John S. Lutz

John Lutz, a young, single, native-born man, fatally stabbed Richard O’Leary, also young, single, and native-born, during an argument in Benitz’s Saloon on Wood St., downtown, on June 27, 1856.

Pittsburgh Daily Morning Post, February 19, 1855

In all of its details, it was the prototypical murder of the era. O’Leary, his brother, and friends were drinking and arguing in the saloon when Lutz and friends entered. The two groups began to argue. The argument moved to the street, then became a fight. The stabbing occurred on the street.

Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, June 30, 1856

Lutz fled. He was identified and apprehended in a traveling circus in St. Louis more than a year later, on July 19, 1857.

After receiving a continuance during the October court session, Lutz’s trial began on December 29, 1857. Lutz, who had a long list of prior arrests and convictions, was convicted on December 31, 1857, and sentenced to death on February 2, 1858.

Pittsburgh Gazette, February 3, 1858

Following an unsuccessful appeal (Lutz v. Commonwealth, 29 Pa. 441, 1857), a pardon effort was undertaken that focused on the unfairness of Lutz’s trial and the role of medical malpractice in O’Leary’s death (O’Leary died the day after he was stabbed).

That effort, which involved the submission of thousands of signatures gathered in saloons and on the streets as well as letters from prominent citizens, succeeded.*After an unusually long delay, Lutz was pardoned on May 21, 1863, by Governor Andrew Curtin.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 22, 1863

William F. Packer, governor at the time of Lutz’s death sentence, was said to believe Lutz had not committed first-degree murder, but felt it too soon to pardon him. Packer’s successor, Governor James Pollock, refused to sign his death warrant or to pardon him.

Lutz, who was born in central Pennsylvania to German parents, had lived on Troy Hill and worked as a yeoman while in Pittsburgh. After his release from jail, he appears to have returned to central Pennsylvania and to have died there in 1893. His criminal record, which dated to at least 1848, included convictions for counterfeiting, extortion, robbery, and assault and battery with intent to kill. O’Leary was born in Pennsylvania to Irish parents.

Benitz’s Saloon was the first iteration of what became Iron City Beer and the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. Anton Benitz, a German immigrant, opened a saloon at 139 Wood St., in 1844, and operated it as Iron City Lager Beer Saloon. He later started a brewery at a nearby location on Wood St.

W.G. Armor 1868

* Pardons were an unreviewable, unfettered, and exclusive gubernatorial prerogative until revisions to the state constitution in 1872 created a pardon board. As such, pardon campaigns often functioned as quasi-political campaigns and pardons as a way to secure and reward political support. See

George Dunn

On August 19, 1844, young George Dunn crossed the Allegheny Bridge into downtown Pittsburgh. As he did, he evaded the fare being collected by John Anderson by falsely claiming to be a bridge employee, something Dunn had been doing for months.

Sherman Day, 1843, Allegheny River on left

On this day, Anderson challenged his claim, having previously warned him. Dunn responded by stabbing Anderson. Fleeing into the city, Dunn was apprehended by citizens in the area. In this era before regular policing, he was taken to Mayor Alexander Hay’s office.

Pittsburgh Post, August 21, 1844

Anderson, a married father of five children, died the next day, after having been able to provide a description of Dunn and his actions.

At trial, Dunn claimed he had dropped his fare on the ground and Anderson had fought with him as a result. He was convicted on November 14, 1844, and sentenced to death on November 26. Due to his youth, questions about the extent of his guilt, and sentiment against the death penalty that was common to the era, there was an active public effort to gain his pardon. Sympathy turned against him after reports of his involvement in fights while in jail.

George Dunn’s conviction was reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on September 23, 1847, largely on the grounds that it could not be clearly established that he was present in court throughout his trial (Dunn v. Commonwealth, 1847). He was not retried.

Relased from jail, he was arrested for disorderly conduct that same day after threatening to kill a companion (he had also been the aggressor in a brutal fight while in jail). Apparently sensing an opportunity to dispose of the matter, rather than retry Dunn or bring new charges, he was fined and released on the promise to leave town.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 30, 1847

The hope of a changed man was short-lived.

On August 9, 1853, Dunn, who was working as crew on a steamship, is alleged to have killed Martin Sutton, a fellow crewman, in Memphis, Tennessee.


I have been unable to obtain any information about the disposition of this case. Newspaper reports from Louisiana indicate that a sailor named George Dunn was killed aboard ship en route from Panama to San Francisco in April 1854.

Mary Martin

Mary Martin was a young Black girl or woman (newspapers described her as a “yellow girl” and a “colored girl”), “uncommonly delicate in her form, and modest in her appearance” (Long Island Star, May 4, 1826), who killed her newborn, apparently conceived outside of marriage, sometime in the spring of 1826.

City Plan for Pittsburgh, 1826

Beyond that, little is known about Martin, her infant, or her crime. There are no surviving copies of Pittsburgh newspapers for 1826 and the case received only cursory attention beyond Pittsburgh. Neither do any trial records survive.

While infanticide was recognized as first-degree murder, there had been considerable reluctance to treat is as such going back to the enactment of the state’s original murder statute in 1794. (After reviewing the recent history of infanticide prosecutions in Pennsylvania, William Bradford noted at the time “[w]here a positive law is so feebly enforced, there is reason to suspect it is fundamentally wrong.”)

