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.
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.