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Moment of Indiana History

Crime and the Ultimate Punishment

When Allen County man Richard Kiefer was put to death in 1961, his was the last life terminated by the state for 20 years.

In two-thirds of the world it doesn’t exist, and 14 states in this country have outlawed it. Indiana’s criminal justice system, however, still provides for the death sentence as punishment for murder in certain cases.

Even before Indiana became a state in 1816, capital punishment had been meted out here; Hoosiers accused of bigamy and horse-stealing were subject to it in the early days, and miscreants as young as 10 met the hangman.

Although nineteenth-century records are sketchy, it is known that most official executions were hangings. When vigilantes practiced their own form of justice, the noose was also preferred—the lynching of legendary train robbers the Reno Gang, a vivid example.

When capital punishment was incorporated into the state’s criminal code in 1897, death by hanging was prescribed. 13 people were put to death this way, until electrocution was adopted, in 1913.

Indiana’s chair was based on models at New York’s Sing Sing and the Ohio State Prison; legend has it that the electric chair was fashioned from the dismantled scaffolding.

The 1930s were the deadliest decade for convicted criminals in Indiana; 33 people were executed by the state from 1930 through 1939, nine in 1938 alone. The frequency of sentencing by death subsequently dropped off, resulting in seven executions in the 1940s, and two in the 50s.

When Allen County man Richard Kiefer was put to death in 1961, his was the last life legally terminated by the state for twenty years. In the interim, capital punishment was declared unconstitutional.

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