Acquaintance Assault Murders

Acquaintance assault murders are murders that occur among people who know one another outside of a (real or imagined) romantic relationship that do not also include an additional felony. Classic examples include fatal fights among relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and rivals.

In counting these cases, I am excluding serial murder, mass murder, and organized crime murder cases that occurred among acquaintances, such as the murders of neighbors by mass murderers Martin Sullivan and Richard Baumhammers and serial murderer Martha Grinder and the murders of acquaintances by organized crime killers Robert Bricker, Miles Gabler, and Antonio Caliendo.

Forty-one Allegheny County capital cases match these criteria. Seventeen of those cases resulted in an execution, the last of which was the execution of John Mason in 1922. Eight of the executed men were white and nine were Black.

In twenty-three cases, the defendant was released from death row by commutation or appellate decision. Nineteen of those defendants were white and four were Black. Three of those four Black defendants were sentenced to death after Allegheny County’s last execution in 1959, meaning that only one Black defendant sentenced to death while executions were being conducted was spared. One defendant, also Black, died on death row.

As the death penalty has become subject to more legal scrutiny and use of the death penalty has narrowed, deaths that occur among acquaintances are less likely to be viewed as including the intent requisite of capital murders. This is evident in Allegheny County, where thirty-seven of these forty cases occurred before 1925, when Pennsylvania first started to narrow the use of the death penalty by allowing juries some discretion in imposing capital sentences.

Of these forty-one cases, eight (Galligo, Small, Taylor, Edwards, Byers, Byrd, Maly, and Roma) involve romantic rivalries; sixteen (Douglass, Lamb, Hartley, Dardaia, Dolish, Brown, Moode, Murray, Meyers, Toth, Rusnok, Sabol, Dukovic, McMurray, Saunders, and Johnson) involve co-workers; ten (Lynch, Zappe, Zappe, Maison, Mason, Straesser, Cardamone, Ross, Futch, and Bryant) involve neighbors; four (Green, Meier, Williams, Gerade) involve family members; and three (Honeyman, Jewell, and Abernathy) involve acquaintances.

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