Michigan abolished the death penalty over a century ago. Despite this, the state's last execution took place just 86 years ago today.

Michigan gained statehood in 1837 and, by 1847, had abolished capital punishment. This prohibition remained in place for 91 years until Anthony "Tony" Chebatoris arrived in Midland. Tony holds the distinction of being the sole individual executed in Michigan in almost two centuries.

What Did Tony Chebatoris do?

On September 29, 1937, Tony and his accomplice, Jack Gracey, attempted to rob the Chemical State Savings Bank. In the chaos, Tony shot and critically wounded bank teller Paul D. Bywater. As they fled, Tony was hit by a rifle shot from Dr. Frank Hardy, a dentist in a nearby office.

Their escape ended abruptly with a crash. Tony and Gracey tried to flee on foot, but their efforts were cut short. In the confusion, Gracey was fatally shot by Bywater, while Tony mistakenly shot and killed an innocent bystander, Henry J. Porter, whom he had thought was a police officer.

Tony was soon convicted of murder and federal bank robbery, under the newly enacted Federal Bank Robbery Act of 1934. Despite Michigan's lack of a death penalty, a little-known statute related to treason allowed federal authorities to enforce capital punishment.

Governor Frank Murphy opposed Tony's execution in Michigan, where no one had been hanged in over a century. Despite efforts to prevent it, Tony Chebatoris was executed by hanging on July 8, 1938, marking Michigan's first execution in over a century.

Michigan's Death Penalty Today

Michigan's stance against the death penalty's latest challenge came with Marvin Charles Gabrion, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for federal murder committed in the state. According to WDIV, Gabrion's appeals continue, leaving his fate uncertain in a jurisdiction that has long rejected capital punishment.

 

Gabrion is currently 70 years old, and is living as an inmate sentenced to Death Row at United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, MO.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Michigan's current Death Row Population is 0.

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