Dolly Brown and her husband, Joseph McGill, quarreled in their 546 Allequippa St., Hill District, home after McGill found Brown in the home of a neighbor he believed to be disreputable. That fight escalated, leading Brown to flee. McGill pursued her, lunging at her with a knife. It was November 28, 1912, Thanksgiving Day, and the second capital murder case in Pittsburgh in twenty-four hours.
Brown died of stab wounds at Mercy Hospital on December 6, 1912.
Arrested soon after the stabbing, McGill confessed to neighbors and police. In a fast-moving sequence of events, he pleaded guilty to murder on February 10, 1913. On February 15, the judge fixed the crime at first-degree murder. McGill, who worked as a teamster and had a prior record for vagrancy, was sentenced to death on March 5.
Though McGill’s guilty plea foreclosed the possibility of an appeal, he did pursue clemency. Robert L. Vann, then a young attorney who would go on to become editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, a leading figure in Pittsburgh’s black community during that community’s most vibrant era, and a nationally-prominent political figure, represented McGill before the Pardon Board.
McGill’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on September 17, 1913, based on a finding that the case lacked the premeditation necessary to sustain a first-degree murder conviction. He was transferred to Western Penitentiary and, later, to Eastern Penitentiary.
McGill made annual requests for pardon in the 1920s; all were refused. Finally, his life sentence was commuted to time served on March 1, 1937 and he was released after nearly twenty-five years behind bars.
Joseph McGill died on September 23, 1977.
Characteristic of cases involving black defendants and victims at the time, only once did the case receive more than a single paragraph of news coverage. While every story focused on the race of the parties, little information was provided about their lives.