New Jersey’s first use of the electric chair
On December 11th, 1907, Saverio DeGiovanni became the first person executed in the state by the new technology of the electric chair. He was dispatched at the state prison in Trenton.
Electrocution, authorized by the legislature just a year before, was viewed as a more efficient and less gruesome method of execution than death by hanging. New Jersey was just the fourth state to legalize it. DiGiovanni was convicted of killing Joseph Sansone by shooting him in a dispute over a debt; both men were immigrants. According to the book, Notorious New Jersey, DiGiovanni saw Sansone, a barber who owed him money and confronted him. Sansone threw DiGiovanni into the street at which point DiGiovanni pulled out a revolver and started firing. Sansone tried to flee, but DiGiovanni shot him in the back; after Sansone fell into the street, DiGiovanni shot him twice more.
The trial took just two days and the jury deliberated for about 15 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty of first degree murder. According to the book, True Crime in New Jersey, DiGiovanni spent about a month on death row before being executed with the total time between conviction and execution of 11 weeks. Subsequently, over 150 men were killed in “Old Smokey,” as the chair was called, including Bruno Hauptmann, convicted of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. The last man executed by the electric chair in New Jersey was in 1963.
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