Has a woman ever been executed in Michigan?
Does Michigan still have the death penalty?
Even with Michigan leading the way in abolishing the death penalty, there are still some blemishes on its record. That blemished record includes the execution of an innocent man, the execution of a slave that remains unnamed, and the execution of a woman who was promised freedom.
Michigan’s Proud History with Capital Punishment
The Michigan Bar Journal reported that Michigan was the first English speaking government in the entire world by statute in 1846 to put an end to the death penalty for crimes like murder and “lesser” crimes. Later, Michigan made the death penalty unconstitutional in 1964. Prior to that someone could have been executed for treason, but no one ever was.
With only one exception, no one has been executed in Michigan since joining the Union and becoming a state on January 26th, 1837.
Only One Exception
The only exception is a man named Anthony Chebatoris, who was executed by the federal government within the State of Michigan. Since the federal government carried out Anthony’s trial and execution, the State of Michigan was given no choice and was unable to prevent it.
A Total of 13 Executions
In total, the State of Michigan has carried out only thirteen executions, and only six since becoming a United States territory in 1805. According to Deathpenaltyinfo.org, seven out of those thirteen were Native Americans, five were Caucasian and one was African American.
Ann Wyley’s Story
Each execution has a story. Ann Wyley was one of only two women to be executed in Michigan. It was during the time when the British had jurisdiction and she was the only African American to be given the death penalty.
She had robbed a store along with Jean Countincinau. The store was full of furs and hardware. According to Michigan County Histories, the two were caught and sentenced to death by hanging. Phillip Dejean, the chief justice, ordered the hangings, but could not find anyone to be the hangman.
Dejean offered to spare Ann’s life if she would act as the hangman for Countincinau. She took the offer, but “in such clumsy fashion the spectators were horrified at the struggles of the victim”. In the end, Dejean did not follow through with his promise and Ann was hung that same day.
While Fitzpatrick wasn’t named on the list of those who were executed in Michigan, he was a Detroiter nonetheless. This Detroiter was living across the Detroit River in a town then known as Sandwich, now known as Windsor, Ontario.
In 1828, he was accused of raping and murdering an inn keeper’s daughter. It’s been reported that the evidence was circumstantial. He was executed in Windsor shortly after being arrested.
According to the Deathpenaltyinfor.org, seven years later, while Fitzpatrick’s old roommate lay on his death bed, the roommate confessed to being the one to raping and killing the inn keeper’s daughter. The people of Detroit were outraged that an innocent man had been executed.
Stephen Simmons was known for drinking too much. He owned a tavern and when he drank, everyone knew he tended to get into fights. It’s been said that Simmons was a physically large and strong man.
One night, Simmons came home drunk and ended up punching his wife in the stomach. Michigan County Histories reports that the blow killed her on impact. His two daughters witnessed the whole incident.
When the alcohol drained out of Simmons, only a man was left and he was sentenced to be hung. The acting sheriff refused to do a public hanging and a man that would follow through with a public hanging was sent for.
The new sheriff made a spectacle of Simmons’ death. Bleachers had been sent to ensure the execution would be very public. Simmons was paraded around for everyone to see.
When asked what his final words were, Simmons in what is described as “a strong baritone voice of excellent quality sang a familiar hymn”,
“Show pity, Lord, O Lord, forgive,
Let a repenting rebel live;
Are not Thy mercies full and free?
May not a sinner trust in Thee?
My crimes are great, but can’t surpass
The power and glory of Thy grace, Great God,
Thy nature hath no bound,
So let Thy pardoning love be found.”
Simmons’ death is what spawned “an aversion to capital punishment among the people of Michigan.”
Today, instead of being sentenced to the death penalty, Michigan has life in prison without parole. Instead of the defendants having inadequate legal defense, Michigan residents have access to some of the best criminal defense lawyers out there.
Today, we remember the thirteen people who were executed in Michigan and the innocent Detroiter who was executed in Windsor. We remember and are thankful that today, we do not face those same punishments.
Here is a list of those who were executed in Michigan.