When Was New York State’s Last Execution?
While the debate on capital punishment continues around the country to this day, it is pretty widely known that some states still have the death penalty while others have abolished it. As of 2023, twenty-seven states in the country still enforce capital punishment. Some states, like Virginia, abolished the death penalty as recently as 2021.
Most in New York state know that there hasn't been an execution here in many years. But just how long ago was it?
New York State Was First to Use Electric Chair
You may not know that New York was the first state to introduce the electric chair in 1886, as a more humane form of execution over hanging. Capital punishment has also been banned more than once in New York. In 1860, a bill was passed that sort of accidentally abolished capital punishment in the state. While hanging was already considered inhumane at the time, there was no backup plan (we wouldn't have electricity until 1879).
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However, the New York Court of Appeals ruled the statute unconstitutional, and by the following year, legislation was signed that would bring back the death penalty to the Empire State.
Who Was the Last Person to be Executed in NY?
The last person to be executed in the state of New York was Eddie Lee Mayes on August 15, 1963, at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. Mayes had been sentenced to death after killing a customer during a robbery at the Friendly Tavern in Harlem, in March 1961. But even that almost didn't happen.
His defense attorney revealed in 1988 that they had cut a deal with the prosecution to lower his charge to second-degree murder. While the prosecution had agreed to do so, thus sparing his life, Mayes said he'd rather "fry" than spend life in prison.
Death Penalty Abolished
The decision in Furman v, Georgia would ban the existing death penalty provided across the nation, from 1972 to 1976. While no executions would happen in New York, even upon reinstatement, Governor George Pataki signed a law in 1995, which provided for execution by lethal injection. Nine years later though, the New York Court of Appeals held that the state's death penalty statute violated the New York Constitution.
Some lawmakers have since tried to pass bills that would restore the death penalty under certain circumstances, though nothing came of it.
Governor David Paterson issued an executive order in 2008, requiring the disestablishment of death row and the closure of the state's execution chamber at Green Haven. Ultimately, Governor Andrew Cuomo removed the death penalty statute from New York State law in 2016.