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Facts Sheet: Minnesota

last updated July 28, 2004

Minnesota has been free of capital punishment for nearly a century.

  • On 31 December 1854, Minnesota carried out its first execution and hanged a Sioux man in public.
  • In 1860, Minnesota hung the Anna Bilanski, the first and only woman to be executed in Minnesota. 
  • Between 1860 and 1911, twenty-six people were executed by hanging in Minnesota.
  • Minnesota's last execution was the botched hanging of William Williams in 1906. Due to a miscalculation of the length of rope, Williams died by strangulation over a period of 14.5 minutes.
  • Minnesota abolished the death penalty in 1911 in response to the 1906 botched execution.
    • The House voted 95-19 and the Senate voted 35-19 to end capital punishment in Minnesota.
    • Governor Adolph O. Eberhart signed the bill into law.

Federal capital punishment may be imposed in Minnesota.

  • In 1862, the federal government carried out the largest mass execution in U.S. history when it hanged thirty-eight Sioux Indians in Mankato, Minnesota.
  • In May 2004, federal prosecutors announced they would not seek the federal death penalty for Richard Oslund, who was charged with the murder of a Brinks armoured vehicle driver.
  • Throughout Minnesota's history as an abolitionist state, the U.S. Attorney General has never sought to impose the federal death penalty in Minnesota.

Minnesota is an abolitionist state today.

  • Minnesota is one of twelve states without the death penalty.
  • According to a 2000 New York Times survey, homicide rates in states with capital punishment are 48% to 101% higher than in states without capital punishment. According to the FBI, ten of the twelve states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average.
    • Minnesota has one of the lowest homicide rates in the country.
  • In December 2003, a convicted sex offender was arrested in connection to the abduction of a Minnesota woman studying at the University of North Dakota. In response:
    • Governor Pawlenty called for the reinstatement of the death penalty for sex offenders who murder or attempt to murder during a sexual assault.
    • Governor Pawlenty announced in January 2004 that he would seek to reintroduce the death penalty via a constitutional amendment.
  • In a January 2004 poll conducted by the Star Tribune, given the choice between life imprisonment and execution for convicted murderers, 46% of Minnesotans chose imprisonment and 44% chose execution.  
  • During the 2004-05 legislative session, Rep. Hackbarth of Cedar and Sen. Reiter of Shoreview introduced a bill to reinstate the death penalty in Minnesota as a constitutional amendment.
    • H.F. 1602 was tabled in the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee without a vote.
    • S.F. 1860 was voted down eight to two in the Senate Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

Compiled from:

Capitol Punishment, Brenda van Dyck, Session Weekly, 18 May 2001, 18-19.

Sjodin case spurs Pawlenty to Push for Death Penalty, Michael Khoo, Minnesota Public Radio, 2 December 2003.

Steve Karnowski, Feds won't seek death for alleged Brinks robbery, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4 May 2004.

Conrad deFiebre, Public Divided on Death Penalty, Star Tribune, 29 January 2004, A1.