Joseph Ross

In the final weeks of World War I, Joseph Ross, a Russian immigrant steelworker, and Luka Halipow, his Polish immigrant neighbor and fellow steelworker, got into an argument about the war in a South Side bar. Halipow struck Ross, who reportedly responded by telling Halipow that he was carrying a knife. The quarrel ended.

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Larkins Alley, 1909

As the men walked home early that morning, October 3, 1918, the quarrel resumed. Halipow struck Ross, causing him to bleed. Ross returned to his boardinghouse, washed his wounds, and went back on Larkins Alley to find Halipow. When he did, he stabbed Halipow, who died at the hospital soon after.

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At trial, it was established that the two had quarreled over the course of the night. Ross claimed he acted in self-defense, after being attacked by Halipow. The prosecution argued that Ross acted without adequate provocation.

Under such circumstances, and in the absence of compelling eyewitness testimony, a conviction to a lesser degree of murder was expected. The jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder on May 9, 1919. After his motion for a new trial was rejected, Ross was sentenced to death on December 13, 1919.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed Ross’s conviction due to concern that the original trial court had communicated an improperly demanding standard for establishing self-defense (Commonwealth v. Ross, 266 Pa. 580, 1920).

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From the Allegheny County Jail Murder Book, courtesy of Ed Urban

At retrial, Ross pleaded guilty and the court fixed the crime as second-degree murder. On April 16, 1920, he was sentenced to 15-18 years in prison.

After nearly twelve years in prison, Ross was released on November 16, 1931. He returned to work in the steel mills. Joseph Ross died in Pittsburgh on January 30, 1946.

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Pittsburgh Press, February 3, 1932

Perhaps because of the attention given to the end of World War I or the low status of the parties to this case, the crime and the case received very little newspaper attention.

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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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