Capital Convictions Without a Death Sentence

Though the death penalty statute Pennsylvania enacted in 1794 established death as mandatory for first-degree murder convictions, formal imposition of the death sentence did not immediately follow conviction.* Instead, an interim period was established to allow defendants an opportunity to request that the trial court order a new trial in cases involving an obvious miscarriage of justice. That interim period generally lasted for several weeks to several months.

I have been able to identify thirteen cases in which a defendant convicted of first-degree murder was never sentenced to death. In eleven cases, a motion for a new trial was granted. In two other cases, the defendant died before formal sentencing.

In three of these cases, the defendant was likely not involved in the murder for which they were sentenced to death. In the remaining cases, the facts of the case were determined not to support a first-degree murder conviction.

These thirteen cases, while not technically capital cases, are listed here. Case descriptions are provided for each case.

Defendant                                   Date of Crime     Disposition    Date of Disposition

  1. Zimmerlee, Joseph                          09/11/1848         Reversed            01/15/1849
  2. Hess, Joseph                                     04/07/1882         Reversed            02/23/1883
  3. Long, Clarence                                 12/22/1907         Reversed            05/04/1908
  4. Smith, Robert                                   07/05/1908         Reversed            01/30/1909
  5. Leach, John                                       07/01/1915         Reversed            05/24/1916
  6. Adams, David                                   12/07/1917           Suicide              06/12/1918
  7. Johnson, Herbert Dewey              07/02/1918         Reversed            03/20/1920
  8. Paller, Theodore                              04/13/1919         Reversed            10/01/1920
  9. Harris, James                                   12/06/1921         Reversed            03/28/1923
  10. Rastelli, Daniel                                 12/23/1922         Reversed            12/08/1924
  11. Ciccia, Vincenzo                               08/26/1927         Reversed            12/30/1927
  12. Delforte, Oreste                                08/26/1927         Reversed            12/30/1927
  13. Smith, Robert                                   10/04/1930         Died in Jail         03/14/1931

* In 1925, Pennsylvania amended its death penalty statute to provide juries the discretion to impose a life sentence or a death sentence upon a first-degree murder conviction.

%d bloggers like this: