From the time the first colonists arrived in the late Sixteen Hundreds Pennsylvania executions were carried out by public hanging (Cor.state.pa.us, 2014). In Eighteen Forty Three, Pennsylvania became the first state to abolish public hangings. From Eighteen Thirty Four until Nineteen Fifty Three each county was responsible for carrying out private hanging of criminal within the wall of the county jail.
In Nineteen Thirteen the responsibility of executions was passed on to the state and the electric chair took the place of hanging (Cor.state.pa.us, 2014).. Western Penitentiary in Centre County, now known as the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, was selected by the state legislature as the location for the Electric Chair. Even though Capital punishment by electrocution was authorized by legislation in Nineteen Thirteen, neither the penitentiary nor electric chair was ready for use until Nineteen Fifteen. During the two years between approval of electrocution and the site being ready no one in Pennsylvania no one was executed.
Pennsylvania switched to electrocution in Nineteen Thirteen because; it was considered more humane then hanging (Powell, 2014). Death was reported in most cases of electrocution to be instantaneous, with only a few cases where the chair had malfunctioned and the criminal had to be electrocuted for a second time after the chair had been repaired. In cases of hangings more often than not, the prisoner hung for thirty minutes or more with a broken neck before succumbing to asphyxiation.
With electrocution the prisoner had to be prepped, his head and one calf would be shaved, making for better contact of the leads (Powell, 2014). The prisoner is strapped into the electric chair at the wrists, waist, and ankles. Then, an electrode is attached to the head and another to the leg. At least two jolts of current are supplied for several minutes. The first jolt is over two hundred thousand volts. This stops the heart and renders the prisoner brain dead. The second jolt is a slightly lower voltage insuring the prisoner has died.
From Nineteen Fifteen until Nineteen Sixty Two, Three Hundred and Fifty people were executed in the electric chair (Powell, 2014). Only three women were executed by electric chair in Pennsylvania Irene Schroeder, Shellie Mckeithen, and Corrine Sykes. In Nineteen Fifteen, John Talap, a convicted murderer from Montgomery County, was the first person executed in the chair. The last person to be so executed by electrocution was Elmo Smith, a Montgomery County case tried on a change of venue in Gettysburg, Adams County. Smith was executed on April 2, 1962, for the rape/slaying of a seventeen-year old girl. Coincidentally, the first person executed in the chair, John Talap, also was sentenced in Montgomery County.
On November 29, 1990, Gov. Robert P. Casey signed legislation changing Pennsylvania's method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection (Powell, 2014). After, legislation passed the...