David Joseph Watson

Nearly 160 years after Thomas Bird became the first person executed by the federal government for murder on the high seas, David Watson became the last person executed for that crime.

Aboard the USS Stribling, a Navy vessel in Key West, Florida, Watson killed fellow sailor Benjamin Leroy Hobbs after Hobbs resisted his sexual advances. The killing occurred on July 25, 1946. Watson was arrested two days later. He confessed two weeks later.

Miami News, July 26, 1946

Watson was convicted of first-degree murder in the Southern District of Florida on October 4, 1946, and sentenced to death. That conviction was overturned on appeal due to an error in the jury instructions.

At retrial, Watson was convicted of first-degree murder on August 7, 1947, and sentenced to death a second time. His appeal was unsuccessful and his clemency request was rejected.

David Watson was executed in the electric chair at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida, on September 15, 1948.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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