The last public execution in the US occurred in 1936 in Owensboro, Kentucky. Rainey Bethea was sentenced to a public hanging after being convicted of raping a 70-year-old woman. The event drew significant media attention mainly because it was the first execution supervised by a female sheriff, Florence Thompson. The crowd was estimated to be 20,000 people, including reporters, photographers and spectators. The media coverage after the execution was negative and portrayed the crowd as a blood-hungry mob. Although research has debunked the media coverage, with witnesses claiming that the crowd was quiet during the event, it is believed by many that the negative press contributed to the end of public executions in the US.
More about capital punishment in the US:
- In 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state to stop public executions and to perform them exclusively in correctional facilities.
- More than 270 death row inmates have been granted clemency since 1976, when capital punishment was reinstated by the US Supreme Court.
- In 2012, the US was one of the top five countries for most executions, after China and three Middle Eastern countries: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.