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Focus on the Death Penalty

Alaska & the Death Penalty


Resources available through this section present historical information on the death penalty in territorial Alaska, including information regarding executions which took place in prior to the abolition of the death penalty in 1957. Also presented is information on attempts to reintroduce the death penalty to Alaska, including Senate Bill 60, a 1998 bill in the Alaska State Legislature which, had it passed, would have placed a death penalty advisory vote on the November 1998 ballot. (See the full account of legislative action on SB60.) Additionally, legislative resources on capital punishment bills introduced in the Alaska State Legislature are presented.

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The death penalty in territorial Alaska
Alaska as a state has never had a death penalty. However, in Alaska's territorial days, eight men were executed under civil authority between 1900 and 1957. Records before 1900 are poor, but it is believed that a total of seven persons were hanged in territorial Alaska from 1869 to 1900.

"A History of the Death Penalty in Alaska" by Melissa S. Green. Justice Center Web Site, July 2001. A brief history of capital punishment in Alaska from Alaska's acquisition as a U.S. territory from Russia in 1867 to 1957, when the Territorial Legislature abolished the death penalty, two years before statehood.

"Capital Punishment in Territorial Alaska: The Last Three Executions" by Averil Lerman. Frame of Reference [Alaska Humanities Forum], April 1998. An account of the last 3 executions in Territorial Alaska between 1939 and 1950: Nelson Charles, Austin Nelson, and Eugene LaMoore.

"The Trial and Hanging of Nelson Charles" by Averil Lerman. Alaska Justice Forum 13(1), Spring 1996. A more detailed account of the execution of Nelson Charles, who was hanged in Juneau on November 10, 1939 for the 1938 murder of his mother-in-law.

"My Last Hanging -- Thoughts on an Execution (Juneau, Nov. 10, 1939)" by John L. Gaffney. We Alaskans [Sunday supplement to the Anchorage Daily News], April 23, 1995. Gaffney was a 21-year-old journalist who was one of twelve witnesses to the 1939 execution of Nelson Charles.

Attempts to reintroduce the death penalty in Alaska

"Senate Bill 60: Advisory Vote on Capital Punishment, 20th Alaska Legislature, 1997-1998" by Melissa S. Green, Justice Center Web Site, July 2001. Had it passed, SB 60 would have put an advisory vote on the death penalty before Alaska voters on the November 1998 ballot, which would have been an important step toward possible eventual enactment of a statute authorizing capital punishment in the state.

Legislative resources on capital punishment
The Alaska State Legislature has considered a number of bills in the past several years which would reinstate the death penalty for specified crimes. Follow the links here for information on these bills:

Green, Melissa S. ( 29-Jan-2009 ). "Alaska & the Death Penalty." In Melissa S. Green, compiler (1998-2009), Focus on the Death Penalty (website). Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. <http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/death/alaska.html> (accessed date).

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