Overview of Women on Death Row

Although the vast majority of inmates on death row have been men, over the years a number of women have sat in this notorious segment of the USA’s prison system. Indeed, since 1903, there have been 51 executions of females carried out, with 12 of these during the past 27years. The following is just a selection of the 51 executed:

Mary Rogers – Hanged – 8 December 1905

Mary Rogers, who originally married at the age of 15, left her husband four years later. She murdered her husband the same year so that she was free to pursue her love for another man, although apparently the affection was not reciprocated. Rogers was sentenced to death in 1903 and, despite several attempts to reverse the verdict, was hanged in Vermont’s Windsor prison two years later.

Irene Schroeder – Electrocution – 23 February 1931

Schroeder’s life of crime began at an early age, mostly related to petty robbery. However, when she met Glen Dague following a near accident, with whom she had a child, Donnie, the crimes soon began to escalate to armed robbery, which were reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde. The murder charge resulted from Schroeder’s involvement with a shooting and killing of a patrolman at a roadblock set up by the police to try to apprehend the couple following such a robbery, which Schroeder later confessed to while in jail. She was sentenced to death in early 1930 and electrocuted the following February.

Louise Peete – Gas Chamber – 11 November 1947

Prior to the conviction that led to her execution, Peete had already been involved in two murders. In the early 1910s, she met with a wealthy oilman Joe Appel, who she admitted shooting dead a week later. However, her claim of self-defence was accepted by the court and she was set free. Subsequently, in 1920 Louise left her husband to live with mining executive Jacob Denton. When Denton went missing in May 1920, Peete managed to allay fears over his disappearance for months, before he was finally found buried in the cellar of his home having been shot in the head. In early 1921, Peete was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, in 1939, due to the assistance of social worker Margaret Logan and her husband, Peete was released on parole. Like Denton, Margaret Logan mysteriously disappeared in 1944. In this instance, following suspicions raised by her parole officer and later her husband, Logan’s body was eventually found buried in the garden of her home. Having been charged this time a capital offence, in 1945 Peete was convicted of first-degree murder and, despite appeals, executed two years later.

Velma Barfield – Lethal Injection – 2 November 1984

Barfield, following the deaths of two previous husbands, was in a relationship with Stuart Taylor in 1978 when the incident that led to her conviction arose. At the time, she had been forging checks on Taylor’s account to pay for her drug addition. To stop him finding out about the fraud, Barfield laced Taylor’s drinks with an arsenic-based rat poison, which led to his death in hospital. When this was discovered at the autopsy, Barfield was charged with his murder. During the ensuing investigation, Barfield also confessed to the murder of three other people in 1974 she had killed for similar reasons. Barfield was given the death sentence in May 1978, which was carried out over six years later. In death row history, Barfield holds the distinction of being the first woman executed by lethal injection and the first female execution since 1962.

Frances Elaine Newton – Lethal Injection – 15 September 2005

In April 1987 the police were called to the home where Frances and Adrian Newton, who had been having marital problems, lived with their two children. They found the husband and two children had been shot dead. Despite Frances Newton blaming the killings on a drug dealer who owed Adrian money, evidence of gunpowder on her clothing, and the discovery of the murder weapon at her parents home, soon resulted in her being arrested for the triple murders. Further investigation led to the discovery of Newton’s claim on an insurance policy taken out shortly before the deaths. Newton was indicted for capital murder in July 1987 and found guilty and sentenced to death in October 1988. Despite a series of failed appeals, the sentence was ultimately carried out 17 years later.

What is noticeable from this list is that, as with the male inmates, over time women have also been spending an increasing amount of time on death row. Two of the most noticeable examples of this increased time scale began in 1990:

Debra Milke – Sentenced 1990

Milke’s four year old son was taken to a remote ravine and shot three times in the head when he went on a trip with Milke’s roommate and a friend. Following what has subsequently proven to be false investigation procedures Milke was charged with murder because of her apparent involvement in the crime. She then spent the next 22 years on death row before her conviction was overturned in March 2013.

Blanche Kiser Taylor Moore – Sentenced 17 November 1990

Shortly after returning from honeymoon, Moore’s second husband, Dwight, collapsed and was hospitalised after eating a chicken sandwich. Although he survived, investigations discovered that he had elevated levels of arsenic in his body, which would have been more than enough to have killed most people. The police were called and Moore was charged with attempted murder. They became suspicious when they found insurance policies, with the beneficiary being Blanche Moore, taken out shortly before the incident, and began to investigate deaths of previous people who had been associated with Moore. These included her father Parker Kiser, first husband James Taylor, Isla Taylor and Raymond Reid. An exhumation order was granted for the four persons and it was discovered they all had similar high levels of arsenic. The charge of the murder of Raymond Reid was added to her indictment and, in January 1991, Moore was sentenced to death. However, through a series of appeals, Moore has managed to delay the execution and remains on death row as at 2013.

Current female death row occupancy

Currently, as of the winter 2013, 63 of the 3,125 inmates currently on death row in states that have retained the death penalty are female, who are awaiting their sentence to be carried out or fighting to secure a reprieve from the ultimate penalty.