By Albrecht Powell. Pittsburgh Expert
Execution as a form of punishment in Pennsylvania dates back to the time the first colonists arrived in the late 1600s. At that time, public hanging was capital punishment for a variety of crimes, ranging from burglary and robbery, to piracy, rape, and buggery (in Pennsylvania at the time, "buggery" referred to sex with animals).
In fact, he said the death penalty made convictions harder to obtain, because in Pennsylvania (and all other states), the death penalty was mandatory and juries would often not return a guilty verdict because of this fact. In response, in 1794, the Pennsylvania legislature abolished capital punishment for all crimes except murder "in the first degree," the first time murder
had been broken down into "degrees."
Public hangings soon grew into lurid spectacles and, in 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state in the union to abolish these public hangings.
For the next eight decades, each county carried out its own "private hangings" within the walls of its county jail.
Electric Chair Executions in Pennsylvania
The execution of capital cases became the responsibility of the state in 1913, when the electric chair took the place of the gallows. Erected in the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Centre County, the electric chair was nicknamed "Old Smokey." Although capital punishment by electrocution was authorized by legislation in 1913, neither the chair nor the institution were ready for occupancy until 1915.