In the spring of 2015, I began a project to identify and analyze all the death sentences that have been imposed in the history of Allegheny County. After careful review of Allegheny County court and jail records, coroner records, legal records, and the entire published record of Pittsburgh newspapers, that effort is now complete.
My research has identified 201 death sentences, the first of which was imposed on Mamachtaga (or Mamachtaguin), a Lenape Indian who had killed two white settlers, in 1785. As of this writing, the most recent death sentence was imposed on Richard Poplawski in 2011, for the 2009 ambush murder of three police officers. Additional death sentences are likely to be imposed, though with a state death penalty moratorium in place and a broader national reconsideration of the death penalty ongoing, few such sentences are likely. Pennsylvania’s most recent execution was in 1999. The last Allegheny County execution was way back in 1959. I do not expect any additional executions.
Of those 201 death sentences, 102 resulted in an execution. In most of the rest of the cases, the original death sentence was overturned by judicial or gubernatorial action. A few others escaped from death row; most famously, the Biddle boys were killed soon after; others were never apprehended. Also, as of this writing, nine Allegheny County inmates remain on Pennsylvania’s death row.
As a first step in my research, I have posted brief descriptions of every case, with links to supporting documents, photos, and maps where available. You can find all these descriptions in the links to the right. As my work continues, I will be analyzing the ways in which offender and victim race, class, gender, age, and occupation, as well as changing patterns of industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and labor/management relations, have shaped the use of the death penalty in Allegheny County.