That reluctance was clearly evident in Martin’s case. After pleading not guilty, Martin was convicted on April 19, 1826; a verdict that is reported to have left the jailer in tears and the jury decidedly uncomfortable. She was immediately and unanimously recommended for mercy by the same jury, acting under advisement of the Pittsburgh Bar.

Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), May 5, 1826

The presiding judge evidenced no such ambivalence. After her motion for a new trial was rejected, Martin was sentenced to death. In imposing sentence, Judge Charles Shaler, an outspoken white supremacist and defender of slavery, was firm in his view that she should be executed.

United States Gazette (Philadelphia), May 5, 1826

Martin’s pardon request was “recommended by the members of the Pittsburg Bar, the jury that tried prisoner, the prothonotary and Sheriff, and a number of other respectable Citizens of Allegheny County.”

Newspaper coverage of the Martin case was more ambivalent. The Gettysburg Compiler expressed its opposition to mercy, noting that “so long as our laws prescribe the punishment of death for such offenses, pardons should be cautiously granted.” The Allegheny Democrat was agnostic on the issue, but encouraged the governor to act quickly in that doing so “would confer a particular favor upon many of our citizens, who begin to be uneasy of the expense of keeping” Martin in jail.


A year later, on April 16, 1827, Mary Martin was pardoned by Governor Schulze. The circumstances of that pardon appear to be lost to history.

Jacob Moode

Jacob Moode, Daniel Gridley, and Daniel Murray were among the small number of soldiers left garrisoned at Pittsburgh’s Fort Fayette after General Anthony Wayne had moved from there to Legionville in final preparation for what would become the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers.

Library and Archives Division, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Line drawing of Fort Fayette with detailed listing of buildings.

On the evening of May 8, 1794, Moode was found in his room beating a drunken Murray. When a sergeant ordered the two men to the guardhouse, Moode refused, saying he would kill Murray if made to go. The sergeant sent only Murray.

Despite their fight and Moode’s threats against Murray, the men continued to bunk together. When Murray returned to their room later that night, Moode and Gridley beat him to death.

Later the following morning, Moode and Gridley left the garrison. Soon after, Murray was found dead in their room. Moode and Gridley were arrested while eating breakfast in a nearby tavern; Moode was in possession of a bloody walking stick.

Jacob Moode was convicted of first-degree murder on June 4, 1794, and sentenced to death. His was the first first-degree murder conviction under the state’s new statute specifying degrees of murder.

Gridley was convicted of second-degree murder on June 7, 1794, and sentenced to five years of hard labor.

image002.pngJacob Moode’s death warrant was issued on January 13, 1795, for execution on March 7, 1795. His pardon request, which was heard by Governor Thomas Mifflin on January 30, included a letter from Moode’s former commanding officer, Henry Shrupp, stressing his distinguished Revolutionary War service and his suffering as a soldier. Moode had served in von Heer’s Troop of Light Dragoons, a forerunner of the military police. After a short time in civilian life, he re-enlisted. He lost his vision after he returned to service.

Mifflin, who as governor had sole and unchecked pardon authority at the time, pardoned Moode on February 16, 1795, “[o]n condition of his leaving the state forthwith, not to return.”

Daniel Gridley was pardoned by Governor Mifflin on July 27, 1796.


It would be more than twenty years before another death sentence was imposed in Pittsburgh. In the interim, with Pennsylvania still at the forefront of penal progressivism, several nearly successful attempts were made to abolish the death penalty. Had that occurred, Pennsylvania would have been the first English-speaking jurisdiction to take that step. Instead, Michigan holds that honor, abolishing its death penalty in 1846.


Fought against Native American tribes on August 20, 1794, the Battle of Fallen Timbers forced historically eastern Native American tribes further west by securing American claims to Western Pennsylvania and the Northwest Territory.

James Honeyman

On November 23, 1793, James Honeyman, Benjamin Askins, Dennis Ferris, and a man named Ward, “men of low life” as they were later characterized in Honeyman’s clemency documents, gathered at Askins’ Second St., downtown, home to play music and drink.


When Ferris and Ward began to fight, Askins intervened. Ward left, leading Honeyman to get upset with Askins. They fought, with Honeyman, “a stout young fellow,” hitting and kicking the “puny weak man” several times (Pennsylvania v. James Honeyman, Allegheny County Court, 1793). Askins died the next day.

At trial less than two weeks later, Honeyman, who was represented by Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Pittsburgh’s most notable citizen of the era, argued that a death that occurs after a fight among drunken acquaintances in the absence of intent to kill should be considered manslaughter. The state prevailed in its argument that in acting with “riotous intemperance” and without defense or justification, Honeyman’s conduct met the legal definition of murder.

Hugh Henry Brackenridge

James Honeyman was convicted of murder on December 5, 1793, and sentenced to death. Eleven days had passed since Askins’ death.

In an era in which legal processes were still developing, Honeyman’s subsequent pardon request led Governor Mifflin to refer his case to Pennsylvania Attorney General Jared Ingersoll. Errors he identified in the case led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn Honeyman’s conviction on technical grounds related to the wording of the indictment (Respublica v. Honeyman 2 U.S. 228 [1795]).

More likely, the court overturned Honeyman’s murder conviction because in the time between his conviction and his appeal, Pennsylvania had, at Mifflin’s urging, enacted the new nation’s first statutory distinction between degrees of murder and limited the death penalty to first-degree murder (for the history of this statute, see here)

From the Act of April 22, 1794

Honeyman’s conduct did not meet the state’s new, higher standard for first-degree murder. There is no record that he was retried.