December 16, 1897 : Last Public Hanging in West Virginia

Dec 16, 2016

The rowdy scene prompted West Virginia lawmakers to take action. A little more than a year later, Governor George W. Atkinson signed a law that banned public executions, making West Virginia was one of the first states to do so.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / e-WV

On December 16, 1897, John F. Morgan was hanged in Ripley for the murder of Chloe Greene and two of her sons. It was the last public execution in West Virginia history.

Some 5,000 spectators poured into the Jackson County seat. Many were drunk, and some even sold souvenirs. The rowdy scene prompted West Virginia lawmakers to take action.

A little more than a year later, Governor George W. Atkinson signed a law that banned public executions, making West Virginia was one of the first states to do so. As an alternative, over the next 60 years, 94 men would be executed inside the walls of the state penitentiary in Moundsville.

By the mid-20th century, public opinion about the death penalty was shifting. A number of states had already banned the practice. In 1965, the legislature passed and Governor Hulett Smith signed a bill ending capital punishment in West Virginia. Today, West Virginia is one of only 18 states that does not impose death sentences.