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Anthony Chebatoris (1898 – July 8, 1938) is the only person who has been executed within the physical boundaries of Michigan since that state abolished the death penalty in 1846. His trial and execution were carried out by the US Federal Government, and thus was beyond the jurisdictional authority of the state to prevent.
Chebatoris's first conviction for a crime was in 1918 for armed robbery in Detroit, and in 1927 he was arrested for violating the Dyer Act in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1928, he went to prison at Marquette for armed robbery.
In 1937, Chebatoris and fellow prison inmate, Jack Gracy, planned to rob the Chemical State Savings Bank in downtown Midland, Michigan. On September 29, Gracey entered the bank first with a sawed-off shotgun under his coat; Chebatoris followed. Gracey approached bank president Clarence Macomber and shoved the shotgun into his ribs. Macomber and Gracey grappled with the weapon. Chebatoris aimed his revolver at Macomber, wounding him in the shoulder. Paul Bywater, the head teller, came to the front counter to see what the commotion was about. Chebatoris took aim and fired at Bywater, shooting him in the stomach. Chebatoris and Gracy fled the bank in their black two-door Ford. Meanwhile, when Dr. Frank Hardy, a dentist on the second floor of the bank building, heard the gunshots, he used a deer rifle to fire at the getaway car as it sped towards the Benson Street Bridge. One of Hardy's shots hit the driver and the car careened into a parked car along the road,. Chebatoris and Gracey got out of the car and started looking for the shots firing at them. Mistaking Henry Porter, a truck driver from Bay City, Michigan, as a police officer, Chebatoris shot and seriously wounded him. When Gracy tried to commandeer a truck, Hardy shot him in the head, killing him instantly. Then Chebatoris ran along some railroad tracks and tried to get away by stealing a car, occupied by Levi Myer, but was stopped by the Sheriff, Ira Smith.
Trial and execution
Chebatoris was first charged with attempted bank robbery. Then Henry Porter died from his gunshot wound 12 days after the robbery, allowing prosecutors to charge Chebatoris with murder. His trial was held at Federal Court in Bay City, Judge Arthur J. Tuttle presiding. Chebatoris was found guilty of murder on October 29, 1937, and sentenced to death under the National Bank Robbery Act of 1934.
Because capital punishment in Michigan had been abolished in 1846, Governor Frank Murphy tried to get Chebatoris's sentence commuted to life imprisonment. When that failed, Murphy argued the execution should be carried out in another state. Murphy appealed all the way to President Franklin D. Roosevelt after Judge Tuttle refused to change the location of the execution, but to no avail.
Anthony Chebatoris was subsequently hanged at the Federal Correctional Institution, Milan, at dawn, on July 8, 1938.
The general mood in Milan was subdued and depressed on the day of the execution. People in the village of Milan didn’t like the idea of the death penalty being carried out in their community. Source: information supplied in personal conversations to Milan historian Martha Churchill. According to a front-page Ann Arbor News story July 8, 1938, "Chebatoris walked firmly and with head erect to the gallows at 5:04 a.m., smiled at the executioner and was plunged through the trap a few minutes later. He was accompanied on the death march by a priest, Rev. Lee Laige of Milan. Fr. Laige reported that Chebatoris finally had accepted the consolations of religion after having spurned spiritual advice until the day before. “Now he can receive a Christian burial,” the priest said to reporters. He also stated that the absolution granted Chebatoris was wholly conditional—conditional upon whether or not he was truly repentant.
Relatives did not come forward to claim the body, although some of his family visited Chebatoris at the prison the day before. Those relatives included his daughter, son-in-law, former wife, a sister and two brothers. Source: Ann Arbor News front page article July 8, 1938.
- Files of the Midland Daily News, 1937 and 1938;
- "Butcher's Dozen: Thirteen Famous Michigan Murders," by Lawrence Wakefield; 1991 - ISBN #1878005162
- "The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan: People, Law, and Politics," by David G. Chardavoyne; 2012 - ISBN #978-0-8143-3461-4 (hard cover), #978-0-8143-3720-2 (e-book)