On September 24, 1830, Stephen G. Simmons, after having been tried by a jury of his peers and found guilty of killing his wife, Levana Simmons, in a drunken fury, was executed on the gallows in Detroit. His was the last state execution before Michigan abolished the death penalty in 1846.
Simmons’ demeanor at the execution turned the tide of public opinion against execution. Before being hanged, he delivered a moving address and admitted his fault, and then sang a hymn asking for God’s forgiveness.
When Governor Alpheus Felch signed the statute which abolished capital punishment for first degree murder on May 18, 1846, the state of Michigan became the first government in the English speaking world to do so.
The new law went into effect on March 1, 1847 and stipulated that:
“All murder that shall be perpetrated by means of poison or lying in wait, or any other kind of willful [sic], deliberate and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate any arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, shall be deemed murder of the first degree, and shall be punished by solitary confinement at hard labor in the State Prison for Life; and all other kinds of murder shall be deemed murder of the second degree, and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for life, or any term of years, at the discretion of the court trying the same.”
For more information, see David G. Chardavoyne, A Hanging in Detroit : Stephen Gifford Simmons and the Last Execution Under Michigan Law, 2003.
Michigan Historical Calendar, courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.