James R. Lauer

James R. Lauer, Sheriff of Northumberland County, was in Allegheny County on May 27, 1959, to deliver a prisoner to Western Penitentiary. That prisoner, James F. Butler, an inmate an Eastern Penitentiary serving a robbery sentence, was in the back seat of the car handcuffed to a belt, while Lauer and driver Merlin Diehl were in the front seat.

Somehow Lauer escaped from the belt and seized a gun from the front seat and shot Lauer. When Diehl stopped the car to assist Lauer, Butler fled. He was captured by police the next morning.

Butler was found guilty of first degree murder on May 20, 1960, and sentenced to death on November 28, 1960. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Butler’s conviction in 1963.

At retrial, he pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.


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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