the start, capital punishment was allow in Nebraska for both first degree murder and for treason.
Cyrus Tator was accused of killing his traveling compantion, Isaac H. Neff, and dumping the body south of Omaha. Tried under United States law by a territorial court, Tator was hung at the exact spot where Neff's body had been found. Tator, a lawyer and former Probate Judge from Kansas, proclaimed his innocence to the end.