This work documents the lives, crimes and deaths of 487 people, including nine women, who were legally executed on Tennessee soil. These include horse stealers, slaves, wife killers, cop killers and rapists. The book includes fascinating cultural details such as gallows sermons preached at public hangings held before 1883. Issues of crowd control, race mixing, and denunciations of witnesses by the condemned caused Tennessee's move to quasi-private, and finally private, ones at the Main Prison in 1909. Tennessee is unique because it witnessed both Union and Confederate legal executions during the Civil War, mostly of deserters. The book is the only compilation of those episodes. Built on the famous Espy list of United States executions, it includes 154 previously undocumented cases. A discussion of dramatic changes in Tennessee death penalty law during 1960-2000, a hiatus period, is included and covers the complicated appellate procedures used by the six men executed since 2000, some of whom had been on death row for more than twenty years.
Lewis L. Laska is a Nashville attorney and a professor of Business Law in the College of Business at Tennessee State University. His work has appeared in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly and the journals of the Nashville Bar and the Tennessee Bar Association.