Joseph Diano

Unwilling to endure any additional violence, Nancy Diano had separated from her husband, Joseph, and filed for divorce. On the evening of July 25, 1923, after his efforts to reconcile were rebuffed, Joseph Diano shot his estranged wife four times in the back in her Cliff St., Hill District home. He then left the house and was apprehended by a neighbor, Morris Grodstein, to whom he confessed.


Nancy Diano died in the hospital on August 4, 1923.

During jury selection, all women were removed by challenge and a jury of twelve men was seated. At trial, Diano’s claim of self-defense was refuted by his own confession, statements provided by his wife before she died, Grodstein’s testimony, and the testimony of his own children.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, February 26, 1924

Joseph Diano was convicted on February 28, 1924. After his motion for a new trial was rejected, he was sentenced to death on July 25, 1924, exactly one year after his fatal assault.

Unable to afford counsel to advance his clemency request, Diano, a fruit and vegetable vendor, took the unprecedented step of filing on his own behalf. The narrative he advanced – in which his wife had contracted syphilis while the couple still lived in Italy, had infected her husband in the United States, had been deported to Italy as a result, had reconciled with him and returned to Pittsburgh, had been unfaithful again, and had separated from her husband again –  appeared nowhere in the coroner’s investigation or newspaper accounts of the trial.

In this version of the case, Diano killed his wife when, at his mother-in-law’s urging, he approached her about reconciling again and she attacked him with a gun. He responded by shooting her with the gun he happened to be carrying.

Accepting Diano’s apparently novel claims, the Pardon Board commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment on January 29, 1925, after six months on death row.

Diano was transferred to Western Penitentiary.


An Italian immigrant, World War I veteran, and former city worker, Diano unsuccessfully sought a full pardon and release from prison annually from 1933 at least through 1940. His clemency petition included a statement from his son claiming his mother was “always nagging” his father (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 16, 1936).

Joseph Diano died in Pittsburgh on December 23, 1949.

image001                                                                   1713 Cliff St.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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