State of Minnesota

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Death Penalty in Minnesota

Source: Evening Post (New York, NY) Monday, April 27, 1868.
A law has been passed by the legislature of Minnesota, and has received the approval of the Governor, which virtually abolishes capital punishment. A similar one was last year enacted in Illinois. The tendency of public opinion in the Northwest seems to be strongly against the punishment of death. Independent of the argument drawn from the inferior efficacy of the punishment as compared with imprisonment for life, which, to many minds, is a strong one, the danger of inflicting death upon the innocent, through the uncertainty of human testimony and the fallibility of human judgment, has great weight with men whose scrupulous consciences shrink with horror from the bare possibility of committing so cruel an injustice.

Source: Semi-Weekly South Kentuckian (Hopkinsville, KY) September 8, 1885.
Minnesota, which abolished the death penalty for murder in the first degree and substituted life imprisonment seventeen years ago, has passed a law re-establishing the gallows. Maine and Michigan both tried to do without capital punishment also, but went back to the old plan of hanging murderers, some years ago.

Source: Kansas City Star (MO) July 18, 1889.
Minnesota Newspapers to Disregard the Smith Execution Law.
ST. PAUL, Minn., July 18.-Attorney General Clapp has pronounced the John Day Smith law to regulate executions constitutional. The law will be tested to-morrow when Albert Bulow will be hanged at Little Falls.

The law provides that no newspaper shall be represented at executions and that now paper shall print any facts about them except the hour of occurrence. The newspapers throughout the state have arranged to print extended reports.

Source: Duluth News-Tribune (MN) Saturday, August 12, 1905; transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman

Sheriff J. W. Dreger, of Hennepin county, president of the Interstate Sheriff's association, delivered a most sensible address at the meeting of that organization in Minneapolis. He emphatically favored the plan of executing all condemned murders at the state prison at Stillwater and condemned the delay incident to the punishment of criminals in Minnesota.

It is passing strange that the enlightened state of Minnesota still adheres to the policy of executing its murderers at the county seats of counties having jurisdiction in their trials. The rite of legal killing is regarded as a sacred privilege not to be denied the county having original jurisdiction. But in law it is the business of the state to prosecute, convict or acquit, punish or set free. It is the business of the state to execute or imprison and when imprisonment is the penalty assessed the convicted one goes to state prison.

When the death penalty is prescribed it is the rule to execute the culprit at the seat of government of the county in which he was convicted. It is hard to understand why this rule is in vogue in this enlightened day. An execution is not an edifying sight and the law now makes it-theoretically at least-as private an affair as possible. Therefore a hanging is of no great commercial advantage to a small town.

Time was when a hanging, even in Minnesota, was a festal occasion. It was held out in the open and people came for miles to make a holiday of the grim affair. They brought their dinners and enjoyed a picnic. The men, in many cases, indulged in a joyous drunk. If a picnic of that kind impressed the people of the enormity of the crime of murder-well, the people were strangely constituted.

In Missouri a few years ago, J. Wes. Goodwin of the Sedalia Bazoo-his full name is John Wesley Goodwin, by the way, if we are not greatly mistaken-made it a practice to run excursions to hangings. He chartered trains and plastered the coaches with banners bearing the name of his paper. The rates were placed "Within the reach of all" and every village and country station sent crowds to witness the edifying spectacle. If men in days of old were "butchered to make a Roman holiday," men in Goodwin's day were strangled to make a Missouri picnic.

We may smile scornfully at the Missouri idea, but how much better is the Minnesota idea. The only difference is that the popular excursions are omitted. There must be witnesses to a hanging, of course. There must be a way of proving that it has taken place, that it was mercifully performed, but the New York law governing electrocutions covers those points and very few persons witness the blood-curdling rites. If we must have hangings-and it seems that we must for some years to come-let us get as far away as possible from the idea that they should be public spectacles and limit the witnesses to the number legally necessary.

Source: The Friend, Volume 79, 1906.
A dispatch from St. Paul, Minn. of the 16th says: Judge Bass in the District Court of Ramsey County, filed an order to-day upholding the indictments brought by the Grand Jury against the St. Paul Dispatch, the Pioneer Press and the Daily News, for publishing detailed stories of the hanging of William Williams, a murderer, who was put to death in the county jail here. The newspapers were indicted under what is known as the John Day Smith law, which forbids the publication of details of hangings.

Source: Dallas Morning News (TX) Friday, April 20, 1906.
St. Paul, Minn., April 16.-Judge Bunn in the District Court of Ramsey County today filed an order upholding the indictments brought by the Grand Jury against the St. Paul Dispatch, the Pioneer Press and the Daily News for publishing detailed stories of the hanging of William Williams, a murderer, here, March 13. The newspapers were indicted under what is known as the John Day-Smith law, which forbids the publication in the newspapers of the details of any public execution. The newspapers demurred to the indictment and attacked the constitutionality of the law.

Source: Duluth News-Tribune (MN) Friday, February 22, 1907.
St. Paul Papers Must Stand Trial for Publishing Details of Execution.
ST. PAUL, Feb. 21-The supreme court today handed down a decision sustaining the constitutionality of the "John Day Smith law," a state law which forbids the publication of the details of the hanging of criminals in this state. The case originated when the Pioneer Press, the Dispatch and the Daily News of this city published the complete details of the hanging of the murderer, William Williams, last spring. These newspapers were indicted and interposed a demurrer to the indictment attacking the constitutionality of the law and setting up the claim that the facts alleged did not constitute a public offense. Judge Bunn overruled the Demurrer and the supreme court today upheld Judge Bunn's ruling. The case has been remanded for trial.

- - 1911 - - ABOLISHED AGAIN.
Source: Miami Herald (FL) Tuesday, April 25, 1911.
The state of Minnesota has abolished capital punishment, taking the advanced position that every state will sooner or later occupy as to punishment for capital crimes. Florida might do well to study the results of a more humane way of handling prisoners.

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