Capital punishment in Michigan

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Capital punishment was technically legal in the U.S. State of Michigan from statehood in 1837, but was abolished in 1846. Michigan is the one of the few states never to have executed anyone after admission to the Union.

Michigan's death penalty history is unusual in contrast to other States. Michigan was the first English-speaking government in the world to totally abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes.[1] The Michigan State Legislature voted to do so on May 18, 1846, and this has remained in law since.[2] Although the death penalty was formally retained as the punishment for treason until 1963, no person has ever been convicted or indeed tried for treason against Michigan, and therefore Michigan has not executed any person since statehood.


With one exception, all executions in areas which are now part of the State of Michigan were performed before the state was admitted to the Union.[3] Michigan became the 26th State on January 26, 1837.

Approximately a dozen people are known to have been executed from 1683 to 1836, although before 1783 the area of the state was outside U.S. jurisdiction (French, then British) and it was under de facto British jurisdiction until 1796. In this early period, there were a number of cases where persons who had committed a capital crime in Detroit were transported to Montreal for trial and execution.

The first person known to be executed in Michigan was a Native American named Folle-Avoine. The first person executed under U.S. jurisdiction was another Native American named Buhnah. Two females were put to death in Michigan - an unnamed slave (owned by a man named Clapham) in 1763, and an African American named Ann Wyley in 1777.[4] By race, seven of 15 were Native Americans, another seven white and one black.[5]

Although Michigan had outlawed the death penalty after becoming a state, one execution took place after Michigan's statehood, when Anthony Chebatoris was hanged in the Federal Correctional Institution, Milan near Milan in 1938, for a murder he had committed while robbing a bank in Midland.[6] This was a federal execution, outside of the state's jurisdiction, and the last execution to be performed in Michigan.

The death penalty has been unconstitutional in Michigan since the 1963 constitution became effective in 1964.[7]


The legal method of executions in Michigan was hanging, although two people were executed by shooting, one was bludgeoned, and the method of one other execution remains unknown.

Lists of individuals executed[edit]

Source: ESPYstate.pdf-pages 166-167 PDF (1.67 MB)

Before U.S. jurisdiction[edit]

Name Date of Execution Crime Method Race
French jurisdiction
Folle-Avoine November 29, 1683 Murder Shot Native American
Unknown November 29, 1683 Murder Shot Native American
Pierre Berge (or Boucher) dit La Tulipe November 26, 1705 Assault Hanging (in Montreal)[8] White
Bartellemy Pichon dit La Roze November 7, 1707 Desertion Hanging[9] White
British jurisdiction
Unknown female slave (whose owner's name was Clapham) April, 1763 Murder Hanging Native American
Michael Dué late 1760s Murder Hanging[10] White
Joseph Hecker December 1775 Murder Hanging[11] White
Jean Baptiste Contincineau March 26, 1777 Robbery Hanging[4] White
Ann Wyley or Wiley March 26, 1777 Robbery Hanging[4] Black

Under U.S. jurisdiction (territorial)[edit]

Name Date of Execution Crime Method Race
Buhnah 1819 Murder Unknown method Native American
Ketauka December 27, 1827 Murder Hanging[12] Native American
Kewaubis December 27, 1827 Murder Hanging[12] Native American
James Brown February 1, 1830 Murder Hanging White
Stephens Simmons September 24, 1830 Murder Hanging[13] White
Wau-Bau-Ne-Me-Mee July 1836 Murder Hanging Native American

After statehood (federal)[edit]

Name Date of Execution Crime Method Race
Anthony Chebatoris July 8, 1938 Murder Hanging White

See also[edit]


  1. ^ History of the Death Penalty - Faith in Action - Working to Abolish the Death Penalty
  2. ^ See Caitlin pp. 420-422
  3. ^ Regional Studies The Midwest
  4. ^ a b c See Burton pp. 193-195 for an account of Contincineau's trial. The presiding judge Philip Dejean was subsequently indicted for the murder of Contincineau. According to the account in Burton, Contincineau's accomplice, the slave woman Ann Wyley, was freed by Dejean on the condition that she act as executioner on Contincineau. Caitlin p. 68 notes that Dejean later went back on his offer and had Wiley hanged.
  5. ^ Executions is the U.S. 1608-2002: The ESPY File,
  6. ^ Veselenak, Michigan History Magazine, May 1998
  7. ^ "Death Penalty - Mich. Comp. Laws IV § 46". 
  8. ^ See Burton p. 164; Tulipe was a drummer in the company of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac who assaulted a 12-year old girl. He was convicted and executed in Quebec.
  9. ^ See Burton pp. 164-165
  10. ^ See Burton p. 142; Dué was arrested for murdering a man in Detroit and was tried, convicted and executed in Montreal.
  11. ^ See Caitlin p. 68. Burton p. 194 mentions the execution of a person named "Ellers" in December 1775.
  12. ^ a b See Caitlin p. 262 for a description of the execution of Ketauka and Kewaubis
  13. ^ For a detailed account of Simmons' execution, see Caitlin "Michigan's Last Infliction of Capital Punishment" pp. 289-293