Henry Edwards and Clarence Stephens were on the streets of the South Side at 10:30pm on July 7, 1924, when Pittsburgh Police Officer Joseph Jovanovic and his partner, John P. Abbott, encountered them. Believing the two men to be acting suspiciously, the officers stopped and searched them. As they did, Edwards drew a gun and shot both officers. Edwards and Stephens then fled the scene.
Jovanovic, new to the force and only 22 years old, died en route to the hospital. Abbott, who was shot in the arm, was not seriously injured.
Edwards, North Carolina-born, 34-years old, single laborer at the nearby Jones & Laughlin steel mill, had recently been searched by police, who viewed him as a suspect in the robbery of a South Side bar.
Within a day of Jovanovic’s murder as many as thirty Black men, including Edwards and Stephens, had been arrested as suspects.
Abbott was unable to identify either of his assailants, though Edwards was picked out of a lineup by Mildred Trobovich, a white teenaged girl who saw the killing from inside her home.
Under intense questioning by police, Edwards confessed.
After a brief trial at which he acknowledged the shooting but denied any intent to kill, Edwards was found guilty of first-degree murder on November 25, 1924. It was “one of the quickest murder verdicts on record” (Pittsburgh Daily Post, November 26, 1924). Edwards was the only defense witness. Multiple eyewitnesses testified against him.
Stephens was acquitted at the direction of the trial judge, who contended he had no prior knowledge of Edwards’ intentions.
Edwards, a North Carolina native, was sentenced to death on March 18, 1925.
After his clemency request was rejected, Henry Edwards was executed on June 29, 1925. In a move that was unusual at the time, Jovanovic’s father and brother were granted special permission to witness Edwards’ execution.