chapter  Chapter 6
21 Pages

The 1846 Murder Statute and Life in Prison

WithLawrence B. Goodheart

During the era of antebellum reform, the revision of the murder statute provided an escape hatch from the gallows for all women and some men. There were two degrees of murder: a conviction in the first degree mandated a death sentence, while second degree led to life in prison. The latter provided codification for the unstated protocol that had exempted women from the scaffold for the last 60 years. This chapter discusses the second-degree convictions of three Victorian poisoners and their paramours: Lucina Coleman (1849), Loretta Alexander (1878), and Kate Cobb (1879). Their exemptions from the death penalty built on the commutation of Thirza Mansfield, a white woman condemned to death for murdering her husband in 1825. In contrast, during the colonial era, Abigail Thomson (1708) and Waisoiusksquaw (1711) had were for spousal murder.