Infanticide

One person, a young Black woman named Mary Martin, has been sentenced to death for infanticide in Allegheny County history. Nearly 150 years ago, in 1826, Martin killed her newly-born child. After being sentenced to death, she was recommended to mercy. Martin was pardoned by Governor Schulze in 1827.

Little else is known about Martin or her crime. Thus far, I have been unable to determine the date of the killing, the name of the child, the circumstances of her pregnancy, or the identity of the father. This information may be lost to history.

That Martin was even sentenced to death was a bit of a surprise. William Bradford, who had played a central role in writing and enacting Pennsylvania’s progressive penal law in 1794, the first in the country to distinguish degrees of murder and limit the death penalty to first-degree murder, opposed applying the death penalty to infanticide due to the many circumstances that might mitigate the seriousness of the offense.