Historical Federal Executions
The U.S. Marshal has been historically assigned the task of conducting the death sentences on those condemned by federal courts. This stemmed from "An Act for the Punishment of certain Crimes against the United States" (April 30, 1790) and the Judiciary Act of 1789.
The first known federal execution under this authority was conducted by U.S. Marshal Henry Dearborn of Maine on June 25, 1790. He was ordered to execute one Thomas Bird for murder on the high seas. In coordinating this, Dearborn spent money on building a gallows and coffin. Later, as U.S. Marshals saw more death sentences imposed, a few districts resorted to more permanent equipment. U.S. Marshal E.D. Nix of Oklahoma had a portable scaffold that could be easily packed for travel in 1894.
Most death sentences required use of the gallows until the mid Twentieth Century. The famous “Hanging Judge,” the Honorable Isaac Parker of the Western District of Arkansas, ordered 160 known executions, of which 79 were actually carried out after the appeals and commutation process. Often hangings created a spectacle, so most crowds were kept at a distance. The Western District resorted to tickets to distinguish relatives and witnesses from the curious.
The most famous federal executions attended by the U.S. Marshals were those of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in June 1953. U.S. Marshal William A. Carroll of the Southern District of New York rented the electric chair at the famous Sing Sing Prison and saw to his duties. On March 15, 1963, U.S. Marshal Covell Meek of the Northern District of Iowa oversaw the execution by hanging of convicted murderer and kidnapper Victor Feguer.
The latest federal executions were that of Louis Jones, Jr., on March 18, 2003, and those of Timothy McVeigh and Juan Raul Garza, on June 11 and 19, 2001, respectively. Jones kidnapped, assaulted and killed Private Tracie Joy McBride. McVeigh was sentenced to death for the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson of Northern Indiana attended both the McVeigh and Garza executions at the Federal Penitentiary at Terre Haute.
Compiled by Dave Turk, Historian, U.S. Marshals Service